AFP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday began the second day of his historic trip to Iraq he described as ushering in a new era of friendship with Baghdad.
BAGHDAD (AFP) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday began the second day of his historic trip to Iraq he described as ushering in a new era of friendship with Baghdad.
Ahmadinejad blamed Washington for bringing terrorism into the Middle East on Sunday, and rejected President George W. Bush’s accusation that Iran was the destabilising factor in Iraq.
“Six years ago there was no terrorism in our region. As soon as strangers (the Americans) put their foot in the region, the terrorists came here,” Ahmadinejad told reporters.
Ahmadinejad was on the first visit by an Iranian president to Iraq since the two neighbours lost an estimated one million people in a devastating 1980-1988 war during the iron-fisted regime of Saddam Hussein.
The visit comes at a time when the US military is occupying Iraq and is keen to curb the rising influence of Iran on Baghdad.
“The Americans should change their viewpoint concerning these issues,” Ahmadinejad said in response to the recent accusations by Bush.
Speaking at his Texas ranch on Saturday Bush, had called on Iran to “quit sending in sophisticated equipment that’s killing our citizens.”
But the Iranian president insisted that anti-American sentiment in Iraq was not Iran’s fault as Iraq “does not want the US.”
Despite the occassional outbursts against Washington on his first day in Iraq, Ahmadinejad said the trip had opened a new page in the relations of the two countries.
“We have the same understanding of things and the two parties are determined to strengthen their political, economic and cultural cooperation,” he said.
Ahmadinejad acknowledged that Iraqis 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.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also said the visit of Ahmadinejad was a “positive” signal to other regional states that they should develop ties with the new Iraq.
“There was a high level of trust and I frankly say that the recent Iranian position towards Iraq is extremely helpful,” Maliki said.
“The visit will encourage and motivate neighbouring countries to visit Iraq.”
Iran’s relations with Iraq have drastically improved under the new Shiite-led government installed after the US-led invasion of 2003 with many leading politicians being former rebels who found sanctuary in Iran under the old regime.
Trade between the two neighbours is brisk. Iran is also building a major airport to service the millions of pilgrims who visit the Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq.
Iran’s relations with the United States however remain frosty, 28 years after the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The US military has 14 Iranians in its custody in Iraq and says it has proof that Tehran supplies insurgents with armour-piercing explosives and rockets.
The two countries are also at odds over Iran’s nuclear programme, which the United States suspects is a cover for an atomic weapons drive, something Iran denies.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad received a red-carpet greeting at the residence of his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani.
Separately a blast near an Iraqi checkpoint on Monday killed one civilian and wounded four in Baghdad’s eastern Maisloon Square, security officials said — a reminder of how volatile security remains in Iraq.