Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iran, Iraq agree on formation of border commission

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the second day of his visit to Iraq, said on 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 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," Mottaki said in Najaf after talks with Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani.

Mottaki, who was taking part in only the second visit by an official Iranian government delegation since the downfall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, said improved border controls would be part of a wide effort to build close ties between the countries, including US$1 billion in Iranian economic assistance to Shiite and Kurdish areas of Iraq.

The announcement in Najaf was made as US military commanders and diplomats were focusing new attention on what they said was strong evidence that a covert flow of weapons and money from Iran to Shiite militia groups in Iraq had fueled sectarian violence there. Action to tighten security on the weakly patrolled Iran-Iraq border is among the measures US officials have urged on the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The issue is fraught with political complexity where as al-Maliki government includes Shiite leaders with links to at least two militias. The militias have been accused of participating in a cycle of sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people in recent months, in revenge for relentless attacks on Shiites by Sunni insurgents.

US officials met with al-Maliki this week to brief him on what they contend are a range of clandestine Iranian efforts to gain influence in Iraq, and to urge the new government leader to take action to restrain that effort as part of his promise to curb all militias in Iraq.

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