TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s top authority blamed the United States on Saturday for bombings in Iraq that have killed dozens of Iranian pilgrims this week, official media reported.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statement coincides with efforts by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama to reach out to the Islamic Republic following three decades of mutual mistrust.
Predominantly Shi’ite Muslim Iran has often said the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is worsening the security situation in the neighbouring country. “The main suspects in this crime and crimes similar to that, are American security and military forces,” Khamenei said in a statement read out on state radio. He was also referring to Israel, like the United States an old foe of Iran.
“The growth of the poisonous grass of terrorism in Iraq will definitely be written in America’s criminal record and American and Israeli intelligence bodies are the first suspects of that,” Khamenei said.
On Thursday, most of the 57 people who were killed in a suicide bomb in the northeastern Iraqi province of Diyala were Iranians, who have flocked to Iraq’s Shi’ite holy sites since Sunni Arab strongman Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.
The following day, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up near a Shi’ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad, killing 60 people, police said. Many of the dead and wounded were Iranian pilgrims.
The attacks raised concerns that a recent decline in violence in Iraq may have been only a temporary lull. While violence has fallen sharply in Iraq over the past year, insurgent groups like Sunni Islamist al Qaeda still carry out frequent attacks.
Khamenei said the U.S. forces, on the pretext of confronting terrorism, had occupied an Islamic country and “killed tens of thousands of people there and increased insecurity there day after day.” He said Iran expected the Iraqi government to “seriously confront” crimes like the bombings on Thursday and Friday and provide safety for Iranian pilgrims.
Iran has closed two border crossings with Iraq after the bomb attacks, Iranian media said.
Relations between the two neighbours, which fought a 1980-88 war, have improved since Saddam was toppled six years ago and a Shi’ite-dominated government came to power in Baghdad.
The latest attacks in Iraq coincide with growing fears of a resurgence in violence as U.S. combat troops prepare to pull out of Iraqi cities in June, ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011, and amid doubts over the effectiveness of Iraqi forces.