Iraqi Shiite: No Interference From Iran

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 29, 2006; 3:29 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, defended Iran on Tuesday against American allegations that it trained and equipped Shiite militias, and said the U.S. has not provided any proof.

Al-Hakim, a key ally of Iran, also lamented the 73 deaths in fighting Monday between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militiamen of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, calling the clashes in the southern city of Diwaniyah "annoying and painful."

Minority Sunni Arabs have been urging the Shiite-led government to crack down on Shiite militias, blamed for rampant violence against Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere.

"None of us accept any interference from Iran or from any others. The Iranians have been emphasizing the independence of Iraq," al-Hakim said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They do not want to interfere in Iraqi affairs."

Al-Hakim noted the Iranians have made similar claims of American and British meddling in their country _ using Iraq as a base. "We see that such problems exist and we hope that they will be solved by peaceful means," al-Hakim said of the climate of mutual allegations between Washington and Tehran.

In the interview, which took place in a reception room of his heavily guarded residence along the Tigris River in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, al-Hakim also called on the government to expand efforts to reconcile Iraq's ethnic and religious groups _ but not so far as to include Islamic extremists or Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Although al-Hakim holds no senior government post, he is widely regarded as the most influential Shiite politician in Iraq. A cleric, he heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the senior partner in an alliance of Shiite religious parties.

SCIRI was founded in Iran in 1982 and run by al-Hakim's late brother until he was killed in a truck bombing in August 2003. SCIRI is believed to have close ties to predominantly Shiite Iran, although it has denied such claims.

Al-Hakim, who opposed Saddam from exile in Iran before returning to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion, said Americans have never backed up their allegations of Iranian interference in Iraq. Iraqis, he said, would never accept any meddling from their neighbors.

He added that "there are allegations from the Americans and from others from time to time, even from the first month of the collapse of Saddam's regime."

"We demanded any documents and evidence, but none was presented to us," al-Hakim said. "On the other side, Iran has similar allegations toward the United States, or the British, saying that they are interfering in their internal affairs using Iraq as a base for that."

U.S. officials have made various claims of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, mostly in the southern Shiite areas of the country.

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