Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi reiterated Iranian support for next month's elections in Iraq after talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said, after Kharrazi's talks with Shara, both countries stressed the need to preserve Iraq's unity and for its people "to rule themselves through comprehensive elections that lead to an end to occupation".

US President George Bush has repeatedly accused Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraq and of trying to disrupt the vote scheduled for 30 January.

Polls backed

Kharrazi said after the talks: "Holding elections that bring representatives of the people to power would lead to the speeding up of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. These forces are the reason for insecurity in Iraq.

"Some are carrying out conspiracies in Iraq to start a civil war that would signal the start of the fragmentation of Iraq." 

King Abd Allah has accused Iran
of stirring up trouble in Iraq

He called on all Iraqis - regardless of sect, religion and ethnicity - to take part in the elections.

Syria has expressed support for elections in Iraq but questioned whether they would be representative, given the current climate of violence.

Asked about charges by Jordan's King Abd Allah that Iran was stoking violence in Iraq and trying to set up a Shia belt from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria, Kharrazi said: "No one took these remarks (seriously) because they are baseless."

Kharrazi is expected to go to Lebanon later on Thursday before visiting Turkey, another key Iraqi neighbour.