US Is Iraq’s Main Problem: Khamenei

US Is Iraq’s Main Problem: Khamenei
Fredrik Dahl, Reuters

TEHRAN, 10 June 2008 — Iran’s supreme leader told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki yesterday that the presence of US forces in Iraq was the biggest obstacle to its development as a united country.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hit out at the “occupiers” in Iraq at a time when Baghdad is negotiating with the United States on a new agreement aimed at giving a legal basis for US troops to stay in Iraq after Dec. 31, when their UN mandate expires.

Iran and the United States blame each other for violence in Iraq and are also sharply at odds over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Washington suspects is aimed at making bombs. Iran says it is a peaceful drive to produce electricity.

“The presence of occupiers in Iraq, particularly the US armed forces … is the main obstacle to unity in Iraq,” state radio quoted Khamenei as saying.

He accused them of using their military and security powers to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs but added that the “Americans’ dreams” in the Middle East country would not be realized.

The talks on a “status of forces” deal are the subject of heated debate both in United States and Iraq, where thousands have answered the anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr’s call for weekly protests after Friday prayers.

US officials have accused Iran of seeking to derail the negotiations by “inspiring” media reports that the United States is trying to force Iraq to accept a deal on permanent bases.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said when asked if he thought Iraq could resist Iranian pressure not to make such a deal with the United States: “Iraq is a sovereign state that is going to act in its national interest.”

Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s but ties have improved since US-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein five years ago.

Defense Cooperation

The Iranian and Iraqi defense ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding during Al-Maliki’s visit to boost defense cooperation “with the aim of strengthening peace and stability in the region,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency said.

Mine clearance and search for soldiers missing in action during their 1980-88 war would form part of the cooperation. The two members of the OPEC also agreed to increase oil sector cooperation, a senior Iranian official said.

Al-Maliki’s government treads a fine line in its relations with the Islamic Republic, seeking support while mindful of US accusations that Iran supports Shiite militias in Iraq.

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