Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran on Saturday for a two-day visit with top leaders, in which he is expected to allay Iranian's concerns about the United States' continuing influence over Iraq.

The visit is Al-Maliki's fourth since he was elected and comes just days after the U.S. command handed over military control of the Green Zone to Iraq and began a drawdown leading to the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Iran initially opposed the pact, accusing Americans of seeking to maintain its dominance over Iraq. U.S. officials, for their part, have objected to Iran's influence over next-door neighbor Iraq, including its ability to sway radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia.

Iran's influence in Iraq has grown significantly since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, a longtime foe of Shiite-run Iran.


Pakistan has arrested a former Taliban spokesman who was released by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist, intelligence officials said Saturday.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar sent the spokesman, Ustad Mohammed Yasir, to Pakistan last year to mediate between two Taliban groups in the Mohmand tribal area on the Afghan border, an intelligence official said.

Many Taliban and Al-Qaida insurgents fled to Pakistan in 2001 after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban regime. The United States has pushed Pakistan to crack down on the extremists, who have regrouped in the country's northwest and have been launching attacks against Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.