The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says the United States believes Iranian agents have attempted to bribe Iraqi lawmakers.

The Washington Post newspaper Monday quoted General Ray Odierno as saying, Iran is trying to undermine a bilateral agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the end of this year, when the United Nations' mandate ends.

Odierno told the paper the U.S. has no definitive proof of the bribes. But he said many U.S. intelligence reports suggest Iranians are "coming in to pay off people to vote against it."

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.

Last week, Iraq's foreign minister said the United States and Iraq are very close to finalizing a deal.

The two sides have been divided over granting U.S. servicemen and women immunity for any crimes committed in Iraq.

U.S. officials have accused Iran's intelligence agencies of supporting insurgent Shi'ite groups in Iraq, a claim Tehran denies.

In other news, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says it is time for British troops to leave the country.

In an interview with The Timesnewspaper, published Monday, Mr. Maliki said there might be a need for their experience in training Iraqi forces, but that the emphasis is now on business cooperation and friendship.

Separately, the Iraqi government announced the arrival of Syria's first ambassador to the country in nearly three decades.

Ties were strained because rival factions of the Ba'ath party ruled in Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The development furthers a trend of Iraq forging ties with its once alienated neighbors.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.