Iran's radical islamic president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning a landmark trip to Iraq next month. The Iraqi government says Ahmadinejad will be the first Iranian leader to ever visit Iraq.
Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani during his two-day visit to discuss bilateral relations and other joint projects.
A possible Iraqi-Iranian alliance has many officials in the U.S concerned. President Bush has repeatedly called Iran the world's top sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. military has also cited evidence that Iran has helped the terrorists fighting the U.S in Iraq.
Ahmadinejad's trip was announced last month, but Iraqi officials only unveiled the date on Thursday.
The two countries fought an eight-year war in the 1980s that left an estimated one million people killed or wounded. However, relations have improved since the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003
Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim. Iraq has an almost 60 percent Shiite majority that emerged from decades of surpression to become the country's dominant political force after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Iran Postpones Security Meeting
Also Thursday, officials said Iran has postponed the next session of expert-level talks on security with U.S. diplomats.
The U.S.-Iran talks, which had been scheduled for Friday, were to have been the fourth in a series of meetings on Iraqi security. Iraqi officials arrange the talks as well as sit in the meetings.
"We have been informed by the government of Iraq that Iran has again postponed the trilateral talks on security in Iraq," U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip Reeker said. "We have been saying for weeks that we are ready to sit down for talks. Now it is increasingly clear that Iran is not."
Reeker said the U.S. will be seeking answers at the talks about Iranian efforts to curb support for Shiite extremists. "We haven't seen a great deal that's very encouraging in that regard," he told reporters in Baghdad.
U.S.: Iran Still Supporting Militias
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the outgoing second-in-command in Iraq, said he believes Iran is still supporting the militias in a bid to destabilize the country, although he conceded that support "may have slowed a little."
"I think Iran wants a weak Iraq and it's in their best interest," he told reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony at which he handed over the charge of the U.S. military's day-to-day activities in Iraq to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin. "We've gotta make sure that they aren't here trying to create a weak government of Iraq."
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told The Associated Press earlier this month that he was open to renewing the three-way dialogue with Iranian and Iraqi officials, and that he expected the latest round would begin with a lower-level meeting of security officials.
A meeting last May 28 between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze between the two countries. The two met again late last summer and there has been one other meeting at the expert level.
Source: The Associated Press