Ahmadinejad's Iraq visit bolsters Iran's influence
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with key Iraqi leaders and offered the country a $1 billion loan as he began a two-day visit Sunday.
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At a press conference after meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Ahmadinejad responded to Bush's remark: "You can tell Mr. Bush that accusing others will only complicate America's problems in the region. They must come to terms with the realities: the Iraqi people do not like Americans."Skip to next paragraph
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A US military spokesman in Baghdad said that Iran continues to train and fund Shiite militias in Iraq, particularly the so-called "special groups," adding that one of the leaders of such groups that are accused of attacking both US and Iraqi forces was arrested Sunday south of the capital.
"He received paramilitary and EFP training in Iran," he said, referring to armor-destroying bombs called explosively formed penetrators that the US accuses Iran of manufacturing.
But Mr. Maliki hailed Iran's contribution to improved security. "I can honestly say that the Islamic Republic's recent position has been very helpful in bolstering security and stability," he said. He urged Arab states, who barely have any ties with Iraq, to look at Ahmadinejad's visit as a "model."
Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to meet with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and one of the country's top ruling Shiite parties that is closest to Iran, before leaving on Monday morning.
"There is no doubt that Iraq and Iran have many common interests … this visit makes me very optimistic about the future," says Jalaleddin al-Saghir, a senior parliamentarian from Mr. Hakim's party.
Other Shiites who had been critical of Iran in the past also spoke favorably about the visit. In the shrine city of Najaf, Salah al-Obeidi, the spokesman for cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of Hakim's main rivals, welcomed the visit "as long as it brought benefit to Iraq."
In Basra, where Iran holds sway, Ghazi Smari, a provincial official from the Fadhila Party, says that the governor, who is from the same party and who just last week accused the Iranian consulate of plotting to kill him, also welcomed the visit.
"There was a misunderstanding. The consulate did not want to kill him, but they had information about an assassination plot. You know the consulate's intelligence apparatus is far more powerful than that of the province," says Mr. Smari.
The only dissent regarding Ahmadinejad's visit came from Sunni Arab tribal leaders, supported by the US to fight Al Qaeda in the western province of Anbar. "Iran is the No. 1 enemy of Iraq. I would have never let a man like this enter Iraq," says Sheikh Jabbar al-Fahdawi, accusing Iran of being behind recent attacks on US-funded Sunni guards.
One analyst says Ahmadinejad's trip is meant much more for his domestic audience, particularly given the upcoming elections there.
"Almost all of this is for local Iranian consumption … the Iranian policy now is to bleed the US slowly in Iraq until [President] Bush leaves office and the new US president withdraws from Iraq, then they move in as the big power," says Mr. Taheri, the London analyst.
There was little opportunity for Iraqi reporters to question the Iranian president. But in a brief question-and-answer period, one reporter asked Ahmadinejad about the purpose of his visit to Iraq at this time.
"There is nothing out of the ordinary when brothers meet, you know how deep our ties are," he said quickly, adding in Arabic: "You can see it with your own eyes now."