Iran’s influential Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani departed on Tuesday for a three-day visit to Iraq, according to state media reports.

Larijani, whose visit is at the invitation of his Iraqi counterpart, Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, is expected to hold talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki and other senior officials, Iran’s Mehr News reported.

The talks will encompass bilateral economic and political ties, international matters and “shared issues such as the dust problem and ways to solve it,” Mehr quoted Larijani as saying, referring to the issue of hazardous dust storms that have become a major problem in both countries.

Larijani’s visit to Tehran comes as Iran continues to seek to increase its influence in the majority Shi’ite Iraq, a move that began when the US started to draw down its military from the country in 2010.

A report in the Arabic-language Ahrar al-Iraq news site last week said Iran planned to double its investment in Iraq to $25 billion.

This week, Iran announced it had begun construction of a 225 km. gas pipeline that would transport gas to Iraq and Syria. The pipeline is set to be completed in June 2013 and Iran has invested $3 billion in the project, according to the Pipelines International magazine.

Iran has used its growing influence in Iraq to shape that country’s policies on several key issues, including on Syria. Tehran is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest regional ally, and stands to lose considerable influence in the region if Assad’s increasingly embattled regime falls.

Writing in Lebanon’s As- Safir newspaper this month, Syrian journalist Fayez Sara noted that the Iraqi government has “allowed the passage of Iranian aid to Syria” and had provided Damascus with cheap oil to meet its growing military needs.

Some in Iraq have expressed concerns about Iran’s influence over their country.

Following last week’s announcement by Iran that it intended to double investment in Iraq, Salam Samisam, an economic adviser to Iraq’s Council of Ministers, said Tehran was “exploiting investment [in Iraq] to evade international sanctions.”

A visit to Iraq last month by Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi caused concern among some Iraqi politicians that Tehran was ramping up pressure on its western neighbor.

During that visit, Vahidi and Iraq’s Acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi signed a defense cooperation agreement, calling for the expansion of defense ties.

Pan Arab newspaper Al- Hayat reported that Vahidi’s meeting with Iraqi security leaders in Baghdad “showed a consensus on the Syria issue.”

Haider al-Mulla, the Shi’ite spokesman of the Sunnidominated secular, nationalist al-Iraqiya List, told Al- Hayat that Vahidi’s visit signaled that Iran was “addressing Iraq as if it were its own subsidiary.”

Al-Hayat also reported that shortly before Vahidi’s visit, the commander of the Quds Force, the extraterritorial unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had paid an unannounced visit to Iran’s Kurdistan region.

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