News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran welcomes planned US pullout from Iraq

Iran welcomes planned US pullout from Iraq

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ImageAFP: Iran on Saturday welcomed moves by the new US President Barack Obama to pull American troops out of Iraq and insisted that Tehran would not meddle in elections here.

ImageBAGHDAD (AFP) — Iran on Saturday welcomed moves by the new US President Barack Obama to pull American troops out of Iraq and insisted that Tehran would not meddle in elections here.

"We definitely welcome a US troop pullout from Iraq," Iran's ambassador in Baghdad Hasan Kazemi Qomi told AFP in an interview.

"This is what the Iraqi people and the government wants."

Obama has upped the tempo of a planned drawdown from Iraq since his inauguration on Tuesday, instructing top US commanders to prepare a "responsible" exit strategy, although other officials have been more cautious.

During his election campaign, Obama promised to bring all US troops home from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, but also said he would listen to his generals, and later narrowed the reduction pledge to combat units.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has since said he has been assured by Washington that there will be no rapid US withdrawal.

Under an agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad in November the US military is due to withdraw combat soldiers from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Kazemi Qomi, whose country has been accused repeatedly by the US of fomenting sectarian strife in Iraq to destabilise its fragile security, said it was up to Iraq's people to decide if they wanted American troops on their soil.

"What is mentioned in the pact is for the American troops to get out and this certainly makes the Iraqi people happy," said Kazemi Qomi, who has been Iran's ambassador in Baghdad since May 2006.

"It is up to the Iraqi people to judge what the Americans are doing in their country," he added, referring to a decision taken by the Iraqi parliament to hold a referendum this summer on the US troop presence.

With the help of the United Nations, Iraq's Independent High Election Commission, is organising elections on January 31 in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces — the first vote in the country since 2005.

In a report to the US Congress 10 days ago, the Defence Department said Iran was likely to use the polls to try and extend its influence in its western neighbour.

Kazemi Qomi, however, described the allegations as "an insult to Iraqis".

"Every time the Iraqis are going through a sensitive period in their history, the US comes up with such claims," he said. "The claims are like a broken record."

The ambassador instead predicted that the elections would see strong backing for candidates who had been victims of American military action.

"They (the United States) want to create a psychological atmosphere to put off the Iraqi people's real candidates who can truly serve Iraqis in difficult circumstances," he said.

"These allegations are a big insult to the Iraqi people and their representatives, and to the democracy that the US claims it has created.

"Contrary to the US psychological pressure, Iraqis will vote for the lists of the people that are stigmatised by those who have US backing," he added.

The US report said Iran's "malign influence" is one of a number of factors that still weighs on the security situation in Iraq even though violence has fallen to levels not seen since 2004.

At the same time, "it (Iran) continues to host, train, fund, arm and direct militant groups intent on destabilising Iraq," the report added.

Kazemi Qomi reiterated Iran's opposition to any continued US troop presence in Iraq.

"As far as we are concerned the US are still on the Iraqi-Iranian border but the responsibility of the border is within each nation's sovereign rights," he said.

"It should be returned fully to the Iraqis which so far has not occurred."

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