Iraqi diplomat sees better ties with Iran

Deputy Foreign Minister Abawi says US elections will not decide troop withdrawal.

Abawi 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abawi 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A top Iraqi diplomat said Wednesday his country's relations with Iran were improving and downplayed the role of the US presidential election campaign on the timing and manner of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. "The question of withdrawal is not up to the Republicans or Democrats to decide now," Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abawi said. "This is up to a joint agreement between Iraq and whoever is in the US government" after the elections. "You hear so many slogans, proposals and ideas ... but when the election is over and the campaign dies down, then comes reality," Abawi said during a speech at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs. The reality, he added, was that the United States had political and economic interests in the region and "cannot abandon Iraq ... and other countries." Abawi said that Iraq was "gradually taking up responsibility" for its own security and said violence in some parts of the country had decreased substantially over the past year. "We don't want to have to see the US presence in Iraq one day more than is necessary," Abawi said. "If we need the US forces now, it is because our forces are not ready to take up the security response by themselves." He said an upcoming visit to Iraq - probably in March - by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would help further "strengthen our ongoing relationship." It would be the first-ever trip to Iraq by an Iranian leader. The two countries fought an eight-year war in the 1980s in which around 1 million people killed or wounded, but relations have improved since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime. Abawi partly attributed the improved security situation in Iraq to the better ties with its neighbors and the drop in support from those countries to Iraqi militias. Abawi said "some circles" in Iran, but not the Iranian government itself, were interested in supporting the militias "and creating some disturbances" but that this support had diminished recently. "Now also through our direct contacts we hope that whatever support there is left to some of these extremists will maybe stop in the future," Abawi said.