Washington Post: Iran is playing “a negative role” in Iraq by providing weapons, training and other support to militias and insurgent groups that interfere in Iraqi politics, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said at a news conference on Monday. Washington Post
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
BAGHDAD, Feb. 20 — Iran is playing “a negative role” in Iraq by providing weapons, training and other support to militias and insurgent groups that interfere in Iraqi politics, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said at a news conference on Monday.
“I have said to Iraqis that we do not seek to impose our differences with Iran on them,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. “But we do not want Iranian interference in Iraq.”
Khalilzad also bluntly rejected recent Iranian calls for a British withdrawal from the southern Iraqi city of Basra, saying the demands were “uncalled for.” The Iranians, he said, were trying to divert attention from a recent crisis over their nuclear program by “getting involved in something that’s none of their business.”
“The coalition forces are here under a U.N. mandate at the request of the Iraqi government,” Khalilzad said. “Basra is Iraqi territory, the last time I checked the map.”
The ambassador spoke on a day when more than two dozen Iraqis were killed and a coalition soldier died near Karbala.
It was unclear whether Khalilzad’s remarks were a formal statement of American protest. The ambassador had concluded his comments at a news conference in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday morning and was heading for the exit when he spoke in response to reporters’ questions.
“I say that Iran has a mixed policy towards Iraq,” Khalilzad said. Part of that policy was a normal diplomatic relationship, he said, and the other was “to work with militias, to work with extremist groups, to provide training and weapons.” He added that there was evidence the Iranians provided “indirect help” to Sunni Arab insurgent groups as well.
The Iranian aid was part of a “comprehensive strategy,” he said, by a “player seeking regional preeminence.”
Iraq’s relationship to Iran is a complicated one. The two countries fought a brutal eight-year war in the 1980s, and many Iraqis view the neighboring Shiite theocracy with suspicion. But most of Iraq’s Shiite politicians, who will have a strong representation in the country’s new government, have close ties to Iran.
Some of the politicians maintain militias in order to back their decisions with force, and it has long been a goal of U.S. policy to disband these groups.
At the news conference, Khalilzad reiterated the American desire that the Iraqis would form a government representing all of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups and staff their security ministries with competent, non-sectarian leaders. He implied that the United States could cut off aid to Iraq if the demands are not met. “I have stated repeatedly that we will have to take a look at what we do if they do not make the right decision,” Khalilzad said.
In other developments, police reported Monday that 25 Iraqis were killed in bombings and a roadside bomb explosion killed a coalition soldier southeast of Karbala, according to U.S. military authorities.
A man wearing an explosive vest blew himself up inside a bus in northern Baghdad, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than five, Maj. Mukhallad Ani, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said. Ani said the bomber targeted the bus that was carrying Shiites near Hawija bus station in the Shiite Kadhmiya neighborhood. Another suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt blew up himself among construction laborers in Tayaran Square in central Baghdad, killing six civilians and wounding 16, Ani said. Another roadside bomb hit an Iraqi police patrol in northern Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding four.
In Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt inside a restaurant, killing three and wounding six, all police officers, hospital and police officials said.
The attack took place in Abu Ali restaurant in central Mosul, said police Gen. Abdul Hamid Jubouri, a spokesman for the Nineveh province police. The restaurant is close to the police headquarters and is frequented by police officers, eyewitnesses said.
Special correspondents Bassam Sebti in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.