Iraq's defense minister said Monday that a military agreement reached with Iran last week does not include any provision for the Iranian armed forces to help train Iraqi troops, contradicting reported assertions by his Iranian counterpart.
Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi said during a news conference here that the five-point memorandum of understanding that he and Iran's defense minister, Adm. Ali Shamkhani, signed Thursday in Tehran contained "no agreement" on military training.
Asked whether Shamkhani had misrepresented the content of the accord, Dulaimi said only that "he has the right to mention what he wants. We, as Iraqis, are not responsible for that."
The training of Iraq's armed forces, which are being built from scratch after American occupation officials ordered the country's military disbanded in May 2003, has been one of the primary tasks undertaken by U.S. forces here.
With insurgents continuing to carry out car bombings, ambushes, mortar attacks, kidnappings and other violence in much of central and northern Iraq, U.S. officials have identified the Iraqi army's capacity for establishing security as a key indicator of when American troops might begin to withdraw from the country.
Iraqi troops at a checkpoint in the town of Khalis, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, were struck in a two-pronged attack near dawn Monday that left 10 soldiers dead. Insurgents first pounded the checkpoint with gunfire and mortar shells, killing eight soldiers, police Col. Mahdi Saleh told the Associated Press. Then they exploded a car bomb next to an army patrol, killing two more soldiers.
Less than 15 miles away, in Buhriz, a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi army headquarters building, killing one soldier and wounding another, said Nouri Ahmed, a physician at a hospital in nearby Baqubah.
The U.S. military announced that two Marines were killed in combat Sunday in the western town of Hit. A Marine spokesman attributed the deaths to "indirect fire," which typically refers to a mortar or rocket attack.
Iraq's police forces, meanwhile, were again accused of abusing prisoners. The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most influential groups among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, charged Monday that nine construction workers died in Baghdad when police arrested them Sunday on suspicion of being insurgents and locked them in a shipping container for 14 hours in the searing summer heat. Three other men survived.
The association said in a statement that the men, who were all Sunnis, had been tortured before they were locked away. Government officials did not comment on the allegations.
In his news conference, Dulaimi hailed the military agreement with Iran as a crucial step toward repairing relations between two countries that were at war from 1980 to 1988. "What we lost by war," he said, "we will win by peace and dialogue. We have no option but to live peacefully with each other."
Reacting to anger among some Iraqis that he had apologized to Iran for the massive loss of life it suffered in the conflict, Dulaimi maintained that the war had been the fault of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. "Before God, we are free from Saddam's actions, and we apologize for all the victims," he said.
Dulaimi also said that the eight-day visit by his Defense Ministry delegation established that there were no surviving Iraqi prisoners of war still in Iran. "Those who are thought to be prisoners of war are only missing, but we are going to look for their bodies so their families can be comforted," he said.
While asserting that training of troops was not covered under the agreement, Dulaimi said it did call for Iran to give $1 billion in reconstruction aid to the Iraqi government, some of which would go to the Defense Ministry. But the Iraqi army was satisfied with the training provided by the U.S. military, he said, and Iraq was dependent on the protection provided by American troops.
"What is the alternative to them? Zarqawi?" Dulaimi said, referring to insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi. Noting that the new Iraqi armed forces were scarcely a year old, he added: "When Iraqis are able to establish security, I will ask the multinational forces to leave."
Special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin contributed to this report.