Iraq invites Syria, Iran to regional security talks

Other neighbors, U.N. might also be present

U.S. not on the list, but says it supports summit

February 02, 2007|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government invited Iran and Syria yesterday to Baghdad for talks next month on regional security, amid growing tension and accusations by the Bush administration of foreign meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iraqi officials have not invited the United States to the meeting, which also could include other Iraqi neighbors, the United Nations and the Arab League. The meeting is intended to "promote support for the government of Iraq on security and other issues," said Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

Sumaidaie, speaking in Washington, said the summit is part of a series of regional gatherings sponsored by Iraq's young government that have not included nations from outside the region. It is tentatively scheduled to start March 10.

The meeting comes at a time when U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of meddling in Iraq. The Bush administration also has complained that Syria is allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq, and is urging Sunni Arab neighbors to help stabilize the country by applying pressure on their Sunni allies in Iraq.

But U.S. officials, who have encouraged the Iraqis to try to work through security issues and to try to win more economic and political support from its neighbors, reacted positively to the summit announcement yesterday.

"We support such an effort by the Iraqi government," said Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "We have ourselves worked with many of Iraq's neighbors to encourage them to support Iraq, diplomatically and politically."

Iraqi officials, while acknowledging some Iranians have been involved in violence, have said they do not want their country to become a battleground in the rivalries of foreign powers.

"The United States is clearly helping us with our security issues," Sumaidaie said, but added: "We don't want to be the battleground for anyone else's fighting each other, or confronting each other."

He said U.S. and Iraqi military officials are in discussions about American plans to go on the offensive against Iranian agents who threaten U.S. troops or Iraqis.

Iraqi forces want "maximum coordination" with the American troops on the issue, Sumaidaie said. He said that U.S. and Iraqi leaders might decide that they need to conduct each operation jointly, or at least that the Iraqis be informed of each mission.

The Bush administration has delayed the release of information it says will demonstrate Iranian meddling in Iraq, raising concern from some quarters that it is inconclusive.

"Iran is kind of the culprit of the week or the month," said Jim Dobbins, an international security expert at the Rand Corp., who said the Bush administration has produced little compelling evidence that Iran is actively encouraging attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

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