Iraq Backs Iran On Nuclear Goal

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, right, meets with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leadser of the main Shiite Muslim political party in Iraq.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, right, meets with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leadser of the main Shiite Muslim political party in Iraq. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)
By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 27, 2006

BAGHDAD, May 26 -- Iraq's foreign minister said Friday that Iran had the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses but that he hoped for a diplomatic solution to a crisis that has strained Iran's relations with the United States.

"We think there is a principle, which is that the Islamic Republic of Iran and other countries have the right to possess nuclear technology if it is for peaceful purposes," Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said at a televised news conference in Baghdad with his visiting Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

At the same news conference, Mottaki said Iran had changed its stance on holding direct talks with the United States on the Iraq situation. "The American side tried to use this decision as propaganda, and they raised some other issues," he said. "They tried to create a negative atmosphere, and that's why the decision which was taken is suspended for the time being."

While trying to assuage fears that the United States and Iran are headed for war, Mottaki renewed Iranian vows that force would be met with force.

"The risk of a confrontation is minimal," Mottaki said, "but in the event that Americans attack Iran from anywhere, Iran will respond by attacking them in the place that we were attacked from."

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad declined to comment on the foreign ministers' statements.

The government of Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy on Iraq's eastern border, has said it is developing nuclear power for electricity. The U.S. government opposes the move on the grounds that Iran's hard-line leaders could use the technology to develop atomic weapons.

Zebari's statement was a surprising show of independence from the United States, the main backer of the newly formed Iraqi government. The United States has roughly 133,000 troops in Iraq and has poured more than $20 billion into reconstruction of the country's decrepit infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi government, dominated by a Shiite majority, also has close ties to Iran despite fighting a war with that country from 1980 to 1988 that left an estimated 1 million people dead. Many of Iraq's Shiite leaders spent time in exile in Iran during President Saddam Hussein's reign, returning to Iraq only after a U.S.-led coalition toppled Hussein's government in 2003.

There are, however, fissures in Iraq's support for Iran. Secular Iraqis fear the creation of an Iranian-style theocracy, and Iraqi nationalists bitterly cite the ancient rivalry and the more recent war with their Persian neighbor. The Sunni Arab minority is particularly fearful of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs and blames Iran for supporting attacks on Sunnis.

Such fighting between Shiites and Sunnis erupts almost daily in Iraq. At least 25 people were killed across the country in bombings and shootings Friday, including a car bombing that killed at least 10 people in eastern Baghdad.

The bomb, which exploded in a public market in the Nahdha district of the capital where furniture and household goods are sold, also wounded at least 30 people, police Capt. Nameer Hanoon of the Baghdad police command said.

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