Iran defends U.S.-backed Iraqi government

TEHRAN, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defending the U.S.-backed Iraqi government and warns against attempts to undermine it.

Trying to weaken the Iraqi government is tantamount to "treason for the Iraqi people and Islamic nation," Ahmadinejad said in a telephone conversation with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Wednesday, according to the official Iranian news agency, IRNA.

He said the stability, security, prosperity and progress of the Iraqi people are achieved "thanks to the efforts of the people and national government of Iraq."

The Iranian president accused U.S. President George W. Bush's new plan for Iraq of attempting to weaken the Iraqi government, saying the strategy was bound to fail and that the Iraqi people will find stability through the efforts of the government.

His remarks came hours after a joint U.S.-Iraqi government force launched a massive military operation in and around Haifa Street in Baghdad early Wednesday, which the Iraqi Sunni religious authority denounced as a "genocide campaign against the civilian residents" of the area.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry and U.S. Army said in separate statements the operation was aimed at hunting down "terrorists," and that two suspects were killed and 11 others from different nationalities were arrested. The U.S. military denied the operation was targeting only Sunni insurgents -- who are apparently fighting both the American occupation forces and the U.S.-allied Iraqi government.

The Islamic Scholars Association, Iraq's only Sunni religious authority, said the operation has led to "a number of martyrs and destruction of homes with their residents inside." It called on international rights organizations to help stop "this genocide campaign."