The United States and Iran, the two nations with the most at stake in Iraq, pointedly ignored each other Tuesday as Iraq's premier unsuccessfully pleaded for immediate financial and diplomatic backing from rich Arab neighbors still leery of Tehran's influence on Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he cannot understand why Arab states have not forgiven Iraq's crushing debts, made new loans or sent ambassadors to Baghdad.

"We find it difficult to explain why diplomatic exchange [between Iraq and its Middle Eastern neighbors] has not taken place," Al-Maliki told foreign ministers from nearby nations. "Many foreign countries have kept their diplomatic missions in Baghdad and did not make security excuses."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki did not speak or shake hands. Rice sat diagonally across a large U-shaped table from Mottaki as Al-Maliki spoke at the opening of a meeting of Iraq's neighbors held in Kuwait City -- the third such meeting in the past year.

Al-Maliki's pleas underscored a message the United States also has been repeating: that it's up to all Arab countries to bolster Iraq economically and politically.

His appearance at an Arab summit primarily of Sunni Muslim nations enhanced his standing at a time that many were questioning his competence over his decision to move against the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.


U.S. and Iraqi troops continued to battle with fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, against whose forces Baghdad launched a major campaign last month.

In the capital's Sadr City district, five Shiite militiamen were killed late Monday night, the U.S. military said in a statement. American troops fired a Hellfire missile at two fighters with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, killing them both. One hour later, U.S. soldiers killed three fighters after they were struck by a roadside bomb and then came under small-arms fire.


A cousin and top deputy of Saddam Hussein, whose execution has been delayed for months, was returned to a U.S. detention facility on Tuesday after being hospitalized for a heart attack, U.S. officials said.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for the poison-gas strikes he ordered against Kurds in the 1980s, was admitted to a U.S. medical facility on Sunday.

A U.S. military official confirmed separately that Al-Majid had suffered a heart attack but said he was in stable condition and had been returned to a U.S. detention facility outside Baghdad.


An Iraqi parliamentary committee is drafting a bill that would ban imports of toy guns and fireworks, hoping to curb increasingly aggressive behavior among children who have grown up amid real war, a legislator said Tuesday.

"The culture of violence has prevailed in our society and controlled the Iraqi family, and that has affected the culture of children," said Samira al-Moussawi, head of parliament's committee on children and women, which is preparing the proposed ban. "It has become a habit among a majority of our children to take what they want by force and we want to change this culture."

She said the draft legislation, which was likely to be presented to parliament today, would provide either a fine of 3 million dinars (about $2,500) or at least three years in prison.