AFP: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari Monday that US troops were harming his country, in a reminder of Tehran’s opposition to the foreign military presence in its former foe. It was the first time that US military support for Jaafari’s government had been brought up since his arrival on Saturday amid clear efforts by both Iran and Iraq to turn the page on their devastating 1980-88 war. AFP
by Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari Monday that US troops were harming his country, in a reminder of Tehran’s opposition to the foreign military presence in its former foe.
It was the first time that US military support for Jaafari’s government had been brought up since his arrival on Saturday amid clear efforts by both Iran and Iraq to turn the page on their devastating 1980-88 war.
“The US soldiers are doing much harm to Iraqis and to the peoples of the region,” Khamenei told the Iraqi premier during a reception in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The Muslim world is “unhappy with the actions of the Americans in Iraq,” the ISNA student news agency quoted him as saying.
The Iranian leader stopped short of reiterating previous demands for the departure of all foreign troops, in the comments reported by ISNA.
Jaafari’s government had in any case made plain before the visit that any precipitate pullout would plunge the country into chaos.
A veteran Shiite dissident who took refuge in Iran under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Jaafari heads the first government in the Arab world led by followers of Iran’s official Shiite religion.
The two sides had put the accent on reconcilation and cooperation throughout the rest of the visit, the first by an Iraqi premier since before the war.
Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref said it marked a “turning point” in relations.
Jaafari himself said the visit had “consolidated relations,” as he boarded the plane for his meeting with Khamenei.
“We have set up five committees covering cooperation in politics, economics, trade, reconstruction and the fight against terrorism,” he added.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari Sunday hailed the formation of the counter-terrorism committee, which comes amid US allegations that Iran has been turning a blindeye to militants slipping across the common border.
“We found the Iranians to be cooperative and willing to participate in this commission,” Zebari said, adding security was discussed “at length” and was a “top priority”.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said the two governments were planning to build three new pipelines across their southern border to enable Iraq to swap crude for petrol and other refined products which remain in desperately short supply.
Zanganeh said that he expected the new pipelines to be up and running within 10 months of signature of the deal, which the official IRNA news agency said would be within a month.
“The idea is for Iran to buy 150,000 barrels per day of Basra light crude. In return, Iran will provide petrol, heating oil and kerosene.”
Iraq has faced chronic shortages of refined products ever since the US-led invasion of 2003, as insurgents have targeted its oil infrastructure, bringing production from the northern fields around Kirkuk to a virtual standstill.
Even though Iraq has the world’s second largest proven reserves of crude, Jaafari’s government has been forced to import refined products from a number of neighbouring countries.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi stressed that despite the spirit of reconciliation, Iran still wanted to see Saddam tried for his regime’s crimes during the eight-year war and stood ready to provide the necessary evidence.
“With respect to the crimes committed by the leaders of the former Iraqi regime against the Iranian nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran expects Iraqi officials to seriously raise and follow up the case during Saddam Hussein’s trial,” he said.
Iran would “provide all necessary evidence and documents to the special court for trial of Saddam.”
Iraq first agreed that Saddam ought to be held to account for the war during a visit to Baghdad by Kharazi in May which paved the way for Jaafari’s landmark trip.