News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran's Ahmadinejad arrives in Baghdad

Iran’s Ahmadinejad arrives in Baghdad

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AFP: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to Iraq that the trip opened a “new page” in relations between the Muslim neighbours and in the region. BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to Iraq that the trip opened a “new page” in relations between the Muslim neighbours and in the region.

It is the first ever visit by an Iranian president to Iraq and aims to boost relations between the two countries which fought a bitter war in the 1980s that killed an estimated one million people.

“The talks we had were very positive,” Ahmadinejad said at a joint news conference with his counterpart Jalal Talabani after the two leaders met at Talabani’s residence in Baghdad.

Iraq’s president called Ahmadinejad’s visit “historic.”

“This is a new page in the history of the relations between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad told reporters.

“We have had good talks in a friendly and constructive environment. We have the same understanding of things and the two parties are determined to strengthen their political, economic and cultural co-operation.”

He said the people of Iraq were going through “tough” times.

“But as we know, the Iraqi people will overcome the situation and the Iraq of tomorrow will be a powerful, developed and unique Iraq,” a smiling Ahmadinejad said.

“A united, powerful and developed Iraq is in the interests of all countries of the region,” he said.

Talabani, who grinned broadly and eagerly shook Ahmadinejad’s hand, called the visit “historic.”

Earlier on Sunday, Talabani welcomed Ahmadinejad with a guard of honour, as a military band played the national anthems of both nations.

Wearing his trademark suit with white shirt and no tie, Ahmadinejad shook hands with Iraqi officials lined up to greet him, including Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.

The Iranian president arrived in Baghdad at 9:05 am (0605 GMT) leading a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie met a smiling Ahmadinejad at the airport, which was the focus of a security lockdown hours before his plane landed.

In Texas, President George W. Bush on Saturday accused Ahmadinejad of “exporting terror” and called on Iran to “quit sending in sophisticated equipment that’s killing our citizens.”

The US military in Iraq says that Iran supplies weapons and training for anti-US insurgents, charges denied by Tehran.

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Shiite-majority Iraq is set to underline Western concerns about Iranian influence in the region that Washington alleges extends to aiding militants in Iraq and also destabilising Lebanon.

The trip is a strong show of support by Tehran for the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Under former dictator Saddam Hussein Iraq fought a devastating war against then Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini between 1980 and 1988.

As Saddam clamped down on internal dissent, many prominent Shiites now in positions of power took refuge in neighbouring Iran.

The overthrow of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime by the US-led invasion of 2003 that was condemned by Tehran has, however, led to a marked improvement in relations with its Shiite neighbour.

Today trade between them is brisk. Millions of Iranian pilgrims travel to major Shiite shrines in Iraq, and Iran is building a major airport for pilgrims to fly to Shiite shrines in Najaf and Karbala.

However some 158,000 US troops helping prop up Maliki’s administration are a complication to this relationship.

US embassy spokesman Philip Reeker earlier downplayed the US role in Ahmadinejad’s visit. “This is a bilateral visit. These two countries need to have a relationship,” he said.

Washington broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980 after Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held the staff hostage.

The US military has 14 Iranians in custody in Iraq and says it has proof that Tehran supplies insurgents with armour-piercing explosives and rockets.

Iran and the United States held three rounds of talks about security in Iraq in 2007. A fourth meeting scheduled for mid-February was postponed at Iran’s request, with no date given for a new meeting.

On Saturday, Ahmadinejad said the talks between Iran and the United States have “tremendously helped to stabilise conditions and to change the Americans’ views on Iraq.”

“It is not correct that we are going to Iraq (as a move) against anyone,” he said later on Iranian state television.

“My going there will benefit everyone. It will definitely help strengthen the Iraqi nation. The Iranian and Iraqi nations are intertwined.”

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