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Iraq 05-07

US-Iran security talks postponed, Iraqi FM says

Eds: PMs.

By SELCAN HACAOGLU

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday said security talks between Iran and the United states have been indefinitely postponed due to an "exchange of accusations" between the sides.

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Tehran on Monday called off further Iraq security talks with Washington until U.S. forces stop their crackdown on Shiite militias. U.S.-led forces are locked in fierce street battles in Sadr City, a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad.

At the same time, Washington has been stepping up its accusations that Iran is backing Shiite extremists in Iraq. Iran denies the claims.

"It is impossible to hold a new round (of talks) because of exchange of accusations between the two sides," Hoshyar Zebari told a news conference in Baghdad. "The negotiations are postponed indefinitely because of tense atmosphere."

Iran and the U.S. have held three rounds of ambassador-level talks on security in Iraq since last May. Zebari stressed that "resuming dialogue" between Iraq, Iran and the United States was crucial.

"We had three important rounds but they yielded no fast results," said Zebari, adding that Iraq’s efforts to hold the next round of talks have failed.

The clashes in Baghdad’s Sadr City district erupted after an Iraqi government crackdown on armed Shiite groups began in late March. The U.S. military is now trying to weaken the militia grip in the teeming slum and disrupt rocket and mortar strikes on the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

But fresh salvos of rockets from militants arced over the city, wounding at least 23 people on Tuesday and drawing U.S. retaliation that escalated civilian panic and flight to safer areas.

The military on Wednesday said four rockets fired by Shiite extremists from Sadr City landed in residential areas in downtown Baghdad and wounded seven Iraqis Tuesday evening. An attack aircraft responded on Tuesday evening, killing one militant, the military said.

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Iraqi health officials said Wednesday that the clashes between U.S.-led forces and Shiite extremists left at least 28 people wounded in Sadr City.

The U.S. military also on Wednesday said four militants and two U.S.-allied Sunni fighters were killed in northwest Baghdad when the Sunni guards responded to an attack Tuesday evening on a checkpoint, killing three attackers. Two Sunni guards later died in a hospital, it added.

In southern Iraq, gunmen killed an Iraqi army officer in a drive-by-shooting in the Shiite city of Kut, police said.

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Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

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