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Diplomacy heats up amid Iraq 'new phase'

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.

The increased pace of diplomacy comes as a bipartisan U.S. panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton is expected to put forth recommendations soon to the White House on alterations to Iraq policy. Seeking help from Iran and Syria was believed to be among the Iraq Study Group's proposal.

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

Iraqi officials said they expected Maliki to brief Bush on the outcome of Talabani's meeting with Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Monday.

During their talks, Ahmadinejad pledged Iran's support in helping to improve security in Iraq, Iranian television reported.

The Iraqi side views the talks between Bush and Maliki as the most important between leaders of the two countries since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, according to two top officials with intimate knowledge of planning for the meeting. They spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Iraqi officials believe the summit will deal with giving Iraqi forces more control over security and expect Bush to agree to such an arrangement, and they say Maliki will then ask the Americans to start discussing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, according to one of the officials.

But Hadley said it was unlikely Bush would address the issue of any U.S. troop withdrawals with the Iraqi leader. "We're not at the point," Hadley told reporters.

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