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Continued: Iran's Ahmadinejad aims to boost ties with Iraq, visit holy sites in final official visit

  • Article by: ADAM SCHRECK , Associated Press
  • Last update: July 18, 2013 - 3:35 PM

Another roadside bomb exploded earlier in the day as an army patrol passed by near the town of Madain, 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Baghdad, authorities said. That blast killed two soldiers and wounded four others, police and hospital officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information to journalists.

Iranian state television reported that Ahmadinejad hopes the visit will boost economic cooperation between the two neighbors, which it says now amounts to $13 billion in annual trade. It said Iran aims to finalize a deal to ship 25 million cubic meters of Iranian gas daily to fuel Iraqi power plants, which are still incapable of provide a steady supply of electricity. A new gas pipeline from Iran is expected to open later this summer.

Iraq is a major market for Iranian goods, including cars, construction materials and food products such as tomato paste and ice cream. Those exports provide an important source of hard currency for Iran, which has been increasingly cut off from the world's financial system following multiple rounds of sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.

In a statement following his talks with Ahmadinejad, al-Maliki urged Iranian companies to continue to invest in Iraq's reconstruction, and voiced his appreciation for Iran's help in the electricity sector.

The U.S.-led invasion ten years ago that toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni-heavy regime set in motion a rapid turnaround in relations between Iran and Iraq, which fought a ruinous eight-year war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Saddam's ouster put Iraq's majority Shiites in control, and many Shiites who had fled persecution by Saddam and took refuge in Iran returned home. Millions of Iranians now visit Shiite holy sites in Iraq annually, and top Iraqi leaders including al-Maliki have paid visits to Iran.

Still, many Iraqis remain suspicious of Iranian influence in their country. Sunni Arabs in particular resent the government's warm ties with Tehran and some criticize al-Maliki of being too close to the Islamic Republic.

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