A larger gathering of Arab states and Iraq's international backers is planned for Tuesday in Kuwait.

Focus on Iran

Iran is the subtext of two days of meetings that Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, also is attending.

She began her three-day Middle East trip with a visit to Baghdad on Sunday, where she said she was encouraged despite a recent surge in violence.

Rice has been making the case that majority-Shia Iraq is an Arab state, with an Arab identity that deserves solidarity from its majority-Sunni neighbours.

The Bush administration is arguing that although Iran has pull inside Iraq, Sunni states nervous about Iran's spreading influence in the Middle East should not use that as an excuse to give Iraq the cold shoulder.

Few excuses

Speaking on Sunday in Baghdad, Rice challenged Arab states to answer security improvements and political advances in Iraq, saying that there are few excuses left for delay.

She said she would make the case that much has changed inside Iraq in the last year, owing partly to the additional presence of American troops and also to what she says is growing political cohesion among Iraq's sectarian and ethnic factions.

"Adjustments are going to have to be made," in the way Arab states regard Iraq, she said.

Monday's developments came as six people died in clashes in Baghdad's Sadr City district.

A police commander said the dead in the Shia enclave included three policemen and three civilians.

Four other civilians were injured in the violence, according to the officer.

Al-Maliki's comments

For his part, Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, who will attend the Kuwait conference, told The Associated Press news agency on Monday that he would speak frankly to Arab diplomats.

"There are countries that support the political process and are opening embassies here," he said, a reference to unfulfilled pledges from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

"We need the others to open embassies here, too. There are some nations that don't recognise our political process and ... are inciting strife.

"I am bewildered by the position of these nations."