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Iraq: Prime Minister Makes Landmark Visit To Iran

Al-Ja'fari (file photo) With a Shi'a-dominated government in place in Baghdad, a closer relationship now appears to be developing between Iraq and Iran. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari was in Tehran over the weekend to discuss security issues and future relations between the two countries. Al-Ja'fari met today with outgoing President Mohammad Khatami during the first top-level visit since the two countries waged an eight-year war in the 1980s.

Prague, 17 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iran today hosted the biggest Iraqi delegation it has seen in decades, which is appropriate considering the scale of the problems the two sides need to settle.

Yahia Said, a researcher on Iraq at the London School of Economics, said the visit of Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari and his team is very significant.

"The most important element [of the visit] is probably symbolic, which is to try to have some sort of closure behind the war with Iran and this is the first time that a Shi'a-led Iraq [reached out for Iran.]," Said said. "So it is a new chapter in relations between the countries that have found after decades more common purpose than ever before."

Iran and Iraq fought a bitter war from 1980 until 1988 during which a million people died and chemical weapons were used by Iraq.

Now, with Saddam Hussein removed from power, Al- Ja'fari heads a delegation of around 10 ministers, and topics for discussion involve security, and economic issues such as electricity, energy, and water.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi said earlier that "the two countries will sign several protocols in the political, economic, and security fields." Ja'fari is also expected to sign a number of deals and in one of these, Iraq would provide crude oil to Iran through a pipeline connecting the southern Iraqi port of Al-Basrah with Abadan. In return, Iraq would receive an equivalent amount of refined oil products coming from Central Asia via Caspian Sea ports in Iran.

The two sides are likely to focus on security issues like the continued presence of the armed Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedin, in Iraq. Yunessi told AP news agency that the presence of "the Mujahedin Khalq Organization's members in Iraq is against national interests of both countries and Iraqi officials had promised to expel them before." However, analyst Said says Mujahedin Khalq poses a too complicated problem to be settled during the visit.

Some say the U.S. is uneasy about a new Iraqi contacts with the Iranian clerical regime. Earlier, the U.S. warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq, saying Tehran should not try to dominate certain institutions or areas of the country. However, Said said it is unlikely the visit will anger the Americans.

"I don't think it will anger the United States," Said said. "Definitely this government is trying to show some independence and take initiative in foreign policy [to increase popularity.]"

Said says closer cooperation with Teheran might help to stop infiltrations of foreign fighters through the Iraqi-Iranian border.

Meanwhile in Iraq, some 70 people have died and another 110 were injured in a suicide bomb attack near a mosque in the town of Musayyib, some 60 kilometers south of Baghdad, yesterday. And more bombings on a smaller scale continued today.