U.S., Iran To Continue Talks Despite Differences

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 24 -- The United States and Iran will continue discussions about security in Iraq despite U.S. accusations that Iran is supporting an increasing number of insurgent attacks in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad said Tuesday.

Representatives from the United States, Iran and Iraq will form a committee to examine possible ways to reverse Iraq's deteriorating security situation, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker told reporters after a seven-hour meeting with Iranian officials that he characterized as "a difficult discussion." The meeting between Crocker and Hassan Kazemi Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, was the second since May 28, when the two countries held formal, direct talks for the first time since 1979.

But Crocker reiterated U.S. accusations that Iran is supporting insurgents in Iraq, saying that talks will not move forward unless Iranian operatives stop providing weapons and guidance to extremist groups. Iran denies any involvement with Iraqi insurgents.

"I was as clear as I could be with the Iranians: This discussion has to be measured in results, not in principles or promises," Crocker said. "Thus far, the results on the ground are not encouraging."

Qomi maintained that Iran has no connection to insurgent groups, Crocker said, adding that the U.S. government "has no question" about the connection between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Shiite militias. Critics have pressed Crocker and other American officials for conclusive evidence of such ties, a request the ambassador dismissed Tuesday.

"This is not something we're trying to or we need to prove in a court of law," Crocker said, adding that insurgents captured by American troops have told investigators they are backed by Iran.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have been further fueled by accusations that each country is improperly detaining several people. The United States wants Iran to release four Iranian Americans who have been imprisoned or prevented from leaving the country. Iran is demanding the release of five Iranians in U.S. custody in Iraq. The American military has said the five are members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite al-Quds Force, but Iranian officials have said they are diplomats who entered Iraq legally.

Crocker said the friction between the countries' diplomats led to several "heated exchanges," notably when he suggested Iran supports terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, including Hezbollah and Hamas. "I would not describe this as a shouting match throughout, but again we were real clear on where our problems with their behavior were," he said.

The talks began a few hours after a car bomb south of Baghdad killed at least 26 people and injured more than 70, police said. The bomb detonated in front of a maternity hospital in Hilla, a mainly Shiite town about 60 miles south of Baghdad, Hilla police spokesman Muthana Ahmed said.

Audei Hamadi, who sells produce in an outdoor market down the block from the hospital, said he was knocked unconscious by the blast and woke up to see his fruit stand destroyed.

"The first things that I saw were darkness, smoke and dust," Hamadi said. "I saw people, fruit and everything fly from the explosion. When I woke up I saw kids, women and men burned as well as the shops, cars and stalls."

Ahmed said the hospital was closed for several hours to clean the rubble from delivery rooms. Most of the hospital's windows were blown out by the force of the blast, he said.

Taxi driver Qasim Abdul Sadda said the explosion left him hospitalized with severe burns and destroyed his car.

"People were flying in the air and many cars were burned," Abdul Sadda said.

Ahmed said he expected the death toll to rise because some people had critical injuries. Police said several of the victims were children whose bodies were burned beyond recognition.

A day after a series of car bombs killed 17 people in Baghdad, there was relatively little violence in the capital. Two police officers were killed when gunmen stormed their patrol in the northern part of the city, while two civilians died after Katyusha rocket shells landed on their homes in the Saydiya neighborhood of southern Baghdad, police said.

A police spokesman said 24 bodies were found in various neighborhoods of the city. The victims had been tortured and shot in the head, he said.

Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington and special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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