Iraq says no hard evidence of Iranian support for militia
Yahoo News/AFP
May 4, 2008

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq said on Sunday it has no evidence that Iran was supplying militias engaged in fierce street fighting with security forces in Baghdad.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said there was no "hard evidence" of involvement by the neighbouring Shiite government of Iran in backing Shiite militiamen in the embattled country.

Asked about reports that weapons captured from Shiite fighters bore 2008 markings suggesting Iranian involvement, Dabbagh said: "We don't have that kind of evidence... If there is hard evidence we will defend the country."

Dabbagh said an Iraqi parliamentary delegation which visited Iran last week had useful discussions with authorities there and secured assurances of support and understanding of the crisis.

"They talked frankly about the fears and concerns in Iraq," he told reporters at a news conference in the tightly guarded Green Zone of Baghdad where the Iraqi government and the US embassy are located.

He stressed that Iraq was keen to have better relations with Iran and did not want another conflict.

"What happend in the past is in the past," he said referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Dabbagh said Baghdad was keen to "reorganise" its relations with its erstwhile enemy. He said Iran was also keen to ensure peace and political stability in Iraq and supported Baghdad government moves to curb violence.

"Iran supports the government and understands the need to eliminate all militia... and allow the rule of law," Dabbagh said, adding that the Iraqi team which went to Iran had the blessing of the government but was not "official."

Reports from Teheran on Sunday said that Iran had warned Iraq against using excessive force in its crackdown against Shiite militias.

"We support the efforts of the Iraqi government to disarm the armed militia but we advise them not to confront the population," an official source, who was not named, told the student ISNA news agency in Teheran.

"The official position of the Islamic republic of Iran is to support the legal Iraqi government and we will do everything to assure the security of the country," added the source.

Militiamen mostly loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who according to his Najaf-based office is currently in Iran, have been battling US troops in Baghdad's Sadr City.

The fighters from Sadr's Mahdi Army have fought running street battles with US and Iraqi forces since late March in the district, leaving hundreds dead.

Washington has accused Iranian groups of arming the militia and training them inside Iran, but officials in Tehran reject the charges, saying that Iran is committed to security for all Iraqis.

US military spokesman Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll said the Americans fully supported talks between Iran and Iraq on curbing the sectarian violence.

"We support any platform for dialogue," Driscoll said at the joint news conference with Dabbagh.

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