Maliki to Visit Iran as Coalition Talks Hot up

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is fighting to keep his job after an inconclusive March 7 general election, is to visit neighboring Iran soon, a close aide said on Saturday.

"The prime minister will visit Iran soon but I cannot confirm when," the official from Maliki's office told AFP.

Iran's Mehr news agency said Maliki's visit had been set for Monday and that he would hold high-level "regional and international" talks and "also discuss developments in Iraq."

The visit comes as Maliki is locked in a protracted battle for the premiership with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Maliki's Shiite-led State of Law bloc finished a narrow second behind Allawi's Sunni-dominated Iraqiya group but neither came close to securing a parliamentary majority.

Drawn-out coalition talks since the election have seen both sides courting the third-placed Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of Shiite religious factions.

Moqtada al-Sadr, whose radical movement controls 40 of the INA's 70 seats, has thrown his support behind Maliki but the incumbent still needs the support of another INA faction, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council of Ammar al-Hakim, which controls 17 seats and is seen as close to Tehran.

Maliki is on a tour of Middle East capitals aimed at winning support for his premiership. He already visited Iran ally Syria on Wednesday and is to visit Jordan on Sunday.

He also plans to visit several Gulf Arab states, where support for his rival has been strong, his close aide said.

Allawi was in Saudi Arabia last Sunday to bolster support from his leading champion which regards Maliki as too close to Iran.(AFP)

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