Baghdad: Teheran curtailing alleged support for insurgents

Government spokesman urges Iran and the US to take advantage of the situation and hold a new round of talks on stabilizing Iraq.

Iraq insurgents 224.88 (photo credit: AP )
Iraq insurgents 224.88
(photo credit: AP )
The Iraqi government said Saturday that Iran has shown increasing restraint in its alleged support for militants and urged Teheran and the US to take advantage of the situation to hold a new round of talks on stabilizing Iraq. The comments by government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh came on the heels of similar assertions by US officials who seem to be softening their stance against Teheran in Iraq amid a decline in violence. "Iran is showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq," al-Dabbagh said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters at his compound in the heavily guarded Green Zone in central Baghdad. Al-Dabbagh said the turning point was a visit by Nouri al-Maliki to Shiite-dominated Iran in August during which the prime minister told the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to make a choice between supporting the Shiite-led Iraqi government or other parties. Iran has denied claims by American commanders that it is arming and training Shiite militia fighters in Iraq, insisting that it is doing its best to help stabilize its wartorn neighbor. "Everything gives the feeling that Iran is making good on its pledge," al-Dabbagh said. He also said Iran was a factor in radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to order his Mahdi Army militia fighters to cease attacks later that month, calling it "evidence of its good intentions." "Iran played a role in this and Muqtada al-Sadr should be thanked," al-Dabbagh said, although he urged Teheran to do more to prove that "good will" was "being practiced on the ground." Al-Sadr, who spent months in Iran after a US-led security crackdown began in mid-February, ordered gunmen loyal to him to put down their arms in late August after clashes between rival Shiite militias in the holy city of Karbala left dozens dead. But many disaffected followers continue to stage attacks. Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government believes al-Sadr is back in Iraq. However, a senior US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said al-Sadr returned to Iran after a "very short stay" in Iraq about a month ago. It's unclear why Iran may have decided to curb its support for Shiite militants. Iran may have concluded that helping shore up al-Maliki, a Shiite, served Teheran's long-term interests better than supporting groups responsible for violence. The Islamic Republic also remains mired in a diplomatic standoff with the international community over its disputed nuclear program and may be seeking leverage as concerns have been mounting in recent months that the United States might attack over the issue. The US has said it is trying to resolve its disputes with Iran diplomatically but also says it has not ruled out any options. On Thursday, Maj. Gen. James Simmons, a deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, also said Iran seems to be honoring a commitment to stem the flow of deadly weapons into Iraq, contributing to nearly a 50 percent drop in the number of roadside bombs that kill and maim American troops. The number of roadside bombs either found or exploded nationwide had fallen from 3,239 in March to 1,560 last month, he said, adding the decline included all types of roadside bombs, including lethal "explosively formed penetrators" _ the signature weapon of Shiite extremists the military insists come from Iran. Al-Dabbagh encouraged the two sides to hold a new round of talks on security in Iraq. The US and Iran have held three rounds of ambassador-level talks since May, but relations between the two countries remain incredibly tense. On a separate subject, the government spokesman asked Turkey to give Iraqi officials more time to implement measures aimed at restricting separatist Kurdish rebels. Kurdish authorities in Iraq have increased the number of checkpoints to choke off supplies to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is known as the PKK. But tension is growing in Turkey over the rebels who seek an autonomous homeland in the country's southeast, and the military is preparing for a possible cross-border offensive against rebel bases in northern Iraq. "Turkey should allow for steps taken ... to limit PKK activity. These steps have only been in operation for two weeks," al-Dabbagh said, reiterating the government's stance that it was willing to negotiate but would not accept any unilateral action by the Turks.