BAGHDAD (AFP) -The United States confirmed that direct talks would soon be held with Iran over the situation in Iraq where violence around the capital Baghdad continued unabated.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani pronounced himself “optimistic” about the formation of a new government on Friday, on a day where 17 were killed in attacks and over 20 corpses were discovered.
Violence continued Saturday morning with four Iraqis killed in eastern Baghdad by a roadside bomb.
East of the capital, in the small town of Balad Ruz, not far from the Iranian border, another roadside bomb killed two teenage boys selling farm produce from the back of their bicycles.
A passing car was also hit, but the three occupants were only injured.
Ten more corpses were also discovered in Baghdad, bringing the number of bodies, most showing signs of torture, discovered by police over the last week to about 75.
Some of the violence in the country is being laid at the doorstep of neighboring Iran and in an interview with the Washington Post, US ambassador to Iran, Zalmay Khalilzad accused the Islamic republic of interference in Iraq.
“Our judgment is that training and supplying, direct or indirect, takes place, and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias,” Khalilzad told the Washington Post, adding that Iranian agents were present in the country.
He said was especially concerned over Iran’s links to the Mahdi Army, an armed group loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whom he blamed for the latest spike in sectarian killings in Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she was “quite certain” that direct talks would take place with Iran on the turmoil in Iraq, but did not say exactly when.
Though Khalilzad has been authorized to speak with the Iranians on the situation in Iraq since last year, the issue returned to prominence with last week’s calls by an Iraqi Shiite politician to Iran to talk with the United States.
“In this narrow set of issues about security in places where we find ourselves in a sense on their border, it’s important that we not have any miscommunication or misinformation,” said Rice.
The call prompted anger among other Iraqi politicians who questioned the validity of talks about Iraq that do not involve Iraqis.
Concern in Washington and Baghdad is high over the unabated violence in Iraq, especially in Baghdad and its environs, though officials in both capitals are quick to deny that an full-blown civil war is underway.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added his voice to other US officials expressing their impatience with the length of time it is taking for Iraqi politicians to decide on a new government.
“So to the extent that isn’t happening, obviously, the level of violence continues and people are being killed, and that’s unfortunate. And they need to get about the task,” Rumsfeld said.
In response to US pressure, Iraqi politicians restarted talks Friday, a day earlier than originally planned after their suspension for a week due to local holidays.
Following the restart of talks, Talabani pronounced himself “optimistic” about the formation of a new government and said talks had progressed on a wide range of issues, including the concrete mechanisms of the new government.
His optimism was somewhat undercut by Shiite politician Jawad Maliki who at the same press conference revealed that while talks had occurred over general issues, no discussions on the actual mechanisms had not taken place.