Iraqi Leader Asks Iran for Help With Security
Tuesday 12 September 2006
Baghdad, Iraq - In his first state visit to Iran, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki today discussed the security situation in Iraq with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and asked for Mr. Ahmadinejad's support in quelling the violence that threatens to fracture this country.
"We had a good discussion with Mr. Ahmadinejad," Mr. Maliki said at a news conference in Tehran, the Iranian capital, after the two met. "Even in security issues, there is no barrier in the way of cooperation."
Mr. Ahmadinejad said that "Iran will give its assistance to establish complete security in Iraq because Iraq's security is Iran's security."
For Mr. Maliki, the visit was a kind of homecoming, since he had spent a part of his exile years during Saddam Hussein's rule living in Tehran. Many members of Mr. Maliki's Shiite political group, the Islamic Dawa Party, fled to Iran to escape the wrath of Mr. Hussein's security forces. Iranian leaders are close to Dawa and other religious Iraqi Shiite parties, because Iran is governed by Shiite Persians.
Ordinary Iraqis are generally more suspicious of the Iranian government because the two countries waged war from 1980 to 1988, and because the Persians have been the traditional rivals of Arabs for influence in the Middle East.
It was not clear what form Iranian support on security would take, or how it would be received by the American authorities. Mr. Maliki's visit came at a time when the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, and American military commanders have increasingly accused elements in Iran of stoking violence in Iraq.
American generals have said people or groups in Iran are providing training and financing to Shiite militias here. Mr. Khalilzad said last month that Iran was urging Shiite militias to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon.
The United States has also been pressuring Iran to end its uranium enrichment program, which White House officials say could result in a nuclear weapon.
The initial American reaction today was cautious. In Washington, Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, told reporters: "As you know, though, we've repeatedly expressed our concerns, as have others, about Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs. That is something that we remain concerned about.
"And while certainly we would welcome any statements of support for Iraq's government and democracy, and any pledges to act in a responsible way that does not interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq,'' he said, "we certainly want to make sure that any statements made were followed up by real concrete actions to address some of the concerns that are out there.''
Mr. Maliki said today that the American accusations of Iranian interference in Iraq will not affect economic deals that have already been signed between the two countries.
"All the political, security and economic accords that have been signed with the Islamic republic's officials will be carried out," he said.
Mr. Maliki is leading a large delegation that includes Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, who is close to some Iranian officials. The Iraqis are scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful former president. Mr. Maliki's predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, visited Iran in July 2005.
In the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, another Shiite leader close to Iran, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, defended his decision last week to ask Parliament to endorse a mechanism allowing Iraqi provinces to form autonomous regions. Mr. Hakim's move has roiled Iraqi politics, spurring the legislators who answer to Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, to unite with the Parliament's main Sunni Arab and secular blocs to try to sink Mr. Hakim's plan. The Sunni Arabs are especially opposed to the idea of regional autonomy, called federalism in the Iraqi Constitution, because their provinces lack oil resources.
"We think that federalism is one of the administrative ways that helps to secure our rights, remove oppression and prevent sectarian discrimination among people of one country and one belief," Mr. Hakim said.
In Anbar Province, the western region that is home to the Sunni-led insurgency, the American commander of forces in the area said he agreed with a classified intelligence assessment filed last month by a colonel that said Anbar was in a precarious state and could continue to deteriorate.
But the commander, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, said he believed he had enough troops to do his job, which he said was to train Iraqi security forces to fight the insurgency and not to win against the insurgency with his own troops.
"Given what our mission is, what we're trying to achieve out here, I think our force levels are about right," he said in a telephone conference call to reporters.
Elements of the intelligence report have been published in newspapers the last two days. One conclusion of the report was that without the addition of another American division to the province, "there is nothing" the American forces there "can do to influence the motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency," according to a military officer familiar with the assessment. The report also describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an "integral part of the social fabric" of Anbar.
Violence flared across parts of Iraq today. In western Baghdad, a car bomb aimed at an American convoy killed six civilians and wounded 15, an Interior Ministry official said. A homemade bomb killed one policeman and one civilian and wounded six civilians. An Iraqi policeman was shot dead in southwest Baghdad, and two bodies and a human head were discovered in three different parts of the city. The head had a note attached: "This is the destiny of those who work with the Americans."
Two civilians were killed in separate shootings in Diyala Province.
A police captain in Mosul was assassinated, and Iraqi Army soldier was killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb explosion south of Kirkuk.
Judges in the trial of Saddam Hussein for genocide against the Kurds continued to listen to testimony from witnesses today.
Edward Wong reported from Baghdad for this article and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.