updated 12/15/2004 3:58:30 AM ET 2004-12-15T08:58:30

Iraq’s defense minister on Wednesday accused neighboring Iran and Syria of supporting insurgents in his war-ravaged country.

Hazem Shaalan also accused Iran of backing the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and said his country’s opponents want “turbaned clerics to rule in Iraq.”

Shaalan said Iraqi authorities obtained information about Iran’s role in Iraqi’s insurgency after last month’s arrest of the leader of the Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed’s Army) terrorist group during U.S.-led operations in Fallujah.

“When we arrested the commander of Jaish Mohammed we discovered that key to terrorism is in Iran, which this the number one enemy for Iraq,” Shaalan told reporters in Baghdad.

On Nov. 15, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said American forces detained Jaish Mohammed members, including the organization’s leader, Moayad Ahmed Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed, during the military operation to uproot insurgents based in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

Allawi has said the group was known to have cooperated with Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida and Saddam loyalists and has claimed responsibility for killing and beheading a number of Iraqis, Arabs and foreigners in Iraq.

The U.S. military has said in the past that Jaish Mohammed appears to be an umbrella group for former intelligence agents, army, security officials, and Baath Party members.

Shaalan accused Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, plus operatives of deposed leader Saddam Hussein’s security forces, of “cooperating with the al-Zarqawi group to run criminal operations in Iraq,” adding that Syria and Iran was providing funds and training.

Both countries have previously rejected U.S. and Iraqi claims that they are supporting insurgents in Iraq. Damascus, however, has said it is unable to fully close its long, porous border with Iraq.

“They are fighting us because we want to build freedom and democracy and they want to build an Islamic dictatorship and have turbaned clerics to rule in Iraq,” he said, providing no further details.

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