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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 August, 2004, 04:09 GMT 05:09 UK
Iraq minister set for Iran visit
By Pam O'Toole
BBC News

Barham Saleh
Saleh will try to improve relations with a key neighbour
Iraqi interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh goes to Iran on Saturday for what is being regarded as a fence-building visit.

Relations have become increasingly tense between the two neighbours.

Earlier this week Iraqi interim Vice-President Ibrahim Jaafari made a surprise visit to Iran.

The official Iranian news agency says Mr Saleh's trip is aimed at preparing for a later visit to Iran by Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi.

The Iranians don't want permanent [American] bases in Iraq
Paul Rogers
Professor of Peace Studies, Bradford University

Baghdad and Tehran have recently been involved in a war of words over a number of sensitive issues.

Shia Iran has been fiercely critical about the use of military force against Shia militiamen in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf.

Earlier, Iraq's defence minister accused Iran of arming insurgents close to the radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, allegations which Tehran denied.

"There is a real uncertainty within the Allawi government," says Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University.

"It did not manage to control the insurgency in Najaf as it had hoped and possibly expected - as a result there's a slight degree of paranoia that things could get worse again."

US issue

Baghdad continues to be concerned about Iran's attempts to increase its influence in Shia areas of Iraq.

But some experts say that Tehran may actually have less influence than it would like over some of Iraq's independently minded Shi'ite clerics.

Paul Rogers says Baghdad's current close ties with Washington make a radical improvement in relations difficult.

"The Iranians would like to see a circumstance in which Iraq was pretty determinedly independent and far less under American influence," he says.

"The Iranians don't want permanent [American] bases in Iraq."

On Friday, Baghdad released an Iranian reporter arrested in Iraq earlier this month in an apparent goodwill gesture ahead of this visit.

But there is still no firm news about an Iranian diplomat abducted in Iraq.


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