Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has been meeting with Iranian leaders in Tehran, after visits to both Jordan and Syria during the past week.
Mr. Maliki met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his visit to Tehran, in an audience that was broadcast on Iraqi and Iranian state television.
Iranian TV reported the Ayatollah told Mr. Maliki it is imperative to "form a government as soon as possible and to reinforce security," so as to "rebuild and strengthen the country."
Many analysts believe Mr. Maliki was seeking the Ayatollah's blessing to head the next Iraqi government, and the lengthy meeting between the two men reinforced the perception that he had succeeded.
Iranian leaders appeared to spare no effort in offering Mr. Maliki the image of a statesman. An honor guard welcomed him at the presidential palace where he met both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vice President Rahimi. He was due to visit the holy city of Qom to meet top religious dignitaries, as well.
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani also met with the head of Iran's National Security Council Saeed Jalili, insisting that both countries intend to step up cooperation:
He says that during his meetings, Iraq proposed the formation of a joint committee with Iran that would include officials from border provinces on both sides to discuss mutual problems of trade, tourism, terrorism and crime.
Mr. Maliki's chief rival in the seven-month battle to form the next Iraqi government, former prime minister Iyad Allawi, obliquely criticized the Tehran visit. He told al-Arabiya TV Sunday he would "not be begging Iran to agree to his nomination."
Carnegie Endowment Iraq expert Marina Ottaway says Mr. Maliki has been seeking Iranian help in gaining support from other Shi'ite parties.
"He is trying to get Iran to put more pressure on the other Shia parties. Let me point out that Iran has been completely unsuccessful in doing so in the past. Iran has been trying to put pressure on all the Shia factions to come together from before the election, and they have not succeeded," Ottaway said.
Ottoway adds that it is still not clear what Iran's position is toward former prime minister Allawi, since many Shi'ite partie insist he be part of any coalition government.
Video clip - Iraqi PM arriving: