Iran offers security help to Iraqi premier
TEHRAN, Sep 12: Iran offered on Tuesday to help establish security and stability in Iraq after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held talks in Tehran on his first official visit to the Islamic Republic, today.
Maliki had been expected to tell fellow Shi'ite Muslim leaders in Iran that Tehran should not interfere in Iraqi affairs, a message likely to please Washington which accuses Iran of backing militants fighting U S troops in Iraq.
But Maliki and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave few details about their talks today, except to say that the two neighbours which fought a bloody war in the 1980s had agreed to cooperate in political, economic and security fields.
''We will give our full assistance to the Iraqi government to establish security in (Iraq). Strengthening security in Iraq means strengthening security and stability in the region,'' Ahmadinejad told a joint news conference after their meeting.
Maliki, speaking through a Persian translator, said: ''This visit will be useful for cooperation between Iran and Iraq, in all political, security and economic fields.'' The two sides signed an agreement covering these areas.
Shortly before starting the two-day visit, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters Maliki would deliver a blunt message that Iran should not interfere in Iraq although he stopped short of endorsing US charges of Iranian ''meddling''.
''We want to pass a message to the Iranian leaders that Iraq needs good relations with neighbouring countries, without interference in our internal affairs,'' Dabbagh said.
Maliki will meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, and influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani tomorrow.
An Iraqi official said Maliki might also meet Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
While officially encouraging Iraq's new ties to Washington's adversary, there is unease in the United States at Iranian influence over the Shi'ite leaders brought to power in elections that followed the U S overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Since forming a national unity government four months ago, Maliki has vowed to curb militant Shi'ite factions, some of whom also have links with movements in Iran, as part of efforts to avert civil war with Saddam's once-dominant Sunni minority. In the latest violence, police and an Interior Ministry source said a car bomb targeting a passing US military convoy in western Baghdad killed six civilians and wounded more than a dozen.
Iraqi state-run television also said that gunmen attacked a Shi'ite mosque overnight in a town near the ethnically volatile city of Baquba, killing seven.
Under Saddam's Sunni-dominated secular regime Iraq fought a bloody eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.
Saddam, on trial for genocide along with six co-defendants, appeared in court in Baghdad today, where a Kurdish man told the hearing that he found the remains of his mother and two sisters in a mass grave more than 200 km (124 miles) from their village, which he said was razed by Saddam's troops.
U S and British officials say high-powered explosives used against their troops in the past year have been supplied through Iran, though not necessarily with government approval.
Some leaders in Tehran are also close to Shi'ite Iraqi leaders like the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia is seen as particularly hostile to the occupying forces.
''We understand that the violence in Iraq is being fed and financed by others. Some of them are countries, some are groups ... We'd like neighbouring countries to share in stopping such things coming to Iraq,'' Dabbagh had said.
Maliki's visit follows trips to Arab states run by Sunni Muslims who view with suspicion Iraq's Shi'ite majority and its ties to non-Arab, Shi'ite Iran.
Should Iraq's sectarian conflict descend into all-out civil war, some analysts say other regional powers would be drawn in, with Iran backing the Shi'ites and the likes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states providing help to the insurgent Sunni minority.
The rise of the Shi'ite majority has brought to power in Iraq many leaders who spent long years in exile in Iran. Though Maliki was mostly based in Syria, many of those close to him in the Dawa party found refuge in Iran.