Reuters: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the formation of a committee to compile evidence of Iranian "interference" in Iraq that will then be presented to Tehran, the government spokesman said on Sunday.
By Dean Yates and Waleed Ibrahim
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the formation of a committee to compile evidence of Iranian "interference" in Iraq that will then be presented to Tehran, the government spokesman said on Sunday.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh was speaking a day after a delegation from Iraq's ruling Shi'ite alliance returned from Tehran after showing Iranian officials evidence of the Islamic Republic's backing of Shi'ite militias in Iraq.
Dabbagh said Iranian officials who met that delegation had denied any meddling in Iraq.
"The prime minister has ordered the formation of a committee to document the interference of the Iranians in Iraqi affairs. The Iraqi government will follow up with the Iranians and put (these findings) in front of them," Dabbagh told Reuters.
At an earlier news conference Dabbagh appeared to distance the government from U.S. accusations of Iranian interference in Iraq. He had said Iraq would not be pushed into conflict with its neighbour and wanted its own inquiry to find "tangible information and not information based on speculation."
Asked by Reuters what evidence existed so far, Dabbagh said Iranian missiles had been found in the southern city of Basra during a recent crackdown on militias in the southern city.
"The proof we have is weapons which are shown to be made in Iran. We want to trace back how they reached (Iraq), who is using them, where are they getting it," Dabbagh said.
Washington accuses Iran of funding, arming and training Shi'ite militias to attack U.S.-led troops and Iraqi government forces, despite its public commitment to stabilising Iraq. Tehran blames the violence on the presence of U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said last week "very, very significant" amounts of Iranian arms had been found in Basra and also Baghdad during an offensive against militiamen loyal to anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that began in late March.
Some of those arms were made in 2008, the military said.
U.S. military officials had planned to display some of the weapons but decided to let the Iraqis make their own case to Iran first.
Dabbagh said the government committee would be comprised of representatives of the various security ministries.
NO PROXY WAR
The Iraqis have repeatedly said they do not want their territory to become a battleground for a proxy war between the United States and Iran. The arch-foes are at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"We don't want to be pushed into any conflict with any neighbouring countries, especially Iran. What happened before is enough. We paid a lot," Dabbagh told the earlier news conference, referring to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in which an estimated 1 million people died.
"It happened because the others pushed Iraq to take an aggressive stance with Iran. We want to organise relations with all neighbouring countries to preserve the interests of Iraq."
Ties between Iran and Iraq have improved since Sunni Arab strongman Saddam Hussein was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion and a Shi'ite-led government came to power in Baghdad.
Analysts say Tehran wants to keep a friendly, Shi'ite-led government in charge but also wants to ensure rival Iraqi Shi'ite factions look to Iran as a power broker.
Iran's ISNA news agency said on Sunday Iran backed efforts by the Iraqi government to disarm militias and would "make its utmost efforts to establish security in Iraq".
The U.S. military said on Sunday it killed nine militants in helicopter strikes overnight in eastern Baghdad, where battles have raged between troops and Sadr's Mehdi Army fighters.
Much of the fighting took place in and around the crowded Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, the cleric's stronghold in Baghdad.
Despite an overall improvement in Iraq's security, levels of violence are still high.
The wife of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, escaped a roadside bomb attack on her convoy near the national theatre in central Baghdad in which four security guards were wounded.
Gunmen also shot dead a journalist in the northern city of Mosul after pulling her out of a taxi. A colleague said she had received a text message on her mobile phone three weeks ago warning her to stop reporting.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks)