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Iraq-Iran progress claimed

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi delegation that traveled to Iran to confront it with allegations of involvement in Iraqi violence said yesterday that it had secured an agreement to "stabilize security" and improve cooperation.

The statements, made upon the delegation's return last night, were in stark contrast to the harsh words Iraqi officials had last week for Iran. They included allegations that Iranian-made weapons with manufacture dates of 2008 had been found in the southern city of Basra in the wake of recent clashes between Shiite militiamen and Iraqi and U.S. security forces.

The purported finds, which have not been made public, would show that Iran had broken a commitment made to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last year to stop interfering in Iraq's unrest.

U.S. military officials have portrayed the Basra caches as an "eye-opener" for Iraqi leaders and said they provided Baghdad the evidence it needed to aggressively confront Iran. Iran denies accusations of involvement in Iraq's violence. A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said in a telephone interview last week that Iran welcomed the delegation "and wants to stop the violence in Iraq."

Sheik Khalid Attiya, the deputy speaker of Iraq's Parliament, said the five-member delegation "sensed a positive stance" from Iranian officials. "The two sides have agreed to keep up efforts to stabilize security," he said.

Attiya made no mention of the recent accusations by the government. U.S. military and political officials have been more vocal about the allegations since late last month, when al-Maliki launched the Basra offensive.

The United States blames much of the fighting since the offensive on Iranian-backed extremists. Iran says the United States is using it as a scapegoat for its problems in Iraq.

In the latest violence yesterday, the U.S. military sent a guided missile slamming into a building in the heart of Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The military said the building was a command center used by militiamen to coordinate attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

But it was next to the parking lot of a hospital, and hospital officials said at least 28 people were injured and 11 ambulances damaged in debris sent flying by the blast.

Separately, the U.S. military said yesterday that four Marines were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in Anbar province. No other details were released.

Tina Susman and Ramin Mostaghim write for the Los Angeles Times.

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