tampabay.com

Talks offer Iran a 'new era'

By TIMES WIRES
Published May 18, 2007


BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Talks between the United States and Iran this month will be an opportunity for Tehran to enter a "whole new era" in relations with Iraq, but first it has to stop aiding Iraqi insurgent groups, the U.S. envoy leading the discussions said Thursday.

Both Iranian and American officials said Thursday that the talks, beginning May 28 in Baghdad, will be limited to the security situation in Baghdad and will not delve into the diplomatic deadlock between the two countries over Iran's nuclear program.

"It is not about U.S.-Iranian relations. It's about how direct contact between us can help the situation inside Iraq, " said the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who will lead the talks.

Iran and the U.S. have not had public bilateral meetings on a specific issue since Washington broke off relations with Tehran over the 1979 hostage crisis. Previous encounters have been at multilateral gatherings. The two countries held talks under U.N. auspices from 2001 to 2003 regarding Afghanistan.

Iraq faces collapse, think tank warns

A new study warned Thursday that Iraq was close to becoming a "failed state."

The report, released by British think tank Chatham House, challenged the notion that violence in Iraq has subsided since the buildup of U.S. troops, saying, for instance, that car bombings had not diminished and radical groups were simply laying low.

"It can be argued that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation, " the report said.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said the country had tread close to "the edge of the abyss" but now was making progress on reforms needed to help mend sectarian and ethnic rifts. He said it would be "a terrible mistake" to conclude the U.S. strategy "isn't working, it isn't going to work and we just all need to pull stakes."

Three soldiers die; mortars hit U.S. base

Three American soldiers were killed Thursday and another was wounded in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported.

Mortar rounds also hit the U.S. Air Force base at Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad, destroying one helicopter and damaging nine others, Iraqi police said. The U.S. military confirmed some aircraft were damaged in an attack.

In Baghdad, an explosion rocked the U.S.-controlled Green Zone one day after a mortar barrage killed two Iraqis and wounded 10 other people there. The Green Zone houses the U.S. and British embassies as well as Iraqi government headquarters.

Across the country, at least 58 Iraqis were killed or found dead in bombings, shootings and mortar attacks, police said. They included 42 bullet-riddled bodies of apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads.

Twenty-five of them were found on the Sunni-dominated western side of the Tigris River, indicating Shiite militias may be resuming operations after promising to lay low under the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.