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US seeks change in Iran ties with Iraq – ambassador

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Reuters: The United States will present evidence of Iranian agents’ hostile activities in Iraq soon and hopes arrests of Iranians will push Tehran to change its diplomatic ties with Iraq, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday.
More By Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD, Jan 24 (Reuters) – The United States will present evidence of Iranian agents’ hostile activities in Iraq soon and hopes arrests of Iranians will push Tehran to change its diplomatic ties with Iraq, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday.

A number of Iranian officials have been detained in three U.S. raids in the past month and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters that details of the accusations against them would be made public in the coming days.

Washington accuses Iran of helping arm, train and fund Iraqi militants, notably fellow Shi’ite Muslims, and Khalilzad said Tehran may be trying to keep Iraq, a historic Arab opponent, weak and “distracted” to further aims of regional “hegemony”.

The envoy said Washington accepted that Iran, its own regional adversary, would have close relations with neighbouring Iraq but it was “going after networks” of security agents which he said were a mainstay of Iran’s involvement in Iraq.

The hope was, he said, that Tehran would move to a more conventional diplomatic relationship with Baghdad.

Repeating that some of those arrested were senior members of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, he noted that Iran’s ambassador to Iraq had demanded that the United States present its evidence against them:

“We’re going to oblige him by having something done in the coming days,” Khalilzad said. “We should present what we have.”

He said Shi’ite political groups now dominating the Iraqi government had developed close relationships with the Iranian security forces while they were opposing Saddam Hussein — he noted in particular the history of SCIRI, the biggest Shi’ite party, which was founded in Iranian exile in the 1980s.

Saddam was at war with Iran for much of that decade.

Those relationships, he said, now needed to be “adjusted” to take account of the changed situation in Iraq.

He said Iran had a “desire to be regional hegemon, the dominant power” in the Middle East.

“Historically, Iraq has played a balancing role vis a vis Iran,” he said. “Maybe that’s what Iran seeks — to keep Iraq preoccupied.”

Saying “Iran has been throwing its weight around”, he added: “We are trying to adjust to be able to deal with that and ensure that Iran doesn’t miscalculate and that there is a clear understanding that the rest of the region and those who have an interest in this region, the United States, will protect their interests and will not allow hegemony by a hostile regional power.”

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