U.S., Iran May Resume Talks on Iraq Tuesday

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 23, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 22 -- The United States and Iran will hold a second round of direct talks to discuss Iraq's worsening security situation as early as Tuesday, even as U.S. military commanders continue to accuse Iranian operatives of fomenting the instability.

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told news services Sunday that the two sides will sit down together on Tuesday, a date confirmed by U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad.

The announcement came as the U.S. military said it had detained two alleged weapons smugglers with suspected links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite al-Quds Force. Weapons were confiscated during a pre-dawn raid Sunday on a farm compound east of Baghdad near the Iranian border, the military said. The suspects, the military said, were allegedly smuggling the armor-piercing roadside bombs that have killed many American soldiers.

Iran has repeatedly denied U.S. allegations that its operatives are arming insurgents and targeting U.S. troops. Critics have noted that the U.S. military has not provided indisputable proof of Iranian involvement.

The United States and Iran held a historic meeting May 28 that marked their first direct talks in 27 years. Since then, tensions have grown as both sides continue to hurl accusations at each other over their roles in Iraq and in the region.

The United States is demanding the release of four Iranian American scholars and activists accused by Iran of endangering its national security. Iran wants the United States to release five Iranians detained in Iraq. The U.S. military alleges the five are senior members of the al-Quds Force, but Iran says they are diplomats with valid credentials and permission from the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, an influential legislator in the ruling Shiite-dominated alliance said it was unlikely that a U.S.-backed oil law would move forward significantly before August, when Iraq's parliament is scheduled to break for a vacation. The oil law is one of the benchmark issues that the Bush administration views as essential to restoring stability in Iraq.

"The problem is the cabinet agreed on this oil law and sent it to the parliament. But every day, a political bloc comes and says, 'I have some kind of reservation about this point, or change this point, or cancel this point,' " said Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkmen legislator who is a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's United Iraqi Alliance.

The assessment, shared by other politicians, casts doubt on whether the oil legislation will be passed by September, when a progress report is to be delivered to Congress and could help determine how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq.

"It will never happen before September," Bayati said.

Maliki has pleaded for parliament, which usually recesses in July and August, to cancel its August vacation or at least limit it to two weeks. But lawmakers, who have worked through July, are reluctant. Bayati said that working in August would be unconstitutional, but added that if Maliki made a formal request, legislators might reconsider.

The oil law is designed to equitably distribute Iraq's oil resources -- the third largest in the world -- among the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Violence continued Sunday. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a house in Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad, where a Sunni group fighting insurgents linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq had gathered. Police said 11 people were killed and eight injured, including five tribal sheiks. A U.S. military spokesman told the Reuters news service that three died and 13 were wounded, and that none of those killed were Sunni tribal leaders.

In Baghdad, police found 23 unidentified corpses in various neighborhoods. Most had been shot in the head and bore signs of torture, police said.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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