Middle East
Iraq warns neighbours to stay out
Iraq and its neighbours discuss security co-operation and agree to meet again.
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2007 19:41 GMT
Suicide bombers attacked army checkpoints in Baghdad as delegates discussed security [AFP]
Iraq's prime minister has urged regional powers, including Iran and Syria, not to use the country as a proxy battleground.
Nuri al-Maliki made the plea in the opening speech of a conference in Baghdad on Saturday aimed at ending sectarian violence in Iraq and stopping the violence from spreading throughout the region.
The conference provided a rare opportunity for the United States to meet Iran and Syria, its bitter rivals in the region.

"There was meeting, discussions and consultation at times" between the US and Iranian delegations, Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said.
"It was a lively exchange, not only with them but the Syrians also," he said "[There were] exchanges regarding relations between the two in Iraq, not anwhere else. That's why they were very constructive."
Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Iraq, confirmed that he had spoken directly to Iranian officials.
Iran denied holding one-to-one talks with the US delegates.
'Moral responsibility'

Al-Maliki said that Iraq needed the support of its neighbours and the world in stopping the sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims, which he said could spill over to other countries in the region.

"We call on all to take moral responsibility by adopting a strong and clear stance against terrorism in Iraq and co-operate in stamping out forces of terror," al-Maliki said.

He demanded that "regional or international states refrain from interfering or influencing Iraq's state of affairs through supporting a certain sect, ethnic group or party".

"Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and media or religious backing, as well as logistical support and the flow of arms and men who transform themselves into bombs that kill our children, women and elders, and destroy our mosques and churches."

Security committee

The 16 nations at the long-awaited conference agreed to establish a committee to look at security co-operation, as well as two others focusing on Iraqi refugees and energy issues.

Zebari described the meeting "constructive and positive" and said Iraq and its neighbours had decided to hold another mid-level in Turkey next month.
The delegates, however, failed to agree on a date and venue for a follow-up conference at a higher, ministerial level.

"What the conference achieved was exploration and preparation, explorations of the different positions of people attending this conference and preparation for the upcoming conference in Istanbul," Jasim Azawi, the presenter of Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq programme, said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, urged Iraq's neighbours to do more to stop the flow of fighters, weapons and sectarian propaganda contributing to the violence, saying the future of Iraq and the Middle East was the defining issue of the moment.
"No country represented at the table would benefit from a disintegrated Iraq; indeed, all would suffer badly," he said.

He said he hoped their presence indicated they were "ready to take concrete, constructive actions" to support Baghdad.

Iran urges US withdrawal

Iran's envoy to to the talks rejected allegations that his country was fomenting violence in Iraq and blamed the fighting on the presence of  US forces. 
16 nations were represented at the security
conference in Baghdad [AFP]
"It will help resolve the problem of violence if they set a timetable for withdrawal of their troops from Iraq," Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, said.
"Tehran stands ready to help bring peace and stability to Iraq."

Iraq's security problems were highlighted when mortar rounds exploded just metres away from the foreign ministry where the talks were taking place.

Meanwhile, 3km away in east of the capital, a bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into an army checkpoint at the entrance to Sadr City, killing 26 people, officials said.
A second suicide bomber killed another soldier at a checkpoint nearby, and further south, one civilian was killed in a third blast.
Al Jazeera and agencies
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