WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush warned Iran and Syria Wednesday against "meddling" in Iraq after that country's defense minister accused them of helping insurgents and terrorists spread deadly chaos.
"We will continue to make it clear, to both Syria and Iran, that -- as will other nations in our coalition, including our friends the Italians -- that meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest," Bush said as he wrapped up a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
His comments came after Iraq's Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan accused those two countries of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Iraq, branding Tehran in particular the "most dangerous enemy of Iraq".
"Iran is the most dangerous enemy of Iraq and all Arabs," Shaalan said. "The source of terrorism in Iraq is Iran."
Iraqi authorities and US-led forces are battling to flatten Iraq's deadly insurgency ahead of general elections next month -- the first multi-party polls in the country in half a century.
Asked about Shaalan's charges, Bush replied: "We have made it very clear to the countries in the neighborhood, including the two you mention, that we expect there to be help in establishing a society in which people are able to elect their leaders."
"We expect people to work with the Iraqi interim government to enforce (the) border to stop the flow of people and money that aim to help these terrorists. We've made that very clear and will continue to make it clear," he said.
Baghdad and Washington frequently blame long-time foe Iran and the Baathist regime in Syria for supporting the unrest.
"Terrorism is Iraq is orchestrated by Iranian intelligence, Syrian intelligence and Saddam (Hussein) loyalists, in collaboration with Zarqawi," Shaalan said of Iraq's most-wanted man, Islamist fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"The financing and training of the terrorists comes from Syria and Iran," he added.
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Shaalan's outburst against his country was "propaganda for internal Iraqi consumption".
"We are sure that he will backtrack on his statements as was the case in the past," Ramezanzadeh said in Tehran.