Baghdad Iran and the United States have agreed to meet soon for a fourth round of talks on Iraqi security, underscoring what Iraqi officials say is growing, if grudging, cooperation between the two adversaries.
Officials in Iran and Washington confirmed Tuesday that new talks would take place, though no date was announced. Iraqi officials said that they expect the talks, arranged through the Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran, will be held in Baghdad later this month.
The meetings may be among the more unexpected outcomes of the Iraq war. The United States and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 1979, after Iran's Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah, and the leaders of each have been painting the threat posed by the other in increasingly hyperbolic terms.
Iraqi officials said that the first three meetings led to important agreements, including a pledge from Iran to stop shipments of sophisticated roadside bombs to Iraqi militias, and that more talks are a matter of Iraqi survival.
"We joke around here that we don't want to be stuck in a war between the 'Axis of Evil' and the 'Great Satan'," said Amar Hakim, the secretary-general of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq's largest political party.
President Bush called Iran, Iraq and North Korea the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address. Iranians have referred to the United States as the Great Satan since the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini used the phrase in 1979.
Neither U.S. nor Iranian officials have said much about the previous meetings between U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on May 28, July 24 and Aug. 6.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyar Zebari said that despite the bombast from Tehran and Washington, the previous meetings, which have lasted as long as four hours, have been cordial.
Officials of Iraq's Shiite Muslim-led government, many of whom have ties to Iran, said that they consider Iran an ally and that, as a neighbor and friend, Iran has a legitimate, if limited, role to play in Iraq.
Iraqi officials said they're particularly grateful to Shiite Iran for curbing radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
"Their reining-in of the Mahdi Army was very helpful," said Zebari, who's sat in on all the talks between the U.S. and Iran. "Our discussions have helped."
A rift in the highest levels of Iraq's government widened Tuesday and threatened to undermine U.S. efforts to unite the fractious central government behind compromises on distributing oil revenues and other key issues.
In an interview with an Iraqi newspaper, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, accused the country's Sunni vice president of blocking key legislation approved by Iraq's Shiite-dominated parliament. Al-Maliki also suggested that the parliament's largest Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, isn't representative of the country's Sunni minority.
"There are 26 laws that are blocked in the presidency council, and it is the vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who is blocking them," al-Maliki said in the interview, which was published Tuesday in the Dar al Hayat newspaper.
Al-Maliki didn't elaborate on the 26 laws to which he was referring. Al-Hashemi could not be reached for comment.
Al-Maliki's latest verbal flare-up comes as U.S. officials are urging Iraqi leaders to use a relative lull in violence to broker peace among the country's rival Shiite and Sunni Arabs and Kurds and to act more quickly to address the country's key issues.
¢ A U.S. military helicopter crashed Tuesday southeast of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and injuring 12, the U.S. military said.
Initial reports indicated the crash was not due to hostile fire, the military said.
The deaths brought to at least 3,875 the number of U.S. service members killed in Iraqince the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.