AP: The Iranian government announced March 2 as the date for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq, confirming the landmark trip for the first time Sunday. The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) The Iranian government announced March 2 as the date for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq, confirming the landmark trip for the first time Sunday.
The trip will be the first by an Iranian head of state to Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said earlier this month that Ahmadinejad would would meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani during a two-day visit, but there had been no official confirmation from the Iranians.
“The visit is tentatively set for March 2,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in his weekly news briefing. “We are working on fixing the exact date for the visit.”
Hosseini said the visit was in response to an invitation by the Iraqi government and occurs in the framework of “friendly ties.”
Iraq started a ruinous eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s that left an estimated 1 million people dead or wounded on both side.
But relations have improved since the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite, and Iraq has a roughly 60 percent Shiite majority that emerged from decades of marginalization to become the country’s dominant force after Saddam’s ouster.
Many of Iraq’s senior Shiite politicians lived in exile in Iran during the 35-year rule of Saddam’s Baath party, and maintain ties to Iran’s leadership.
The U.S. military says Iran is arming, training and bankrolling Shiite militiamen in Iraq who have used Iranian-supplied roadside bombs to kill hundreds of American soldiers. Iran denies the charge.
Since May, Iran and the U.S. have held three rounds of ambassador-level talks on security in Iraq. But Iran postponed the fourth round, set for early February, without giving any specific reason.