Ilam, West Iran, May 8, IRNA-Iraq's President Jalal Talabani heaped flattering praise on Iran Sunday night, saying the Iraqis feel indebted to its eastern neighbor because of the assistance they received during the rule of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
"The Iraqi people, especially the Kurds, do not forget the Islamic Republic's assistance and we are all indebted to Iran," the Iraqi leader said in a speech carried by the state TV, monitored at this border city.
"During the years of struggle against the Iraqi dictator (Saddam Hussein) and homelessness of thousands of Iraqis, it was the Islamic Republic which stood beside the Iraqi people," Talabani said.
"We do not forget how Iranians came to assist Iraqis when Saddam attacked Halabja with chemical bombs, transferring thousands of the injured to Iranian hospitals," the Iraqi president recalled.
Iran opened its borders to the flood of the Iraqi refugees, fleeing the Baath regime's ruthless crackdown which followed after the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shias in the country's south had risen up against Saddam at the end of the first Persian Gulf war in 1991.
The statements are yet the most positive made by Talabani about Iran since becoming the Iraqi president last month. They flatly clash with those made by former defense minister Hazem al-Shaalan who regularly accused Tehran of interfering in Iraq's affairs.
Shaalan, who was a member of Saddam's Baath Party, took his cue from US officials who also accuse Iran of allowing insurgents to slip through its borders into Iraq.
On Sunday, Iraq's parliament named Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni as new defense minister.
Dulaimi was an officer in Saddam's army before falling out against the Baath regime, which brought him about 17 years of life in exile, before returning home in 2003 after the ouster of Saddam, who had sentenced him to death and confiscated his assets.
Iran has refuted accusations of interference in Iraq's affairs, stressing that the charge was being made by 'a few individuals with a bad record'.
Tehran says the accusations merit little significance since they do not reflect an official stance.
Last month, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami congratulated veteran Kurdish leader Talabani on his election as the new Iraqi president, announcing Tehran's readiness for any cooperation and assistance.
"I am pleased with the election of Your Excellency as the president of the Iraqi transitional government," Khatami said in a message to Talabani.
President Khatami further announced Iran's readiness for 'any cooperation and necessary assistance to the Iraqi government and nation'.
Quoted by the Iraqi state TV Sunday night, Talabani said, "We have no problem with the Islamic Republic and existing relations of the two countries are at a very high level."
Tehran and Baghdad however are still being haunted by a destructive war which the two countries fought between 1980 and 1988 after Saddam invaded Iran.
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