WASHINGTON – US president-elect Barack Obama and his future administration must open dialogue with Iran and Syria to "solve" long-standing issues plaguing the Middle East, the Iraqi government said Thursday.
"I call on the new administration to open a dialogue with Iran to resolve the exceptional problems which are affecting stability in the region," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement released at the outset of an international conference in Washington.
"We do encourage the administration to have a dialogue with Syria," Dabbagh added later Thursday in comments to reporters at the Pentagon.
"Whether the US would like Iraq to initiate that dialogue with Syria, we are ready."
But the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush has cut nearly all diplomatic ties with Damascus, which it accuses of poorly policing a porous border with neighboring Iraq, helping to swell the ranks of the insurgency there.
"Without having that dialogue between Iraq and its neighbors, between the US and the region, I think we will not solve the problems between Iraq and its neighbors," Dabbagh said.
In a televised interview Sunday, Obama confirmed he wants to hold talks with Iran, stating his readiness to end a 30-year stand-off between Washington and Tehran.
"We need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran," Obama said, promising a "set of carrots and sticks."
Despite security improvements in Iraq this year, some US officials continue to accuse Iran of financing, arming and training Iraqi Shiite militias -- a claim Tehran denies.
But the number of Iranian-made explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) in Iraq has decreased appreciably in recent months, indicating Tehran's support for Iraqi insurgents is waning, according to US Army Lieutenant General Thomas Metz.
EFP attacks, which can penetrate heavy armor, are down to "a dozen, 20 in Iraq in a month from maybe 60, 80," Metz told reporters Thursday, adding that EFP caches and casualties had also decreased.
Asked if the reduction meant that the Iranian government or the elite Quds Force - a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard - is pulling back its support of the Iraqi insurgency, Metz answered: "I am not in the intel business but that's the conclusion I would draw."
While EFPs only account for five percent of all roadside bomb attacks, they represent up to 35 percent of US roadside fatalities, said Metz, who heads a Pentagon program to prevent such attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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