BAGHDAD (AP) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on an historic trip to Baghdad yesterday that America fueled the violence in Iraq, portraying his nation as a close friend of the neighbor it once fought in a bitter eight-year war.
Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to visit Iraq, disputed U.S. allegations that Tehran is training and equipping Shiite militias there. The American presence, he said, was responsible for drawing terrorists.
“The Iraqi people do not like the Americans,” Ahmadinejad said at a press conference with U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Green Zone – the heart of the American diplomatic presence.
“Six years ago, there were no terrorists in our region. As soon as the others landed in this country and the region, we witnessed their arrival and presence,” Ahmadinejad said Sunday night after meeting Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political bloc.
The trip by Ahmadinejad, who once fought Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime as a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was a dramatic illustration of one of the unintended consequences of the 2003 U.S. invasion – the replacement of Saddam with Shiite forces closely allied to the cleric-led Islamic republic next door.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, greeted Ahmadinejad with an honor guard and a band that played both countries’ national anthems. The two held hands at the red-carpet welcome ceremony in a traditional display of friendship. Talabani told Ahmadinejad to call him “Uncle Jalal,” as he known in Iraq’s Kurdish north.
Talabani said he and Ahmadinejad discussed economic, political, security and oil issues and planned to sign several unspecified agreements.
“We had very good talks that were friendly and brotherly,” Ahmadinejad said. “We have mutual understandings and views in all fields, and both sides plan to improve relations as much as possible.”
Then he cut through the Green Zone to visit al-Maliki in his Cabinet offices.
The sprawling, American-controlled zone contains a massive new U.S. embassy and is heavily protected against occasional rocket attacks, which the Americans have blamed on Iranian-backed Shiite extremists.
Ahmadinejad denied the charges at least twice during the day.
“Such accusations increase the problems of the Americans in the region,” he said.
Al-Maliki said Ahmadinejad’s visit was “an expression of the strong desire of enhancing relations and developing mutual interests after the past tension during the dictatorship era.”
About 1 million people died in the catastrophic war that erupted after Saddam invaded Iran in 1980.