Iran foreign minister in Iraq over border dispute

admin Contributor

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iranian foreign minister visited Iraq on Thursday to try and resolve rising tensions over the border between the two countries, officials said.

Iranian troops have been stationed near Iraq’s al-Fakkah oil field along the two countries’ disputed border since Dec. 17. Iraqis in several cities have held demonstrations demanding their government take action.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the two countries will begin three weeks of bilateral meetings aimed at resolving the dispute.

“We have agreed to normalize the border situation between the two countries and return to the situation as it was before,” Zebari told a joint news conference with Manouchehr Mottaki, his Iranian counterpart.

Zebari said Mottaki’s visit was an “indication that there is an honest desire to find solutions to the border dispute.”

Mottaki said the Iranian leadership was “willing and determined to solve the border dispute.”

Neither minister gave details on the makeup of the committees or how the standoff was likely to be resolved. Mottaki later met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

Both countries are majority Shiite and have been eager to play down potential problems, especially over their 870-mile (1,400-kilometer) border. They fought a 1980-88 war that was sparked in part by border tensions. The late dictator Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq at the time.

Many Iraqis remain highly suspicious of the intentions of their volatile neighbor. Thursday’s visit may also fuel concerns among some Iraqi politicians, particularly members of the rival Sunni sect, that Iran is trying to influence Iraq’s elections, scheduled for March 7.

Iran has made no secret of its wish to see al-Maliki ally his Shiite-led bloc with other major Shiite-led groups after the vote. Such a move would consolidate Shiite political power in Iraq.

Mottaki’s visit comes at a time when both governments are coming under increasing pressure at home and abroad. Iran is struggling to contain protests sparked by allegations of fraud in last summer’s presidential elections and is being heavily criticized by the international community over its nuclear program. The United States and its allies say Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran has consistently denied.

Iraq’s government is trying to prove it is capable of reining in corruption and ensuring the country’s security ahead of the elections. Insurgents still launch daily attacks, and some high-profile bombings, although the level of overall violence has dramatically fallen since 2008.

On Thursday, six people were killed in coordinated bombings targeting the homes of two law enforcement officials and a lawyer in the town of Hit, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) west of Baghdad in Anbar province, said police Col. Fadhil Nimrawi.

In a separate incident in Diyala province, a bomb near a police station killed one policeman and injured 10 other people in the town of Khanaqin, 87 miles (140 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad and close to the Iranian border, police and hospital officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.