Ahmadinejad: Foreigners to blame for Iraq's problems

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 3, 2008 

BAGHDAD — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took another series of swipes at the Bush administration Monday, telling the "foreigners" who'd traveled thousands of miles that it was time to go home so that Iran and Iraq could develop their "brotherly connections."

"Foreigners" were the cause of Iraq's "ruin" and had evoked only hatred from Iraqis, Ahmadinejad said before departing Baghdad on Monday.

"The presence of foreigners in the region has been to the detriment of the nations of the region," he said. "It is nothing but a humiliation to the regional nations," an apparent reference to his own country, which is Persian, not Arab, and considered foreign by many Arabs.

The Iranian leader avoided mentioning the United States by name but left no doubt about the target of his ire. "We believe the forces that came from overseas and traveled thousands of kilometers to reach here must leave the region, and must hand over responsibility to the people of the region," he said.

"Their only achievements are that regional nations further dislike them; it adds to the regional nations' hatred. No one likes them," he said. Iraqis have always been "anti-colonialist" and "anti-occupation," he said.

He denounced dictator Saddam Hussein, who led an eight-year war against Iran starting in 1980 that left 1 million people dead. But Ahmadinejad didn't acknowledge the American role in Saddam's overthrow.

"Of course, dictators and foreigners have tried to tarnish and undermine the emotional relations between the two states," Ahmadinejad said.

He signed seven agreements — on trade, transportation, electricity, industry, customs, mining and finance — cementing the economic relationship between the nations, and prayed in the middle of the night at a Shiite Muslim shrine.

His televised visit to the shrine in Kadhimiyah in north Baghdad — replacing what might have been a risky visit to shrines in Karbala and Najaf — occurred at 12:30 a.m., and he was seen praying and weeping.

He also met up to 200 leaders, clerics, tribal sheiks and intellectuals during his two-day stay, Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi said. On Sunday Ahmadinejad briefly visited U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the largest American Embassy in the world is housed and U.S. soldiers man checkpoints and police the area.

Although his state visit made history as the first such trip since the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979 and of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and the first since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Ahmadinejad didn't mention the war in his public statements.

Demonstrations against his presence in parts of Baghdad on Sunday and Monday marred the visit. Many Iraqis, especially Sunni Muslims and Kurds, resent Shiite Iran's influence on their government.

Before his formal sendoff with a red carpet ceremony and a trip to the airport in a black BMW decorated with Iraqi and Iranian flags, the Iranian leader contrasted his visit with President Bush's two trips to Iraq. Unlike Ahmadinejad, who announced his trip in advance and was welcomed with full state honors, Bush has dropped into Iraq twice on secret trips and never left U.S.-controlled areas.

"We have nothing to hide from the people of Iran and Iraq," Ahmadinejad said. "All those who come on secretive visits, we should ask them why they visit this country in a secretive manner."

He dismissed American claims that Iran supports and trains Shiite militias.

"U.S. officials talk too much. For us, these remarks are not important, because they talk, based on false information. But we will give them a friendly suggestion: We think accusing others cannot resolve U.S. problems in the region," he said.

Even before Ahmadinejad boarded his plane, Iraqi violence resumed in the form of car bombs. Two explosions killed at least 16 people and injured at least 56.

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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