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Amid 'new phase,' Iraq diplomacy rises

In new diplomatic activity on Iraq, the country's president turned to Iran on Monday for help to stem the bloodshed, and Iraqi officials said talks this week between President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will focus on giving Iraqis more control so U.S. forces can withdraw.

"We are in dire need of Iran's help in establishing security and stability in Iraq," Iran's state-run television quoted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as saying after he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the conflict in Iraq had entered a new phase requiring changes.

"Obviously everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough," he said. "We're clearly in a new phase characterized by an increase in sectarian violence that requires us to adapt to that new phase."

Bush and Maliki, who will meet on Wednesday and Thursday in Jordan, "need to be talking about how to do that and what steps Iraq needs to take and how we can support" Iraq's leaders, Hadley said.

As the Bush-Maliki meeting approached, Britain said on Monday it expected to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, and Poland and Italy announced the impending pullout of their remaining troops.

Also Monday, a U.S. Air Force jet with one pilot crashed while supporting American soldiers fighting in Anbar province. A U.S. military statement provided no information about the suspected cause of the crash or the fate of the pilot. Al-Jazeera satellite television said the pilot was killed.

The U.S. command also said three of its soldiers were killed and two wounded during combat operations in Baghdad on Sunday. Across Iraq on Monday, a total of 91 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence.

Bush and Maliki will meet after Bush attends a two-day NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, where Iraq is a major focus.

Maliki is expected to brief Bush on the outcome of Talabani's meeting with Ahmadinejad in Tehran, according to two top officials with knowledge of planning for the Bush-Maliki talks. They spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Ahmadinejad pledged Iran's support in improving security in Iraq, Iranian television reported.

Iraqi officials believe the Bush-Maliki meeting will deal with giving Iraqi forces more control over security and expect Bush to agree to such an arrangement.

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