Reuters: The United States and Iran held a “frank and serious” first meeting on Monday of a new committee set up by the arch foes to seek an end Iraq’s sectarian violence. By Peter Graff
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The United States and Iran held a “frank and serious” first meeting on Monday of a new committee set up by the arch foes to seek an end Iraq’s sectarian violence.
Hours before the diplomats met, a truck bomber in a crowded residential area killed at least 33 people in their homes.
Establishing the security sub-committee has been the main achievement so far of new face-to-face contacts between Washington and Tehran — enemies which have had no diplomatic ties for almost 30 years but were driven to the negotiating table by the threat of all-out civil war in Iraq.
The United States accuses Iran of fomenting unrest in Iraq by supporting Shi’ite militias and supplying weapons such as armor-piercing bombs used to kill U.S. troops. Iran denies it is responsible for violence and blames the United States for unleashing sectarian strife after its 2003 invasion.
Neither country has said precisely what it hopes to achieve at the talks, which were hosted by Iraqi officials in Baghdad and led by Marcie Ries, a senior diplomat at the U.S. embassy, and Amir Abdollahian, the deputy head of Iran’s mission.
After the talks, which lasted several hours, a U.S. embassy official said they were “frank and serious, and focused as agreed on security problems in Iraq.” They would continue at a date to be agreed later.
The two countries also have long-running feuds over other issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, but officials say they have not been raised in the Iraq talks.
A huge truck bomb flattened houses in a residential neighborhood in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar in the early morning.
A doctor at the town’s main hospital told Reuters 33 people had been killed and 52 were injured. Among the dead were 16 women and many children, he said.
Rescue workers sifted through rubble in an attempt to find survivors from the attack.
In eastern Baghdad, six people died and nine were wounded when street cleaners were hit by a bomb hidden in a rubbish bin in the early morning. Another bomb on a minibus killed two.
Overnight, police in the town of Baquba — capital of Diyala province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have mounted an offensive against insurgents over the past several weeks — found 60 decomposing corpses dumped in tall grass.
Baghdad police said 18 bodies were found in the capital.
Washington has increased pressure on Iraq’s leaders, accusing them of failing to make political progress.
On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized Iraq’s parliament for going on recess last week without passing laws Washington considers vital for ending sectarian violence.
“I said ‘for every day that we buy you, we’re buying it with American blood. The idea of you going on vacation is unacceptable’,” Gates said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Iraqi politicians are expected to hold talks soon to restore a unity cabinet which was designed to reduce sectarian strife by including members of all communities but which hit a crisis last week when the main Sunni Arab group pulled out.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite who has led the coalition government since taking power last year, announced on Sunday he would not accept the resignations of the six Sunni Arab cabinet ministers who quit last week.
But the Sunni ministers’ Accordance Front bloc said they would quit anyway unless Maliki met their demands, which include more influence over security policy. Front leader Adnan al-Dulaimi said Maliki was running “an unsuccessful sectarian government that intended to frustrate the political process.”
(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla and Paul Tait in Baghdad and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran)