Ahmadinejad: Iraq trip 'new chapter'

"We have mutual views in all fields," says Iranian president after talks with Iraqi counterpart.

Ahmadinejad Iraq 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad Iraq 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that his landmark visit to Iraq opened a new chapter in "brotherly" relations between the two countries, which were once bitter enemies. Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president to visit Iraq. He went from Baghdad's airport straight to a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who gave him a red-carpet welcome. The two kissed four times on the cheek in the traditional fashion and a band played the two countries' national anthems. "We had very good talks that were friendly and brotherly. ... We have mutual understandings and views in all fields, and both sides plan to improve relations as much as possible," Ahmadinejad said in a joint news conference with Talabani at the Iraqi president's residence, which is located across the Tigris River from the new US Embassy in the fortified Green Zone. Ahmadinejad's visit here gives him a chance to highlight the relationship his country has with post-Saddam Hussein Iraq - both countries are led by Shi'ite Muslims - while also serving as an act of defiance toward the United States, which accuses Iran of training and giving weapons to Shi'ite extremists. Iran denies the charges. Talabani said the two discussed economic, political, security and oil issues and planned to sign several agreements later. But he said the issue of borders, including the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway between the two countries, was not discussed. Ahmadinejad stressed that Iran wanted a stable Iraq that would benefit the region. "A united Iraq, a sovereign Iraq and an advanced Iraq is to the benefit of all regional nations and the people of Iran," he said. The news conference appeared to end abruptly after a reporter asked about the Mujahedeen Khalq in Iraq, which opposes Iran's ruling clerics. The group, also known as the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, was allied with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq during the war between the two countries. The US and European Union list it as a terrorist group. Talabani interjected and volunteered to answer the question, saying: "This issue has been discussed earlier and the presence of those as a terrorist organization is constitutionally not allowed. We will endeavor to get rid of them out of the Iraqi territory soon." Ahmadinejad's Iraqi interpreter translated the name of the group as the Munafeqeen, which means "hypocrites" in Arabic and Farsi. The Mujahedeen Khalq is called the Munafeqeen by the Iranian government. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press that Ahmadinejad plans to leave Iraq Monday morning. After discussions with Talabani, Ahmadinejad went to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Both of the Iraqi leaders have made official visits to Iran since taking office. Ahmadinejad arrived in Iraq a day after Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to Baghdad on an unannounced visit with commanders and Iraqi officials. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said the Iraqi government would provide the principal security for Ahmadinejad and had the capacity and equipment to do so. "Iraq has a responsibility as a neighbor to provide security," he said during a press conference in the Green Zone, adding that the US hoped the visit "produces real and tangible results." Despite the hopeful talk, Iran and Iraq have not always had rosy relations. The two countries were hostile to each other throughout Saddam's regime and fought a destructive eight-year war after Saddam invaded Iran in 1980. About 1 million people died in the conflict. But when Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime fell and Iraq's Shi'ite majority took power after the US-led invasion, long-standing ties between the Shi'ites of both countries flourished again, though the two neighbors have yet to sign a peace treaty. Many of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders lived in exile in Iran during Saddam's rule, and Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, speaks fluent Farsi. With the trip, Ahmadinejad also may be trying to bolster his support back home ahead of parliamentary elections later this month. The elections are seen as referendum on the Iranian president, who has come under criticism from all sides in his country for spending too much time on anti-Western rhetoric and not enough on economic problems plaguing the country. The US has tried to downplay Ahmadinejad's visit, saying it welcomed Iran's stated policy of promoting stability but that its actions have doing just the opposite. US President George W. Bush denied that Ahmadinejad's visit undermined US efforts to isolate Teheran but had some advice for what al-Maliki should say to the Iranian leader. "He's a neighbor. And the message needs to be, quit sending in sophisticated equipment that's killing our citizens," Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. In Teheran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, criticized Bush's comments. "His remarks are an intervention in the friendly, brotherly and sincere relations between Iran and Iraq. Americans do not want the relations to grow," Hosseini told reporters Sunday after Ahmadinejad left Iran.