Stronger Iraqi govt behind drop in violence: Iran

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Tehran, Nov 18: A strengthened Iraqi government and a reduction of ''foreign interferences'' have helped improve security in Iraq, Iran said today in an apparent reference to the role of US-led forces in its neighbour.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly blamed the violence in Iraq on the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. For its part, the United States accuses Iran of arming and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq, a charge Iranian officials deny.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a press conference that Washington had levelled ''baseless accusations'' at Tehran over its role in Iraq, which like Iran is predominantly Shi'ite Muslim.

''As for the betterment of the security situation it is because the role of the Iraqi government has been strengthened and Iraqi security forces are more active than before and foreign interferences also have decreased,'' he said.

Hosseini, whose comments were translated by Iran's English-language Press TV satellite station, did not specify what he meant with ''foreign interferences''. The US military hopes to gradually hand over security control to Iraqi forces.

US officials have attributed falls in US military and Iraqi civilian deaths in the past two months to a ''surge'' of 30,000 extra US troops and tribal Sunni Arab sheikhs organising supporters into local police units.

They have also appeared to soften their rhetoric about Iran's involvement in Iraq, noting a sharp drop in mortar attacks on Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone which they have blamed on Shi'ite militias using weapons supplied from Iran.

Some analysts say America and Iran, two old foes who are also at odds over Tehran's disputed atomic ambitions, may be trying to ease tension over Iraq. Both have expressed willingness to attend further talks on Iraq's security situation.

Hosseini did not mention the US ''surge'' but reiterated allegations that the US-presence had benefited ''terrorist groups'' in Iraq, referring to Kurdish guerrillas operating in its north.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops near its border ahead of a possible major cross-border incursion to crush armed groups of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hiding there.

Like Turkey, Iran also has a Kurdish minority and it faces occasional attacks by rebels belonging to a PKK offshoot. Iran has at times shelled their suspected hideouts in Iraq.

''Terrorist groups have used the opportunity of the presence of the United States ... to beef up their activities,'' he said.

''But right now with the cooperation of neighbouring countries we see some steps forward,'' Hosseini said. ''And I think the problem ... between Iraq and Turkey will be solved in the near future.''

Reuters
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