Iran's President Ahmadinejad begins visit to Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Iraq for a two-day visit on Thursday, during which he is to meet with senior officials and visit Shi'ite holy sites.

Mr Ahmadinejad arrived on an Iran Air plane to a red carpet welcome by Vice-President Khudayr al-Khuzaie, which was broadcast live on Iraqiya state television.

The Iranian President was invited by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, but will be hosted by Kr huzaie, as Mr Talabani is abroad for medical treatment, Mr Ali Mussawi, the Iraqi Premier's spokesman, told AFP.

Mr Ahmadinejad, whose term ends early next month, will visit the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala and that of Imam Ali in Najaf, two of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam, Mr Mussawi said.

Iraq and Iran fought a bloody 1980-1988 war launched by now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, but have drawn closer since Saddam's ouster by United States-led forces in 2003, which ultimately paved the way for expanded Iranian influence in Iraq.