US, regional leaders in new Iraq initiative

TEHRAN - Rival visions of how to save Iraq were on display yesterday as US and regional leaders engaged in a flurry of diplomatic meetings designed to halt an inexorable spiral towards civil war between rival Islamic sects.

TEHRAN - Rival visions of how to save Iraq were on display yesterday as US and regional leaders engaged in a flurry of diplomatic meetings designed to halt an inexorable spiral towards civil war between rival Islamic sects.

Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, told Iraqi president Jalal Talabani that his country's US "occupiers" should leave as a first step towards restoring peace, an idea unlikely to find favour in Washington or Baghdad.

Talabani's three-day visit to Tehran coincided with preparations for Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to meet US President George Bush in Jordan to devise new ideas for halting sectarian violence.

Talabani was in Tehran to ask his Iranian counterpart for help in stemming a sectarian conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives in the past few days.

"We need Iran's help to fight terrorism, restore security and stabilise Iraq," he said to Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad replied: "We will help our Iraqi brothers with all that we can to implement and reinforce security in Iraq."

The US and Britain have accused Tehran of fomenting the violence in Iraq.

But, amid signs that Washington is preparing for a shift in strategy, Bush said Baghdad should pursue its own diplomatic agenda, even if this meant talking to US foes such as Iran and Syria.l US troops are hunting for a missing pilot whose jet crashed near Baghdad on Monday.

And, in the latest example of what the White House called a new phase in the violence in Iraq, at least two car bombs exploded outside Baghdad's Yarmuk Hospital, wounding people waiting to collect the bodies of dead relatives from the mortuary. - Sapa-AFP

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