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Ahmadinejad urges foreign troops to leave Iraq

Latest update : 2008-03-03

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concluded his historic visit to Iraq by calling for a quick withdrawal of US-led forces, blaming them for bringing terrorism to the Middle East.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a landmark visit to Iraq, on Monday urged US-led foreign forces to leave the war-ravaged nation, saying without them the region will "live in peace."

"Without the presence of the foreign troops the region will live in peace and brotherhood," said Ahmadinejad, who also announced the signing of seven pacts with Iraq in areas such as trade, industry and transport.

"We believe that the forces that came from overseas and travelled thousands of kilometres to reach here must leave the region, and must hand over responsibility to people of the region," he said, without directly naming the United States.

Ahmadinejad's salvo came on the second day of his visit to Iraq, the first ever by an Iranian president, in a sign of growing rapprochement between the two neighbours which fought a bloody war in the 1980s that left one million people dead.

The US military has 158,000 troops stationed in Iraq and Washington is keen to curb the rising influence in Iraq of its arch-foe Tehran, which US commanders have accused of training and arming Shiite militias.

Ahmadinejad brushed off the accusations.

"American officials talk too much," he said. "We don't care to hear their statements, because the Americans are giving statements based on false information.

"We are going to give them some friendly advice. We believe that directing accusations at others does not solve American problems. They should solve their problems elsewhere."

Ahmadinejad on Sunday blamed Washington for bringing terrorism to the Middle East, saying: "Six years ago there was no terrorism in our region. As soon as strangers put their foot in the region, the terrorists came here."

On Saturday, US President George W. Bush accused Iran of fomenting the violence in Iraq and called on it to "quit sending in sophisticated equipment that's killing our citizens."

Ahmadinejad brushed aside the charges and mocked other foreign leaders, including Bush, who arrive in Iraq on unannounced visits.

"When they come to Iraq they come secretly, and their visit lasts only a few hours. We are hiding nothing," he said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Ahmadinejad's call to withdraw foreign troops appeared to be boosted by the warm reception he received from the Shiite-led Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday.

"There was a high level of trust and I frankly say that the recent Iranian position towards Iraq is extremely helpful," Maliki said after his talks with Ahmadinejad in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, which also houses the US embassy.

Ahmadinejad said on Sunday his visit has opened a "new page" in relations with Iraq.

"We have the same understanding of things and the two parties are determined to strengthen their political, economic and cultural cooperation."

Before ending his trip on Monday he vowed that Iran would work "as hard as it can" for Iraq. Top Iraqi officials including Maliki and President Jalal Talabani gave him a farewell guard of honour as he ended his historic trip.

Iran's relations with Iraq have drastically improved under the new Shiite-led government installed after the US-led invasion of 2003, with many leading politicians being former rebels who found sanctuary in Iran under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Trade between the two neighbours is brisk. Iran is building a major airport to service the millions of pilgrims who visit the Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Ahmadinejad also announced on Monday the signing of seven deals with Iraq.

"We have discussed 20 programmes during the course of the visit, and these meetings have been carried out in a positive atmosphere. We have signed seven memorandums of agreement today," Ahmadinejad said.

The deals relate to "the development of relations and cooperation in the fields of insurance, customs, industry, education and transport."

Iran's relations with the United States remain frosty, 28 years after the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The US military has 14 Iranians in its custody in Iraq and says it has proof that Tehran supplies insurgents with armour-piercing explosives and rockets.

The two countries are also at odds over Iran's nuclear programme, which the United States suspects is a cover for an atomic weapons drive, something Iran denies.

Date created : 2008-03-03