Calls to clean up Iraq mess

Mr Annan had a telephone conference with the 10-member US bipartisan Iraq Study Group, searching for a new policy in Iraq.

“The security in Iraq today is a major constraint,” Mr Annan told reporters. “If one were to work out an arrangement where one can get the Iraqi political parties together, somewhere outside Iraq as we did in Afghanistan, the United Nations can play the role it normally plays.”

But Mr Annan said, “I think we need to work slowly to get there. And of course the Iraqi leaders will have to understand that they need to come together to make compromises to resolve their differences.”

At the same time he said the Iraqis could not do it alone in light of the “the bitterness and the level of violence” so “the international community has to help them do it”.

Mr Annan said he had not dealt with Syria and Iran on Iraq but only on Lebanon in the past months.

But he said that both countries should be part of the solution. “And we should bring them in and get them to work with us in resolving the issue, and let them assume some of the responsibility.”

The Iraq Study Group, led by former US Secretary of State James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, wants to complete its report before Congress adjourns next month. It’s considering talks with Syria and Iran as well as a gradual troop withdrawal.

Asked if the UN could fill a security vacuum in case of a US withdrawal, Mr Annan said such details were not discussed.

“We can play a role, but of course the security is a major constraint,” he said.

Iraqi, Iranian leaders meet

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that Iraq’s American “occupiers” should leave as a first step towards restoring peace, an idea unlikely to find favour in Baghdad and ruled out by Washington.

Mr Talabani’s three-day visit to Tehran coincided with preparations for Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to meet US President George W. Bush in Amman, Jordan, to seek new ideas to halt a destabilising wave of sectarian bloodshed.

But Mr Bush — who has accused Iran of promoting violence in Iraq — ruled out any hurried pull-out.

“One thing I won’t do, I am not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,” he said in a speech in Riga, Latvia.

President Talabani said Iraq needed Iran’s “comprehensive help to fight terrorism, restore security and stabilise Iraq”.

“We will help our Iraqi brothers with all that we can to implement and reinforce security in Iraq,” Mr Ahmadinejad replied.

The US and Britain have accused Tehran of fomenting violence within Iraq by arming and training Shiite militias hostile.

Five Iraqi girls killed

As diplomatic activity progressed, fighting continued across the country.

Five young girls were killed when US forces fired tank rounds into a home in Ramadi during a clash with insurgent gunmen, a US military statement said.

Two insurgents opened fire from the roof of the house on a US patrol disarming a roadside bomb, prompting the soldiers to reply with tank fire, the statement said.

Following the pre-dawn barrage, US troops carried out “an extensive search of the house and found one male and five females, ages ranging from infant to teenaged, dead,” it added.

“There was one female injured at the scene, who refused treatment,” it said, adding that local residents later told the US unit that the building had been a rebel safe house.

“It was reported that one of the insurgents was wounded and other insurgents came to remove him from the scene,” the statement said.

The military blamed the gunmen for the incident.

“Efforts are underway to coordinate and offer available assistance to surviving family members,” said US marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Salas.

Elsewhere, US troops were searching for a missing pilot whose F-16 fighter jet crashed northwest of Baghdad on Monday in an area where insurgent fighters were battling American ground forces.

A US military official told news agency AFP that the airman was thought to have been killed in the crash and his body seized by insurgents.