Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran yesterday for a visit aimed at winning Tehran's full support for restoring security to his war-torn country and continuing talks with the US.
The Shiite prime minister has also been a strong backer of the landmark talks between Iran and the US in Baghdad aimed at halting the violence in Iraq and is expected to press for the discussions to continue.
Maliki's three-day visit comes in the midst of a political crisis in Baghdad, which has seen six Sunni members of his Cabinet resign and the prime minister in turn accuse them of lacking responsibility and sincerity.
However, Maliki, whose Shiite-majority country has become a strong ally of Tehran following the fall of former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, was expected to receive a warm welcome on his second official visit to overwhelmingly Shiite Iran.
He was met at Tehran's main city airport by Energy Minister Parviz Fattah and was expected to head to a welcoming ceremony attended by Vice President Parviz Davoudi.
He is expected to meet higher-ranking leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, later in his visit.
Maliki made his first official trip to Iran in September last year, while the first visit by an Iraqi premier since the fall of Saddam Hussein was made by Maliki's predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari in July 2005.
Separately, Iraq slapped a vehicle curfew on Baghdad yesterday to protect Shiite pilgrims expected to throng a city shrine for a major festival.
The curfew came into effect at 5am, said Bassem Ridha, an adviser to the prime minister, and was expected to last until Saturday in an effort to secure the city during the anniversary of the death of the Imam Musa Kadhim.