US, Iran Verbal Blasts at Iraq Conference – Blame Game

The US and Iran blamed each other for the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq at Saturday’s regional conference in Baghdad, an event hailed as a diplomatic success by Iraq.

Envoys of the two rival countries exchanged carefully worded broadsides as they addressed officials from thirteen nations and three organizations, including the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

In his address, US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad accused Iran and Syria of inciting violence by allowing weapons and militants to cross their borders into Iraq. He also suggested that the Iranian government was providing Shiite insurgents with explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) which have increased US troop casualties. EFPs are sophisticated devices made in Iran, that are capable of piercing armor.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, returned fire by calling on the US to set a timetable for withdrawing its troops, which he said were only escalating violence in Iraq. He also revived accusations that the US had kidnapped five Iranian diplomats in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil in January, and had staged the kidnapping of a sixth diplomat in Baghdad in February.

The US has denied any involvement in the February kidnapping, and has said that the five Iranians detained since January are spies.

Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said that the US and Iran are the two major players who wield the greatest influence in his country, and that their testy exchange at the conference offered hope for Iraq’s future. “I think this is a very hopeful sign to decrease tension and to have Iraqi policy and strategy succeed,” he said.

Amb. Khalilzad agreed that the talks, conducted over eight hours on Saturday behind closed doors, were a “constructive first step” toward coordinating a regional effort to restore stability to Iraq. “We will, of course, have to see what happens on the ground, both in terms of weapons crossing the border and support for groups of militants crossing the border,” he said.

Mr Araghchi remained guarded about the progress achieved at the conference. He continued to deny that Iran supported militants or provided them with EFPs. He also made subtle references to ongoing concerns that the US is planning military strikes on Iran, which also relate to US claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

“The Americans are unfortunately suffering from intelligence failures,” Mr Araghchi told reporters. “They have made so many mistakes in Iraq, because of the wrong intelligence they had in the beginning. We hope they don’t repeat the previous mistakes.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend next month’s ministerial-level follow-up meeting which will include Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. The date and location of this second round of talks has not yet been confirmed.

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