Iranian leader accuses U.S. of destabilizing Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the United States for the chaos in Iraq and called for the withdrawal of foreign forces, but also pledged Tehran’s help, saying it was a “religious and humanitarian” duty.

In a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of hiring terrorists and former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime to destabilize Iraq, according to a state television report.

“The first step to resolve the instability in Iraq is the withdrawal of occupiers from this country and the transfer of security responsibilities to the popular Iraqi government,” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

Talabani arrived in Tehran on Monday for two days of talks with government officials to seek their support in quelling the sectarian violence in Iraq. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, is known to have considerable influence among Iraq’s Shiite majority—elements of which have been blamed for the bulk of the recent attacks.

Talabani’s meeting with Khamenei came a day before President Bush was to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan.

The Iraqi president was invited to Tehran by his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants to enhance Iran’s role in Iraq as a counter to U.S. influence in the Gulf region.

After his arrival on Monday, Talabani said his government was in dire need of Iran’s help to quell the escalating violence in Iraq.  Khamenei, who has the final word on all key decisions in Iran, said the Islamic republic considered it a “religious and humanitarian” duty to work for peace in Iraq, the television reported.

The United States has accused Iran of supplying money, weapons components and training to Shiite militia in neighboring Iraq. has denied the charge, saying it has only political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites.

Khamenei said it was the United states that was “intent on destabilizing the situation.”

“Their agents on the ground are terrorists, outlaws and former Baathists,” he said.

By “outlaws,” Khamenei appeared to be referring to the civil servants loyal to the Baath Party of former dictator Saddam Hussein whom the U.S. authorities expelled from the government in the early days of its occupation of Iraq.

Khamenei predicted the United States would fail in Iraq, saying “the occupation of Iraq is not a morsel that the U.S. can swallow.”

Iran wanted to organize a summit bringing together Ahmadinejad, Talabani and Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Damascus did not publicly respond to Tehran’s invitation.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has come under increasing domestic and international pressure to engage with Iran and Syria if it hopes to curtail the violence before Iraq breaks out into a full-scale civil war.

Talabani, who speaks fluent Farsi, is on his fourth visit to Iran since taking office as president. He is a member of Iraq’s Kurdish minority, but he had close ties with Iranian officials before Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.