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Iraq increasingly finds itself caught between U.S. and Iran

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"We do not want to start a conflict with Iran," says Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. "We need our own government documentation of this interference, not from the Americans, not from the media."

He suggested Sunday that Iraq had no "hard evidence" of Iran's involvement or of the 2008 markings on seized weaponry, and that a top-level committee would be formed to investigate.

The Iraqi visit to Iran coincided with the release of the annual US terrorism report, which declared Iran, as in years past, to be the "most significant" state sponsor of terrorism. It also quietly raised the official number of US and Iraqi soldiers allegedly "killed" by Iranian actions in Iraq from "hundreds" to "thousands" – a surprise to analysts skeptical even of the lower figure.

Iran denies malicious meddling in Iraq, though an attempt by Iraqi military forces to take on Shiite militias in Basra in late March uncovered caches of Iranian weaponry. The fighting drew in US forces and was in fact halted only when the commander of Iran's Qods Force – which is accused by the US of spearheading "malign [Iranian] influence" in Iraq – intervened with Mr. Sadr.

But the result of those weapons finds, many discovered by Iraqi forces, has been a growing determination by Maliki to challenge Iran to get them stopped, Western diplomats and Iraqi officials say.

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