AP: Iran should stay out of Iraq’s elections, President Bush said Wednesday on pan-Arab television. “Let’s be clear, the Iranians should not be in a position to influence the elections,” Bush said of Sunday’s polls in an interview with the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya. His remarks were voiced over in Arabic and translated into English by The Associated Press. Associated Press
By SAM F. GHATTAS
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Iran should stay out of Iraq’s elections, President Bush said Wednesday on pan-Arab television.
“Let’s be clear, the Iranians should not be in a position to influence the elections,” Bush said of Sunday’s polls in an interview with the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya. His remarks were voiced over in Arabic and translated into English by The Associated Press.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed fears that Iran, a Shiite Muslim-majority state on Iraq’s eastern border, is trying to expand its influence through the elections, in which Iraqi Shiites are expected to win the largest number of seats in a transitional national assembly.
Iran has rejected accusations it was trying to influence the elections, saying that Iraqis have made it clear they won’t take orders from abroad.
Bush said he does not think the elections will produce a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad.
“The future of Iraq is based on the Iraqi nationality and the Iraqi character and the Iraqi people. There’s been a problem between Iran and Iraq for a long time and I am confident that Iraq’s people, pride, history and traditions are what the new government will focus on,” he said.
Bush also paid tribute to Iraqis and urged them to vote this weekend.
“I am proud of Iraq and its people,” Bush said. “I want to express my admiration for the courage of Iraqis who are ready to develop democracy and strengthen it.”
He said the elections presented Iraqis with a “historic opportunity.”
“I know that thousands and thousands of Iraqis want to vote. They love the idea that they’ll be able to vote. I hope that the largest number of people participates,” he said.
He also singled out Iraq’s minority Sunni Muslim community.
“I hope that all the Sunnis participate in the elections,” Bush added.
Sunni leaders have called for a boycott of the polls, arguing they cannot be free and fair due to persistent violence in Iraq and the U.S. military presence.
The Sunni minority wielded great influence under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. Many insurgents are Sunnis.
Bush expressed sorrow for the loss of life in Wednesday’s crash of U.S. Marine transport helicopter in which 31 U.S. troops died.
“The attack reminds us of the dangers from military operations,” the president said. “But I am convinced that our helping Iraq to get its freedom is an important issue because that will, in the long run, affect the entire world.”
Views among Iraqi Shiites toward Iran range from hate to devotion. Despite 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people being Shiite, many harbor resentment toward Iran over the bloody 1980-88 war between the countries in which 1 million people died. Many Iraqis also accuse Iran of sponsoring this country’s rampant insurgency.
But many Iraqi Shiites, who were suppressed under Saddam’s three-decade rule, also look to Iran’s Shiite establishment for religious guidance.