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Ahmadinejad Says Iraq Visit Opens 'New Chapter' In Relations

Source: RFE/RL

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is in Baghdad today, the first visit to Iraq by an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent war between the two countries. Ahmadinejad went straight from Baghdad's airport to a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who gave him a red-carpet welcome.

Ahmadinejad leaving Tehran

Following talks between the two presidents, Ahmadinejad said his visit aimed to "strengthen" relations with Baghdad which he called already "excellent." 

"This visit will open a new chapter in the two countries' bilateral relations," he said, "and it will help the atmosphere of cooperation in the region."

Ahmadinejad said both sides plan to improve relations "as much as possible," and that Iran wants a united, sovereign, and advanced Iraq that would benefit the region.

Talabani called the visit "historic" and said the two discussed economic, political, security, and oil issues.

Anti-Iranian Protests Held

Ahmadinejad went from his session with Talabani to a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Both the Iraqi president and prime minister previously have paid their own visits to Tehran.

The Iranian delegation, which also includes Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, is expected to return home on March 3.

Not all Iraqis were happy about Ahmadinejad's visit, however. Protests were held in the cities of Fallujah and Kirkuk, among others.

Ahmadinejad's trip, which comes ahead of Iranian parliamentary elections later this month, appears intended to reinforce the message that Tehran is a key regional power with the ability to play a role in Iraq.

Ahmadinejad's visit is also seen as a show of Iranian support for al-Maliki's government, whose main ally is Iran's chief foe -- the United States.

Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war that ended in 1988. Some 1 million people were killed.

But their political, economic, and religious ties are growing closer despite Tehran's unhappiness with the continuing presence of some 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq nearly five years after the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein.

Hussein's suppression of Iraq's Shi'ia majority drove many of their leaders to exile in Iran, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, and Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim, the leader of the influential Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) party.

U.S. Downplaying Visit

Trade is now growing between the two countries and tourism, in the form of hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims to Iraq's major Shi'ia shrines, is booming.

The United States has tried to downplay Ahmadinejad's visit. Washington says it welcomes Iran's stated policy of promoting stability, but says Tehran's actions show it is doing just the opposite.

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of fomenting instability and giving logistical and material support to various Shi'ite militias in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies.

The two countries are also at odds over Iran's nuclear program. The United States and other Western countries fear Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons. The UN Security Council is currently considering a third set of sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue. A vote could take place as soon as March 3.

Copyright (c) 2008 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 03/02/08 ... --

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