Iran-Iraq ties strain further

Relations between Iran and Iraq have worsened after Tehran said it would not discuss serious issues with Baghdad's interim authorities and an Iraqi Islamic group kidnapped an Iranian diplomat.

    Asefi says Iran is not interfering in Iraq's affairs

    Iran's foreign ministry said on Sunday it was summoning Iraq's top

    diplomat in Tehran over claims that four Iranian spies have been arrested

    in Baghdad, the latest accusation of Iranian interference in its

    nieghbour's affairs.

    "Today we are going to summon the Iraqi charge d'affaires to the

    Iranian foreign ministry, and we are going to ask him to give us

    proof," spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. He added Iraqi

    officials should also "stop creating a bad atmosphere" between Iran

    and Iraq.

    On Saturday a spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry said

    four Iranian intelligence officers had been arrested by Iraqi

    authorities on suspicion of spying and carrying out acts of sabotage

    in the country.

    Asefi also snubbed a call from Iraq's interim Defence Minister

    Hazem al-Shaalan, who has been widely lambasted in the Iranian

    press, that Tehran immediately return Iraqi planes sent to Iran

    before or during the 1991 Gulf War.

    Iranian snub

    "We will discuss these (issues) with the coming elected

    government officials, and not with the interim government," Asefi

    said in a blunt snub.

    Iran has yet to formally recognise the Iraqi interim government,

    which has been described by Iranian supreme leader Ayat Allah Ali

    Khamenei as "lackeys" of the Americans.

    "We are hopeful that in the future we will not witness such

    irresponsible comments. The Iraqis should be vigilant. Iraq should

    not be the place for crisis building"

    Hamid Reza Asefi,
    Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman

    Al-Shaalan said in an interview with the Kuwaiti daily newspaper

    Al-Anbaa that Iran should send back 130 planes "now".

    Tehran has insisted that it was holding only 22 Iraqi planes

    which Saddam Hussein's government sent to Iran to avoid attacks by

    US-led forces in Kuwait and that it was ready to return them

    if asked by the United Nations.

    Relations have also been complicated by the apparent kidnapping

    of an Iranian diplomat due to open a consulate in the central Iraqi

    city of Karbala.

    'Sectarian strife'

    Iran's charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Ghomi, said F

    ereydun Jahani disappeared on Wednesday, after a group calling

    itself the Islamic Army in Iraq announced it had "detained"

    him for "stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his

    diplomatic duties".

    Tensions between Iraq and Iran have mounted in recent weeks,

    after al-Shaalan told The Washington Post he had seen "clear

    interference in Iraqi issues by Iran", and accused Tehran of taking

    over some Iraqi border posts and sending spies and saboteurs into


    Iyad Alawi has yet to visit Tehran

    He also alleged that Tehran was working "to kill democracy" in

    his country.

    But Asefi said Iran wanted to hear from Iraqi interim Prime

    Minister Iyad Allawi "that what the Iraqi defence minister said has

    been manipulated and it was not like that".

    "We are hopeful that in the future we will not witness such

    irresponsible comments. The Iraqis should be vigilant. Iraq should

    not be the place for crisis building," Asefi said.

    Iran-Iraq war

    "We have announced one too many times that we are not

    interfering in Iraq. We are looking forward to the security and

    stability of Iraq," he added.

    Ties have also been strained over Saddam's trial, with Iran

    complaining that his alleged use of chemical weapons against the Islamic

    republic during their 1980-88 war was left off the charge sheet.

    Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei has
    criticised Iraq's interim leaders

    In addition, Iran wants the issue of war reparations to be


    And Tehran has also voiced alarm over the reported presence of

    Israeli agents in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

    Iraq's prime minister has previously announced his intention to

    visit Iran, but has yet to receive an official invitation. Asefi

    only said a visit "was on the agenda".

    "But we are not going to send a delegation there" to invite him,

    the spokesman added.



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