Iran's new foreign minister is pushing to cement ties with neighboring Iraq at a time when American troops are preparing to go home and Tehran's influence is expected to rise.
"We look forward to Iraq returning to its full independence and security," the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who was born in Karbala in central Iraq, told a news conference in Baghdad.
Iranian officials have expressed hope that the new Iraqi government, which was approved by parliament on December 21, would help stabilize the war-torn country and lead to the exit of the "occupying" U.S. forces.
Iran has regularly called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, citing their presence as the main cause of violence in its western neighbor.
To discuss PMOI issue
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the news conference that Salehi had met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and that one of the issues discussed was the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group.
"Our constitution doesn't allow any organization to be on our land and attack our neighbors, and we are committed to that," Zebari said, without providing details on the talks.
The PMOI fought against Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and was disarmed following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
A lawyer for plaintiffs in a case filed in Spain said on Tuesday that a Spanish judge is to probe a raid by Iraqi police and soldiers on the PMOI's Camp Ashraf in July 2009 that killed 11 people.
Iraqi police chief Major General Abdul Hussein al-Shemmari has been called to appear before the court.
Neighbors eye to counter Iran
Officials from around the Middle East have been streaming into Iraq since the new Shiite-led government was sworn in last month, nine months after an inconclusive election that led to prolonged political wrangling. Salehi's visit came a few days after Jordan and Egypt sent senior delegations.
Iraq's mainly Sunni neighbors are racing to try to gain more influence in Iraq, partly to counter Iran's influence. Ties between Iran and Iraq, both Shiite-dominated countries, were troubled before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni minority-led government.
Iran and Iraq fought a brutal eight-year war in the 1980s that left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides. But relations improved dramatically with the overthrow of Saddam's regime and the installation of a Shiite-dominated government. Iran is one of Iraq's largest trading partners, and millions of Iranian Shiite pilgrims travel to Iraq yearly.
Ties between Iraq and its mostly Sunni Arab neighbors were damaged after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Most Arab governments sent diplomats here following Saddam's fall in 2003 but did not cultivate high-level relations to avoid the appearance of endorsing the U.S. military occupation of an Arab country.
But as of early 2006, many softened their stance under strong U.S. pressure, reopened their embassies and started to bolster trade and political relations.
About 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq and are mainly focused on assisting and training Iraqi security forces before their scheduled pullout from the country by the end of this year.
In other news, police said a roadside bomb hit a bus Wednesday carrying Iranian pilgrims to the northern city of Samarra, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, wounding four people. The police spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Sunni militants intent on toppling Iraq's Shiite-led government have often targeted Iranian pilgrims visiting Iraqi religious shrines.
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