TEHRAN, Iran (Agencies) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Tehran and Baghdad share a “heavy responsibility” in establishing peace and security in the region, the official IRNA news agency reported Thursday. “Tehran counts on the victory of Iraqis for the future of the region,” IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling his guest during their meeting late Wednesday.
Al-Maliki responded that Iran has a “positive and constructive” role in helping the Iraqi government improve security in his wartorn nation, IRNA said.
Violence will fail to undermine the ties between Tehran and Baghdad, said Maliki, a Shiite Muslim deemed close to Iran’s Shiite regime.
“Today, Iran, Iraq and all countries of the region must fight against terrorism,» al-Maliki was quoted as saying. The two leaders walked in to an ornate meeting room holding hands. They then shook hands for the cameras before beginning their talks, which were attended by several other Iraqi and Iranian officials and closed to the media.
Ahmadinejad described the current situation as “very sensitive,” IRNA said. “Iran and Iraq have a heavy responsibility for establishing peace and security in the region,” he said. He praised the Iraqi government’s efforts as it struggles to provide security for its people. “Trying to preserve the independence and dignity of Iraq, creating a free government is the best action,” the agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. The Iraqi premier’s three-day visit to its powerful neighbor came as the United States has stepped up accusations that Tehran is arming Iraqi Shiite militants. Al-Maliki’s government is closely tied to mainly Shiite Iran and has been reluctant to openly embrace the U.S. claims against Tehran.
Instead, Baghdad has been struggling to balance between its two top allies, who are bitter rivals of each other.
The Iraqi prime minister’s visit to Tehran came two days after U.S. and Iranian experts held talks in Baghdad on improving Iraq’s security, part of Baghdad’s attempts to bring the two sides closer together. Iraqi officials would not say if al-Maliki, on his second trip to Tehran in the past year, was directly pressing Iran on the U.S. accusations during his talks with Iranian leaders.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the visit aimed to boost agreements making Iran “a positive base” in support of Iraq.
Hours before al-Maliki arrived in Tehran on Wednesday, American forces raided the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, targeting what the U.S. military said were militants involved in smuggling weapons from Iran and sending fighters to Iran for training. The military said 32 suspected militants were killed in the assault and 12 others detained, though Iraqi police and witnesses said nine civilians were killed.
The U.S. military has been increasing its accusations that Iran is fueling Iraq’s violence. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. second-in-command, said Sunday that Iranian-armed Shiite militiamen were behind 73 percent of the attacks that killed and wounded U.S. troops in Baghdad in July, nearly double the figure six months earlier.
Iran has denied arming or financing Shiite militias. Al-Maliki’s government has said only that it does not “rule out” Iranian involvement.
Al-Maliki and Iraqi officials gave few details on what sort of security cooperation they were seeking from Iran during his visit. The trip also aimed to tighten already growing economic ties between the two countries. Al-Maliki met on Wednesday with Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoodi and “asked Iran for real security cooperation,” an al-Maliki aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Davoodi said “Iran has been always paying attention to providing and improving security in Iraq,” according to IRNA.
The Iraqi Premier held private one-on-one talks on security issues with Ali Larijani, the powerful secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the aide also said.
Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority are deeply suspicious of the Shiite and Kurdish leadership’s close ties with Iran, as are mainly Sunni Arab governments.