BAGHDAD Iranian operatives are training fighters in Iraq and helping to plan attacks there despite diplomatic pressure on Tehran to halt such interference, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The latest accusation leveled against Iran by the U.S. military followed rare diplomatic talks in Baghdad last month between the two old adversaries to discuss Washington's concerns in Iraq.
"There absolutely is evidence of Iranian operatives holding weapons, training fighters, providing resources, helping plan operations, resourcing secret cells that is destabilizing Iraq," said military spokesman Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner.
"We would like very much to see some action on their part to reduce the level of effort and to help contribute to Iraq's security. We have not seen it yet," he told a news conference, he said, referring to the Iranian government.
In fresh violence across Iraq, car bombs and other violence killed nearly 50 people, police said.
The United States, already seeking wider sanctions against Tehran over the Islamic republic's nuclear program, blames Iranians for supplying a type of roadside bomb which cuts through armor and has killed many U.S. soldiers.
Tehran said last week it would study a request from Iraq for a new U.S.-Iran meeting, but warned a decision may take time.
Daniel Speckhard, the number two U.S. diplomat in Iraq, said there was still no word back from Iran.
Tensions between the two long-time foes are especially high after U.S. troops seized five Iranians in January in northern Iraq, accusing them of helping insurgents.
Iran, which says the five are diplomats, is holding three U.S.-Iranian citizens on security-related charges.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country backed the Iraqi government and accused the United States of seeking to undermine Tehran's ties with Baghdad, the Iranian student news agency ISNA reported on Wednesday.
Diplomatic sparring between the two nations is further complicated by Western demands for Iran to open up its nuclear program to international scrutiny. Tehran says it is peaceful, but the West fears that it will produce nuclear bombs.
TURKISH AL QAEDA MILITANTS KILLED
Among the attacks in Iraq on Wednesday, police said a car bomb killed seven people and wounded 14 in the Shi'ite district of Kadhimiya in Baghdad.
In Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad, police said seven people including five police commandos were killed by a roadside bomb.
Police also found the bodies of 21 people in Baghdad on Wednesday. Most had been shot.
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops are targeting Sunni Islamist and al Qaeda militants blamed for most of the car bombs in the city in operations around Baghdad's beltways.
Bergner said U.S. commanders were pleased with their progress, but warned that "change will not come overnight".
U.S. soldiers killed two senior Turkish al Qaeda operatives in northern Iraq, the military also said.
It said Mehmet Yilmaz and Mehmet Resit Isik were killed on June 23 in a firefight with U.S. forces near the town of Hawija, which lies to the south of the city of Kirkuk.
Military officials say foreign militants, mainly from Arab countries, are the brains behind al Qaeda in Iraq.
The statement said Yilmaz, also known as Khalid al-Turki, was a senior leader in al-Qaeda who operated a cell that brought foreign fighters into Iraq. Isik was a close associate of Yilmaz and other senior al Qaeda leaders, the statement said.
(Additional reporting by Dean Yates)