AFP: Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated in Ramadi, capital of the Sunni Arab province of Anbar, on Wednesday to condemn former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's official visit to Iraq.
RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) — Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated in Ramadi, capital of the Sunni Arab province of Anbar, on Wednesday to condemn former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's official visit to Iraq.
Waving Iraqi flags and banners that criticised the influential Iranian Shiite cleric, Sunni tribal and religious leaders marched for an hour in the city, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad.
"The criminal Rafsanjani is a symbol of aggression and evil in Iraq," read one banner. "Rafsanjani's visit is inauspicious, a humiliation and a stain on the soil of Iraqi," said another.
The former president arrived in Baghdad on Monday on a three-day visit focused on a series of issues between the former foes as well as world political and economic developments.
Rafsanjani has met senior leaders of Iraq's Shiite-led government — including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
His trip follows close on the heels of a visit to Iran by Talabani, and is the latest in a series of exchanges signalling fast improving ties between the Shiite-majority neighbours.
President of Iran between 1989 and 1997, Rafsanjani heads the powerful Expediency Council, a body that is the final arbiter on all legislation.
He is also head of the Council of Experts, which supervises the activities of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travelled to Iraq in March 2008 in the first ever visit by an Iranian president.
Relations have warmed considerably since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime by US-led forces, but many Sunni Arabs continue to eye Iran with suspicion.
Baghdad and Teheran fought a devastating war between 1980 and 1988 in which around one million people died.
Qassim Saddaa, a Sunni tribal leader taking part in Wednesday's protest, said: "We will not forget what the Iranians have done to the Iraqi prisoners of war."
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, said in a statement released on Monday that Rafsanjani was "not welcome" in Iraq and hit out at what he called Iranian interference.
"This interference has harmed the security and political situation and has taken the country close to the brink of civil war," he said.
"The positive development of relations between the two countries demands the respect of Iraq's internal affairs — that the interference, such as the support of militias and the passage of arms and drugs across our common border, cease."
Washington is also cautious about the growing ties between the two neighbours as it has repeatedly accused Iranian-linked groups of attacking US troops in Iraq, and worries about Teheran's future influence on Baghdad.