TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday made his first official visit to Iran since taking office and planned to ask Tehran to prevent al-Qaida members believed to be in Iran from crossing into Iraq to carry out attacks, an Iraqi official said.
Al-Qaida members have been “taking advantage of the long border” to smuggle weapons and people into Iraq, “most likely without the Iranian government’s knowledge,” said Haidar al-Obadi, a parliament member from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.
“There are al-Qaida members and al-Qaida strongholds in Iran,” he told The Associated Press in Cairo, speaking by telephone from Baghdad. “We ask Iran for cooperation in controlling the border to prevent any al-Qaida exploitation of the border.”
Iranian state-run television did not immediately provide details about their meeting. Iraqi state TV reported that the two discussed “bilateral arrangements” but did not disclose further details.
The United States accuses Tehran of harboring al-Qaida fugitives and of not doing enough to stop militants from infiltrating into Iraq across the porous 1,000-mile border.
Iran has said that some al-Qaida operatives may have illegally passed through Iran from Afghanistan months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it says it has arrested an unknown number of them.
Al-Maliki received a red-carpet welcome at the Iran’s presidential palace on Tuesday ahead of talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, Iraq has sought closer ties with Iran and to heal scars left by the 1980-88 war that killed more than 1 million people on both sides.
Al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government has strong ties with mainly Shiite Iran, and they are growing even closer, with Baghdad sealing deals last month for Tehran to provide it with gasoline, kerosene and cooking fuel amid a shortage in Iraq. Al-Maliki spent years in Iran and Syria in exile.
An Iraqi economic delegation visited Iran just before al-Maliki to discuss further petroleum deals, including the possibility of Iranian investment in Iraq’s fuel sector, said Haidar al-Obadi, another Dawa party parliamentarian.
In July 2005, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made the first visit to Iran by an Iraqi premier since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.