Iran Urges Summit With Iraq and Syria

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

November 20, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation and will fly to the Iranian capital Saturday, a close parliamentary associate said.

The Iranian diplomatic gambit appeared designed to upstage expected moves from Washington to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq, where more civilians have been killed in the first 20 days of November than in any other month since the AP began tallying the figures in April 2005.

The Iranian move was also a display of its increasingly muscular role in the Middle East, where it already has established deep influence over Syria and Lebanon.

''All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region,'' said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister.

Both Iran and Syria are seen as key players in Iraq. Syria is widely believed to have done little to stop foreign fighters and al-Qaida in Iraq recruits from crossing its border to join Sunni insurgents in Iraq. It also has provided refuge for many top members of Saddam Hussein's former leadership and political corps, which is thought to have organized arms and funding for the insurgents. The Sunni insurgency, since it sprang to life in late summer 2003, has been responsible for most of the U.S. deaths in Iraq.

Iran is deeply involved in training, funding and arming the two major Shiite militias in Iraq, where Tehran has deep historic ties to the current Shiite political leadership. Many Iraqi Shiites spent years in Iranian exile during Saddam's decades in power in Baghdad. One militia, the Badr Brigade, was trained in Iran by the Revolutionary Guard.

Earlier today, assassins killed a popular TV comedian and a college professor but failed in attempts to kill two Iraqi government officials as the country's leader met with Syria's foreign minister about improving security and reopening diplomatic relations.

In all, 21 Iraqis were killed in a series of attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Baqouba and near the Syrian border, and the bodies of 26 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found on the streets of the capital; in Dujail, north of Baghdad; and in the Tigris River in southern Iraq, police said.

The attacks raised the November death total to at least 1,370, well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which was the deadliest month in Iraq since The Associated Press began tracking the figure in April 2005.

The actual totals are likely considerably higher because many deaths are not reported. Victims in those cases are quickly buried according to Muslim custom and never reach morgues or hospitals to be counted.

Minister of State Mohammed Abbas Auraibi, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, said a roadside bomb hit his convoy at about 9:30 a.m. Monday in eastern Baghdad, wounding two of his bodyguards.

''I was returning from an official visit to Amarah when our convoy was attacked,'' he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''Thank God the two guards were only slightly injured.''

Amarah is a mostly Shiite city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Hakim al-Zamily, a Shiite deputy health minister, also escaped unhurt when gunmen fired at his convoy in downtown Baghdad at noon on Monday, killing two of his guards, the minister said.

On Sunday suspected Sunni Muslim insurgents kidnapped another deputy health minister, Shiite Ammar al-Saffar, from his home in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi army and police reported. They said the gunmen wore police uniforms and arrived in seven vehicles to abduct al-Saffar, believed to be the senior-most government official kidnapped in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Al-Saffar was snatched nearly a week after dozens of suspected Shiite militia gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped scores of people from a Ministry of Higher Education office in Baghdad. That ministry is predominantly Sunni.

The civilian victims of Monday's widespread attacks in Iraq included Walid Hassan, a famous comedian on al-Sharqiya TV who was shot while driving in western Baghdad. He had performed in a comedy series called ''Caricature,'' which mocked coalition forces and the Iraqi governments since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Assailants also shot to death Fulayeh al-Ghurabi, a Shiite professor at Babil University in the province south of Baghdad, as he was driving home from the school at midday, police said.

A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday night and a U.S. Marine died during combat in Anbar province on Sunday, the military said, raising to at least 2,865 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the war. This month in Iraq, 47 American service members have been killed or died.

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met privately with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem on Monday during the second and final day of Moallem's visit to Iraq.

Afterward, government spokesman Ali Al-Dabagh told reporters the meeting was successful.

''There is a very strong Syrian desire to develop relations between the two countries. Stability and security in Iraq means stability and security in Syria and other countries in the region,'' Al-Dabagh said.

''There are tremendous fields of cooperation between the two countries, and they will be started once all security issues and other problems are solved.''

When Moallem arrived on his groundbreaking diplomatic mission Sunday, the highest Syrian official to visit Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, he called for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces to help end Iraq's sectarian bloodbath.

Syria and Iraq share a long and porous desert border, and both Baghdad and Washington have accused Damascus of not doing enough to stop the flow of foreign Arab fighters.

Coalition forces again raided Baghdad's Sadr City, the stronghold of a Shiite militia suspected of having carried out the mass kidnaping at the Ministry of Higher Education.

Iraqi forces searched and damaged a mosque during the operation, but made no arrests, the U.S. military said. The Iraqi forces, acting with the assistance of U.S. military advisers, also destroyed a vehicle near the mosque that was posing a threat to the ground forces, the coalition said.

Iraqi and U.S. forces suffered no casualties.

In Sadr City, witnesses and an official at the main office of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told the AP that in addition to the mosque, coalition forces searched several homes, arrested three Iraqis and briefly clashed with Mahdi Army militiamen. Speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own security, the witnesses and official said the raid began at about 3 a.m.

Meanwhile, British and Iraqi forces raided homes in southern Iraq on Monday and arrested four suspects in the kidnapping of four American security guards and their Austrian co-worker, an official said.

The raid, which began late Sunday and ended early Monday morning, took place in Zubair, a mostly Sunni-Arab enclave about 20 miles south of Basra, Capt. Tane Dunlop, the British military spokesman, told The Associated Press. Most of Britain's 7,200 soldiers in Iraq are based in the city.

On Sunday, Iraqi police showed the media 200 suspected insurgents they had arrested the night before while raiding several areas north of Basra, which is 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Both raids failed to find any of the hostages in southern Iraq, a mostly Shiite region.