New York Times: Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament, criticized the United States on Wednesday in harsher terms than any other leading Iranian figure has done since President Obama extended his videotaped olive branch to Iran last week.
The New York Times
By ROD NORDLAND
Published: March 26, 2009
BAGHDAD — Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament, criticized the United States on Wednesday in harsher terms than any other leading Iranian figure has done since President Obama extended his videotaped olive branch to Iran last week.
The president’s video took the form of congratulations on the Iranian New Year. “Our problem with America is not an emotional problem that could be solved by sending congratulations,” Mr. Larijani said. “America must know that this is a complex problem that goes back 30 years.”
He said “the Americans stood against the Islamic State of Iran by supporting Saddam in his eight-year-long war against Iran,” referring to Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s, which left an estimated one million Iranians dead or maimed. Mr. Larijani, one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, made the remarks at a news conference in the southern Iraqi holy city of Najaf after a two-hour private meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Shiite religious leader in Iraq.
While many Iranians were happy to see Mr. Hussein toppled by the American-led invasion of Iraq six years ago and executed by the new Iraqi government in December 2006, Iran has also been a harsh critic of the United States for its Iraq policy. Mr. Larijani said the Americans had subjected Iraqis to “harassment, pain and humiliation.”
While Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has criticized Mr. Obama’s call for a “new beginning” in relations as lacking in substance and signaling nothing new, and low-level Iranian officials have made similar criticisms, Mr. Larijani’s remarks were more pointed and abrasive in tone.
“The problems will not be solved by them altering the words or selecting the terms they use,” Mr. Larijani said, apparently alluding to Mr. Obama’s praise of Iran’s culture and history.
Mr. Larijani did not, however, explicitly rule out talks between Washington and Tehran, which President Obama has made one of the foreign policy goals of his administration.
Meanwhile in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi officials announced that work had begun to convert the city into a modern version of a walled fortress town.
Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Baghdad operations command of the Iraqi military, outlined plans to build four major entry points to the city, as well as 18 minor ones, and force all traffic through them to submit to systematic searches, using sophisticated X-ray and sonar equipment, and explosives detectors.
Some of the construction on the checkpoints has already begun, but General Atta did not say when it would be complete.
“Everyone who comes to Baghdad will be thoroughly searched so we can make sure the terrorist groups cannot come into the area,” he said.
At the height of the security plan for Baghdad, rolled out when the American military surge began, there were 420 checkpoints throughout the city. Those have been reduced to 215 now, General Atta said, but there are still enough to cause traffic snarls. The system of screening at gates to the city will enable the removal of all internal checkpoints, he said.
At a news conference with General Atta in Baghdad’s Green Zone, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, spokesman for the American-led forces in Iraq, said that violence by almost every measure was at the lowest point in a year, and in some cases since the beginning of the war.
One year ago, violent attacks numbered 130 a day, and this year in the week ending March 21, they averaged 10 a day. At the height of the war, the American-led forces endured 1,250 attacks a week, General Perkins said, “and many times we have less than a hundred a week now.”
In the last two weeks, ending March 21, there were no “ethno-sectarian attacks” reported in the entire country, General Perkins added. There apparently have, however, been some in the past week, and there were other violent attacks during that period.
January and February had the lowest level of American fatalities, 19, since the war began, General Perkins said. In a similar period last year, 148 American soldiers were killed.
“The enemy is unable to maintain a high rate of attacks because they don’t have the resources available or the personnel available to do that,” General Perkins said. He added that it was particularly significant that these signs of improvement were showing up even as American troops handed over more duties to the Iraqis as the Americans prepared to pull out of Iraq’s cities. That process is supposed to be completed by June under the so-called Status of Forces Agreement between the countries.
In the northern Iraqi town of Rashidiya, near Mosul, three children, ages 7 to 10, were killed by a roadside bomb apparently aimed at an American patrol that had just passed by, the police said. None of the soldiers were hurt.