Iran Says U.S. Departure Would Calm Iraq

Sep 13, 4:19 PM (ET)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the visiting Iraqi prime minister Wednesday that the way to end instability in Iraq is for U.S. forces to withdraw.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was on the second day of his first visit to Iran since he taking office in May, looking to a close ally of his Shiite-led government for help in calming the violence tearing apart Iraq and in developing Iraq's troubled oil industry.

He told Khamenei the Iranian governments must stop outside influences that are having a "negative" impact on Iraq's security, the Iraqi leader's spokesman said.

With Iraq torn by sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, as well as a Sunni-led insurgency, the United States has frequently accused the Iranian regime of interfering in Iraqi politics and allowing insurgents to cross the border. Tehran denies that.

Khamenei told al-Maliki that Iran "considers it an obligation to support the Iraqi government in practical ways," Iran's state news agency said.

But Khamenei - who holds the final word in all political matters in Iran - made clear Iran wants to see the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which he blamed in part for the turmoil plaguing Iraq.

"Part of (Iraq's) sufferings have been due to the actions of the former regime and part is due to the presence of occupiers in Iraq," Khamenei told al-Maliki, according to the Iranian state news agency and state television.

"We hope a day will come when the Iraqi people reach the stage they deserve and that, by cutting the hands of the foreigners, its wealth will come to serve the Iraqi people," Khamenei said.

State TV quoted al-Maliki as saying instability was Iraq's biggest challenge and he blamed the violence mainly on supporters of Saddam's old regime.

No public mention was made of outside meddling in Iraqi affairs. In Baghdad, however, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said al-Maliki underlined that Iraq wants good relations with Iran, but also that "we don't want interference in our internal affairs."

Al-Dabbagh suggested money was flowing from elements in Iran to groups in Iraq, which he did not identify.

It is believed some Shiite parties with militias accused of involvement in sectarian killings have support from groups in Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation. Those parties are also allied to al-Maliki's government, which has struggled to rein in the militias.

"There is interference coming from neighboring countries and it has negative implications for the situation in Iraq," al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Baghdad. "We want to bar financing for certain parties."

"Iran has shown it will help, and we want to see implementation of that," he added.

The comments reflect the complex relationship between Iran and Iraq, which is backed by the United States - Tehran's top enemy. Al-Maliki's Dawa Party is closely allied with Iran as are other Shiite parties in his government, and al-Maliki lived in Iran for part of his long exile during Saddam's rule.

In a meeting with Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, al-Maliki thanked Iran for giving haven to Iraqi leaders opposed to Saddam's rule.

"Iraq is Iran's natural ally," state TV quoted Larijani as telling al-Maliki.

In the latest sign of increasing cooperation, the two countries reached a deal for jointly developing oil fields straddling their border, and eventually Iraq will send crude oil to refineries in Iran for processing, Iraq's Oil Ministry said Wednesday.

Iran is also helping Iraq in its chronic shortages of petroleum products. Under a deal reached last month, Iraq will sell crude oil to its neighbor, which will sell back kerosene, and an Iranian-Turkish company will deliver gasoline, Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told AP.