Saturday, July 08, 2006

Iraq Security Conference to Open in Tehran

Farhad Pouladi, Yahoo News:
A two-day regional conference on security in Iraq is to open in the Iranian capital Tehran, with the Islamic republic likely to use the gathering to again call for a withdrawal of foreign troops from its neighbour. READ MORE

Officials here said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will give a speech at the opening session of the event Saturday, which gathers officials from Iraq and its neighbours -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey -- plus Egypt, Bahrain, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Iranian media confirmed the presence in Tehran of the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, as well as Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa and OIC chief Ekmeledin Ihsanoglu.

The UN's special representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, is also in Iran.

"The cooperation of these countries on Iraq and security issues will be on the agenda," Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in June when announcing plans for Saturday and Sunday's event.

"A clear message will be sent from this meeting, in that these countries support the implementation of security in Iraq," he said.

The last such session took place in April 2005 in Istanbul with little noticeable effect, and a previous meeting in Tehran in November 2004 also failed to yield concrete results.

Majority Shiite Iran has seen a reversal of its relations with Baghdad since the US invasion, enjoying close links with a government dominated by Shiite and Kurdish figures who in the past had sought refuge in Iran.

But the two sides, as well as Iraq's neighbours as a whole, remain at odds over how to tackle the worsening violence.

Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the head of parliament's largest bloc and leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has been urging Iran to have direct security talks with the US.

"It is to the benefit of the Iraqi people that Iran and the United States talk about Iraq because the US is present in the region," he said in Tehran last month.

But Iran has ruled out such talks, with the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeating to Hakim his view that American and other foreign troops should leave Iraq.

"Iraq's current security problems will only be resolved if the occupiers leave and the security issues are handed over to the Iraqi people and government," Khamenei said.

Iran -- along with Syria -- has also been repeatedly accused of supporting insurgents.

At the last meeting in Tehran, the Iraqi delegation complained of lax border controls. Iran responded by demanding tougher action against the People's Mujahedeen, a banned armed opposition group based in Iraq.

Last month the top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said Iran was a major force behind unrest in Iraq, adding that Tehran trains and arms violent Shiite groups and uses "surrogates" to carry out terrorist strikes.

Iran has consistently rejected the allegations, and the conference is a public way of highlighting its stated position that it wants the violence to end.

"Contrary to the United States, Iran wants to have a united, strong and integrated Iraq as its neighbour, which would be helpful in consolidating security and stability in the region," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.