Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, in a visit to Iran where he met Sunday with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pledged closer ties between the two neighbors at the same time Baghdad is negotiating a long-term security agreement with the U.S.
The proposed pact with Washington would establish a legal framework for the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq after the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.
Iranian officials have repeatedly expressed concerns in recent weeks that the agreement would simply formalize the presence of dozens of American military bases.
In a round-table public affairs program broadcast on Iranian television, one panelist compared American bases in Iraq to the installation of Russian missiles in Cuba during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
But Maliki, after his meeting with Ahmadinejad, said the U.S. agreement would help maintain and enhance Iraq’s security situation, which remains fragile.
“A stable Iraq will be a benefit to the security of the region and the world,” Maliki said, according to Ahmadinejad’s official website.
The Iranian leader, however, indicated concerns that an agreement could lead to long-term American domination of Iraq.
“Iraq must reach a certain level of stability,” he said, according to an Associated Press report, “so that its enemies are not able to impose their influence.”
Maliki, after arriving in Tehran on Saturday, had said his government would “not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran,” the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
The three-day visit to Iran is Maliki’s third since taking office in May 2006. Relations between the two nations, enemies during Saddam Hussein’s rule, have flourished since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 enabled Iraq’s long-persecuted Shiite Muslim majority to rise to political power. Like many Shiite politicians, Maliki spent part of the Hussein years in exile in Shiite-ruled Iran.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of helping destabilize Iraq by supplying weapons to Shiite militias, a charge Tehran has denied.
But despite American reservations, ties between the two nations continue to grow, and Iran has signed an agreement to supply electricity to Iraq and build power plants in several Iraqi cities.
Hussein waged a devastating eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, backed by the U.S. and several Arab nations, which feared Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution would spread in the region. This year, Ahmadinejad traveled to Baghdad in the first visit by an Iranian president since 1979.
In northern Iraq on Sunday, a suicide bomber in Tamim province killed a U.S. soldier and wounded 18 others, the U.S. military said. A second soldier was killed Saturday in east Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle. The fatalities bring the U.S. military death toll in Iraq to 4,094, according to icasualties.org.
Iraqi police reported that four bullet-riddled bodies were found in the capital on Sunday.
Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.