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Iraq Transition

Old enemies Iran-Iraq talk border security

U.S. troops battle insurgents in Mosul

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iran's foreign minister arrived in Iraq Tuesday with an olive branch, offering to assist the new Shiite-led government with security along their long common border and provide other help.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is fully prepared to assist the formation of the Iraqi government in any field, whether it is in security, economic, or any other field. And this will be a joint effort," Kamal Kharrazi said.

He is the highest-ranking representative from the largely Shiite Islamic republic to make an official visit to Iraq in the post-Saddam Hussein era. He met transitional Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who called the political message of the visit "very important."

"This is the first visit of a foreign minister, Arab or Islamic, from any of Iraq's neighboring countries to Iraq since the change of the regime and since the elections of the Iraqi people..." said Zebari. "This is proof of their respect for this authority and for the Iraqi people."

Zebari said Iraq continues to need the security help of the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq's neighboring countries. Of particular concern is the long porous border with Iran, which is easily infiltrated by insurgents.

Just two days earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a stop in Iraq and, in an interview with CNN, called on Iran's theocratic leadership not to "have undue influence in the country."

Kharrazi underscored the fact that he spoke to Iraqi officials without intermediaries and that his country's gestures should not be considered interference in Iraqi affairs.

Kharrazi's visit was the latest sign the Iraqi government is moving ahead with diplomacy amid the violence. The visit also symbolizes a thaw in what were once hostile relations between the two neighbors.

Iran and Iraq fought a long war that killed at least a million people during the 1980s. During Saddam's regime, many Shiites fled to Iran, home at the time to the only Shiite-dominated government in the region. And since the toppling of Saddam's regime, Iraq government officials have accused Iran and Syria of allowing foreign fighters into Iraq.

The January 30 democratic elections in Iraq created a government dominated by Shiite Arabs and Kurds. Some critics say those politicians are serving as puppets for Iran.

Other developments

Shiites and Kurds have been targeted in bombings in an upsurge of violence after the new government came to power a few weeks ago. Officials have decried the sectarian violence.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Monday, "The government will strike with a fist of iron on every criminal who tries to harm any citizen whether he was a Sunni, a Shiite, an Assyrian, a Kurd or a Turkmen."

In Baghdad two Iraqi figures were assassinated Tuesday -- a Shiite cleric and his driver, and an official with Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity.

A Task Force Liberty soldier was also killed in a roadside bombing near Tikrit, bringing the number of American deaths in the war to 1,623.

Monday night, Iraq's new defense minister, Sadoun al-Dulaimi, announced he was ordering the Iraqi army to stop raids on mosques and churches. The move was expected to ease sectarian tensions and civilian casualties.

Insurgents have used mosques to stage attacks, hide and harbor weapons.

American soldiers have said they have fired at mosques only when fired upon from mosques.

Skirmishes in Mosul

Backed by air support, U.S. troops struck insurgent targets in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday, officials said.

Army helicopters fired on unfinished buildings in northern Mosul used as insurgent hideouts, police said.

Helicopters also were called in to support troops in eastern Mosul, a U.S. military spokesman said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Mosul, the third most populous city in Iraq, is in Ninevah province, where U.S. and Iraqi troops have spent much of the past two weeks rounding up suspected insurgents.

Other developments

  • Task Force Baghdad soldiers captured 10 suspected insurgents in Baghdad on Tuesday, according to a U.S. military statement. Iraqi soldiers also killed four attackers in the central part of the city, the news release said.
  • The Army soldier who blew the whistle on abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq received a special John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Monday, an honor that recognizes acts of political courage. (Full story)
  • British Parliament member George Galloway on Tuesday angrily denied profiting from Saddam's regime and criticized the U.S. Senate panel probing alleged corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. (Full story)
  • The world's fifth largest company, London, England-based HSBC Holdings Plc., is negotiating to acquire a majority stake in Iraq's investment bank, Dar es Salaam, a firm spokesman said Tuesday. Dar es Salaam has $15.1 million on deposit, according to its Web site. Foreign-based banks had been banned from operating in Iraq for thirty-five years under Saddam's rule. (Full story)
  • CNN's Ryan Chilcote, Enes Dulami, Kevin Flower, Kianne Sadeq and a stringer in Mosul contributed to this report.

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