Ahmadinejad: US-led foreign forces must quit Iraq

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a landmark visit to Iraq, called on Monday for US-led foreign forces to leave the war-ravaged country.

Ahmadinejad: US-led foreign forces must quit Iraq
"Without the presence of the foreign troops the region will live in peace and brotherhood," Ahmadinejad told reporters in Baghdad.

"Iraq throughout history has been against foreigners and occupiers," Ahmadinejad said at a news conference on the second day of his state visit to Iraq, the first by an Iranian leader since the two neighbours fought an eight-year war in the 1980s.

During his two-day trip, Iran and Iraq signed seven agreements on customs, transportation links and improving cooperation in industrial development, highlighting the new, closer relations between the two countries.

"We believe the powers that came over the seas travelling thousands of kilometres, these powers should leave this region and hand over the affairs to the people and governments in the region," Ahmadinejad said in translated remarks.

"The power that is far from our region must allow countries of the region to manage their own affairs. This foreign power must not interfere in the affairs of states, because the governments and the states are capable of running their own affairs."

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called on the United States to pull out its more than 150,000 troops in Iraq, saying its presence is to blame for sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"People have not seen anything from the foreign presence in this region but more destruction and division," he added.

"Unifies Iraq a gift"

"A unified and independent Iraq is a gift to the region," said Ahmadinejad, who described his visit on Sunday as opening a new chapter in relations with Iraq.

Both Iran and Iraq are run by Shi'ite majorities and many of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders were in exile in Iran during Saddam's rule. The countries also have historical economic, political and cultural links.

Analysts say Ahmadinejad's visit shows Iran's growing influence in the region, while his presence in Baghdad as a guest of the Shi'ite-led government undercuts Washington's assertions about Tehran's backing for local Shi'ite fighters.

The Iranian president has sought to counter U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear programme by trying to improve ties with Arab states in the region.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on Monday on a third round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the United States insists is for nuclear arms.

Official and pro-government media in Iran have given Ahmadinejad's visit extensive coverage.

The official daily, Iran, carried the banner headline "Baghdad's historic day" and its commentary highlighted the fact that Arab leaders have not yet made such a trip to Iraq.

While there have been scattered protests by Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam, against his visit, Baghdad's Shi'ite newspaper al-Byyna al-Jadida praised Ahmadinejad in an editorial:

"Ahmadinejad challenged all the security issues, complications ... and the bombs planted here and there, while no Arab leader or king or Muslim has come to Baghdad," it said.

Reuters
Last Mod: 03 Mart 2008, 14:27
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