Iraq expects US-Iran talks soon

1114.jpgIranian and US envoys will soon hold talks in Baghdad to discuss security in Iraq, following up on a landmark meeting in May, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Tuesday.Worsening chaos in Iraq has pushed the two countries, which have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after Iran’s 1979 revolution, to seek common ground.

Gunmen in military uniforms shot dead 29 people in a mainly Shiite village in Diyala province on Monday, an Iraqi security official said.

He blamed the attack on gunmen who had fled US and Iraqi troops conducting an operation to corner suspected Sunni Al Qaeda Islamists in the provincial capital Baqouba. US commanders say many of the gunmen got away.

In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed 20 people and wounded 20 in the mixed Zayouna area, police said. At least four soldiers were among the dead. Washington accuses Shiite Muslim Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq. Iran denies backing the charges and blames the US-led invasion in 2003 for the bloodshed between Iraq’s majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslim Arabs. “I can confirm that there will be a second round of talks in Baghdad soon. It will be at the ambassadorial level. Iraq will be there and the talks will be about Iraq’s stability and security,” Zebari told Reuters by telephone.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters he saw a “high possibility” a second round would take place in the “near future”.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington: “We’ve always said that there’s the possibility of having another meeting. Right now we don’t yet have a meeting date.

“We think that, given the situation in Iraq and given Iran’s continued behaviour that is leading to further instability in Iraq, that it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting,” he added. “Iran can play a positive, responsible role in Iraq. They say they want to. Thus far we have not seen it.” The Iranian and US ambassadors to Iraq last met in Baghdad on May 28, in the most high-profile meeting of the two foes in almost three decades.

The United States has been leading diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions — but both sides say any talks will focus solely on matters in Iraq.

In a sign Iraq’s divided politicians might be bridging some of their differences, the bloc of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said it had ended a boycott of parliament. “Starting from today, we have ended our suspension in parliament. We are back,” said Nassar Rubaei, spokesman for the bloc in parliament.

Rubaei said the bloc had received assurances from parliament over demands that the government protect shrines. It had withdrawn from parliament on June 13 after the twin minarets of the Golden Mosque in Samarra were destroyed by suspected Al Qaeda gunmen.

The movement occupies 30 of parliament’s 275 seats, a quarter of the total held by the ruling Shiite alliance of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Washington is pressing for power-sharing laws to help reconcile Iraq’s Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. It wants parliament to agree a number of political benchmarks, including a draft oil law approved by Maliki’s Cabinet on July 3. The law aims to ease tension by ensuring that Sunnis share in oil profits. Iraq has the world’s third largest reserves of oil, but most is in the Kurdish north or Shiite south. US forces west of the capital said they had launched a fresh operation involving around 9,000 American and Iraqi troops in the Sunni province of Anbar.

US troops have stepped up their activity since the last batch of troops of the 28,000 reinforcements ordered to Iraq by US President George W. Bush arrived last month.

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