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Tehran pledges to crack down on militants

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2005

TEHRAN -- Iran promised yesterday to help curb raging violence in Iraq, saying it has been cracking down on al Qaeda militants on its soil and agreeing on closer security cooperation with Iraq's visiting Shi'ite prime minister.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, in the first visit by an Iraqi leader since the 2003 ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, held talks with outgoing Iranian President Mohammed Khatami on solidifying ties between the U.S.-allied government in Baghdad and predominantly Shi'ite Iran, which considers the United States its top enemy.

The interim Iraqi government elected this year is dominated by Shi'ites, including leaders like Mr. al-Jaafari, who have longtime ties to the Iranian theocracy.

Mr. al-Jaafari was to meet today with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line president-elect who will be replacing the reformist Mr. Khatami early next month. Mr. Ahmadinejad is expected to pursue the same line of closer ties with Iraq's government, but might increase pressure for the withdrawal of American forces from the neighboring country.

"The security and stability of both countries are interrelated," Mr. Khatami said in the meeting with Mr. al-Jaafari, according to state-run radio. "Tehran will do its utmost for the restoration of stability and security" in Iraq.

Mr. al-Jaafari, who is leading a delegation of more than 10 Iraqi Cabinet ministers to Iran, was expected to sign a security agreement with the Persian state, against which Iraq fought a 1980-88 war that killed more than 1 million people.

"Today, we need a double and common effort to confront terrorism that may spread in the region and the world," said Mr. al-Jaafari, who also was expected to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his visit.

On Saturday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said, "Some 200 al Qaeda members are in Iranian prisons," according to the state-run Islamic Revolution News Agency.

Most recently, Iranian authorities uncovered al Qaeda-linked cells planning to assassinate Sunni students at a theological school in Iran "who were cooperating with Iranian authorities." The members of the cell were arrested last week, he said.

Mr. Yunesi did not give further details on how many arrests were made or where.

In the past, Iran caught al Qaeda militants trying to cross its soil from Afghanistan after the 2001 fall of the Taliban and later arrested other elements in hiding that were planning to "launch terrorist operations from Iran," Mr. Yunesi said.