TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) -The U.S. ambassador to Iraq accused Iran on Tuesday of having forces in Iraq and said Tehran could use the war between Hizbollah militants and Israel in Lebanon to try and further destabilize the country.
“The region is very much interconnected. What happened in Lebanon affects things here,” Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.
“Iran … has some forces here. There is the possibility that they might encourage those forces to create increased instability here.”
Khalilzad was speaking at a ceremony marking the U.S. military handover of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces in the northern town of Tikrit, ousted president Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
The United States has repeatedly accused non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran of fomenting violence and instability by sending weapons and fighters into Iraq, a charge Tehran denied.
It also accuses Iran, as well as Syria, of backing Shi’ite Hizbollah in its fight against Israel.
The Islamic Republic, which has dramatically improved ties with its fellow Shi’ites leading the Baghdad government, says it wants a stable Iraq.
Iran and Iraq fought a devastating war in the 1980s which saw the United States back Saddam.
After toppling him in 2003, the United States is now faced with the prospect of backing a Shi’ite-led government that is moving closer to Tehran.
Tens of thousands of followers of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday in support of Hizbollah, wearing white to indicate they are ready to die in battle.
In March it had looked like direct talks between Washington and Tehran on resolving problems in Iraq could go ahead.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in April such talks were not needed since a permanent Iraqi government was in place.
Iran accuses Washington of putting unfair pressure on Tehran over its nuclear work, brutal tactics in occupying Iraq and backing Israeli attacks against Palestinians.