Iraq Won't Allow US to Use it's Soil to Invade Iran
Yahoo News/AFP
by Hiedeh Farmani June 7, 2008

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in Tehran on Saturday for talks with Iranian leaders, amid controversy over a mooted deal with Washington on a long-term US troop presence in Iraq

The Shiite premier -- on his third visit to Tehran since taking office two years ago -- was met by First Vice President Parviz Davoudi and was set to hold talks with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki later in the day.

The new trip comes amid strong criticism from Baghdad and Tehran over the proposed deal between Iraq and Iran's arch foe the United States to maintain US soldiers in the country beyond 2008.

"The prime minister's visit to Iran is considered a step in a series of visits ... and to form a strategy committee to develop the relationship between the two nations," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP.

Iran has urged Maliki not to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States on maintaining US soldiers in the country beyond 2008. Iraq has also said it has a "different vision" from the United States on the issue.

Dabbagh said Iran's leaders would be assured that Baghdad would not allow its soil to be used for attacks on neighbouring countries, amid mounting international tensions over the Iranian nuclear drive.

He said they would be told of "the Iraqi vision, which is that it will not serve as a base or staging ground to launch attacks against neighbouring countries."

US President George W. Bush and Maliki agreed in principle last November to sign the deal by the end of July, but negotiations appear to have hit a snag, amid protests in Iraq.

Maliki was to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday before travelling to the Iranian shrine city of Mashhad on the third day of the trip, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Although Iran and Shiite-majority Iraq waged a war between 1980 and 1988 in which around one million people died, ties have warmed considerably since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

But last month Maliki also formed a panel of security ministries to weed out any evidence of Iranian interference in Iraq's affairs, a charge that Tehran has vehemently denied.

The United States has accused Iran of shipping in tank-busting munitions for attacks on US troops, training Shiite militants inside Iran for operations in Iraq and supplying rockets for attacks on the government and embassy compound in central Baghdad.

The prime minister, who lived in exile Iran during the Saddam dictatorship, made his first official trip to Iran in September 2006. The first visit by an Iraqi premier since the US-led invasion was made by Maliki's predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari in July 2005.

The United States, which has in the past expressed anxiety over the apparent warmth of relations between Maliki and Iran, will be closely watching the talks to see how close the neighbouring states are.

US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker stressed in Washington on Thursday that Iran and Iraq were neighbours and had to conduct a relationship. "The question is: what kind of relationship is it going to be?" he said.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told Iranian state television: "I hope that Maliki goes to Iran and he is in a strong position and when he comes back he will be in a stronger position."

Maliki's visit is also expected to touch on economic issues, especially oil exports as well as electricity and water supplies, amid shortages of both in the war-torn nation, his office said.

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