Iran, U.S. to Discuss Security in Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The U.S. and Iran are talking again. It's the second time in two months after nearly three decades of silence between Washington and Tehran. Today, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart meet in Baghdad to talk about the worsening security situation there in Iraq.
We go now to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Hello.
JAMIE TARABAY: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Jamie, give us the broad view of what these two countries with, of course, deep mutual grievances hope to accomplish.
TARABAY: They've been very clear that the meetings today are going to focus solely on the security situation in Iraq. This morning, they met in the Green Zone. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the meeting. He made a statement, and then he left the two sides to talk with members of Iraq's Foreign Ministry in the room with them.
There are obviously other matters that are causing tension between Iran and the U.S., things like the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranians that the U.S. military is holding here in Baghdad, who the Americans claim are part of an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. But these issues are not expected to be on the agenda today. They're very much focused on discussing the security situation in Iraq itself.
MONTAGNE: These talks are going on even though the U.S. military and the Bush administration continue to charge that Tehran is arming Shia militias in Iraq, and these militias are accused of attacking and killing U.S. troops.
TARABAY: Yeah. When they met last time in May, the Iranian ambassador said that he expected a second meeting to follow pretty soon after. But Washington held back because it claimed Iran hadn't done anything that they'd asked them to in that first meeting, which is namely to stop helping Shiite militias attack U.S. troops. And it's still very much the feeling here.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq held an hour-long briefing, focusing solely on what they claimed is Iranian involvement in Shia militia attacking U.S. troops. In one particular instance, a raid in January that killed five American soldiers, the U.S. military claimed it was planned by Iranian officials. And it was done with the knowledge that pretty much reached into the higher levels of the Iranian government. But while they've made all of these accusations, we still haven't seen a lot of the evidence that they're using to make these statements.
MONTAGNE: Okay, so we're talking about a high-level diplomatic talk aimed at addressing the security situation in Iraq. And, Jamie, you just got back from a week-long embed with U.S. troops. How is the new security plan affecting the situation there?
TARABAY: I was in West Baghdad, in the neighborhood of Amariya, which is basically become one of the last few holdouts for Sunnis in Baghdad. And the U.S. military says that al-Qaida had used Amariya as a base for its operation against U.S. troops in Baghdad. And the unit that I was with, the 1-5 CAV, lost 14 soldiers in May to these insurgent attacks.
Recently, though, the local Sunnis in Amariya had turned against the al-Qaida operatives, just like the Sunni tribes did in Anbar in the west of the country, and they're now fighting with U.S. troops against al-Qaida. And the unit says that these would not have been possible if it hadn't been for the surge, that they wouldn't have been able to focus their manpower on this one neighborhood and established a relationship with the local people to get to this point. So they believed that the surge in this particular instance is very much helping them secure the area.
MONTAGNE: And across Iraq, what is going on as these diplomatic talks are taking place?
TARABAY: There was quite a large car bomb attack in Hillah - a town that's south of Baghdad - today. At least 26 people has been killed, and more than 88 others wounded. This is all part of a trend that we're seeing. The more troops focused in and around the capital, the more attacks we're seeing outside Baghdad.
But having said that, there's still a significant level of sectarian violence in Baghdad. Yesterday, there was car bombs in the shopping district of Karrada that killed at least 10 people. And Baghdad central morgue reported receiving 24 bodies, all with bullet wounds and showing signs that they'd been tortured.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Jamie Tarabay speaking from Baghdad. And we'll be following those talks today between the U.S. and the Iranian ambassadors to Iraq.