New York Times: Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran, on the second day of his visit to Iraq, said Saturday that the two countries had agreed to form a joint commission to oversee border issues and that its primary task would be to “block saboteurs” crossing the 700-mile border.
The New York Times
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 27 Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran, on the second day of his visit to Iraq, said Saturday that the two countries had agreed to form a joint commission to oversee border issues and that its primary task would be to “block saboteurs” crossing the 700-mile border.
“We plan to form a joint commission between Iran and Iraq to control our borders and block the way to saboteurs whose aim is to destabilize the security of the two countries,” he said in Najaf after talks with Iraq’s most powerful Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Mr. Mottaki, whose visit was only the second by an official Iranian government delegation since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, said improved border controls would be part of a wide effort to build close ties between the countries, including $1 billion in Iranian economic assistance to Shiite and Kurdish areas of Iraq.
American military commanders and diplomats have been focusing on what they say is strong evidence that a covert flow of weapons and money from Iran to Shiite militia groups in Iraq has fueled sectarian violence here. The Americans have urged the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to tighten security on the weakly patrolled Iran-Iraq border.
The issue is fraught with political complexity in Iraq, where the Maliki government includes Shiite leaders with links to at least two militias. The militias have been accused of participating in a brutal cycle of sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people in recent months, in revenge for the relentless attacks on Shiites by Sunni insurgent groups.
American officials met with Mr. Maliki this week to brief him on what they contend are clandestine Iranian efforts to gain influence in Iraq, and to urge him to take action to restrain that effort as part of his promise to curb all militias in Iraq.
Mr. Maliki’s action on this and other security issues has been curbed, at least to some degree, by jockeying among the ruling parties over the government’s top three security posts, left unfilled when his government took office a week ago.
A senior United States military official in Baghdad said Saturday that he expected the ministers of interior, defense and national security to be named “within two or three days.”
Similar predictions were made by Mr. Maliki and American officials last weekend, but candidates brought forward at midweek for two of the posts a senior Shiite military officer for the interior post, and a Sunni expatriate in London for the defense ministry failed to win approval by all the major groups involved.
Mr. Maliki, acting as interim interior minister, has appointed another senior official to oversee the defense ministry in an acting capacity. But the delay in completing his government, and particularly in filling the security posts, has been an embarrassing start for a government that came to office under pressure to show it could be more effective than the departing government of the former prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, widely seen as a failure.
Top American officials have said that Mr. Maliki has a matter of weeks, months at most, to show that he can take control. These officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of their relations with Iraqi leaders, have said that another failure on the scale of Mr. Jaafari’s could fundamentally undermine the American undertaking here, and with it the hope of progressing over 18 months or so to orderly American troop reductions.
In a statement released Saturday night, the American military said two marines were missing after their AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopter crashed during a maintenance flight in Anbar Province, a desert region where Sunni Arab insurgents have mounted some of their fiercest challenges to American troops. The statement said that the crash “does not appear to be the result of enemy action” and that search and rescue efforts were under way.
A new wave of violence across Iraq in the 24 hours until Saturday evening killed at least 15 people, according to police reports. In Baghdad, a bomb in a parked car exploded near a busy police station on Saturday morning, killing four civilians. There were at least four attacks on police patrols, with an officer killed and at least 13 wounded by a roadside bombing and a series of drive-by shootings. On Friday night, a shooting spree broke out when a referee disallowed a goal during a soccer game in the Risafa neighborhood, leaving two men dead.
Baquba had at least three attacks on police targets on Saturday, including an ambush that killed the city’s deputy police chief and four other officers. Two other policemen, one a general, died in separate attacks.
The border issue is just one of the challenges facing the Maliki government and American forces here. The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., traveled by helicopter this week to two points along the Iranian border northeast of Baghdad to assess the effectiveness of Iraqi border police posts along the frontier, and was told by Iraqi border commanders that they had only a fraction of the manpower, vehicles and fuel they needed to control cross-border smuggling and infiltration.
The Americans say they believe that men, weapons and money are reaching at least two Shiite militia groups: the Badr Organization that is controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful body in the Maliki government; and the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to the volatile Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who has loyalists in the new government even as he is declaring his hostility to the American military presence here.
The Americans believe that some of the weapons and ammunition reaching Baghdad come across the Diyala Province border east and north of Baghdad and are taken to brick kilns in the vicinity of the Diyala capital of Baquba before being shipped 50 miles southwest into Baghdad hidden among truckloads of bricks.