|First Published 2004-12-01, Last Updated 2004-12-01 09:18:16
You need to do something
Iraq, Iran exchange recriminations over border security
Tehran challenges accusers to come up with hard evidence of Iranian hand in Iraq insurgency.
By Laurent Lozano- TEHRAN
A conference on improving security in Iraq opened in the Iranian capital Tuesday with Baghdad and Tehran immediately trading recriminations over which side was not doing enough to fight terrorism.
As the meeting got underway, Iraq's interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari said he believed Iran had to do more to secure the lengthy border in order to prevent the transit of foreign fighters seeking to join the anti-US insurgency.
"Normally we do not need the help of others, but given the current exceptional circumstances we are ready to accept the help of our neighbours," he told reporters.
He said "the Islamic republic (of Iran) can participate in the securing of borders and prevent all persons from crossing, and not only people coming from Iran" to join the insurgency.
Jafari said a better exchange of security information throughout the region in general would help see Iraqi elections held on schedule on January 30, 2005.
"The Iraqi government is very serious about organising these elections on time."
Iran's invitation to host the interior ministers or other officials from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt has been seen as a bid here to shake off allegations that Tehran's clerical regime has been fighting its quarter-of-a-century-old battle with the US on Iraqi soil or siding with fellow radical Shiites across the border.
And hitting back at a string of US and Iraqi allegations, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Moussavi-Lari said it was Iraq's authorities who needed to do more to fight terrorists.
"Nothing can justify the presence in Iraq of terrorist groups who cooperated with the regime of Saddam Hussein and who committed crimes against the Iraqi people and the neighbours of Iraq," he said in his opening declaration in a clear reference to the continued presence in Iraq of the armed Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen
"We wait for our brothers in the Iraqi government to end their unacceptable and destructive presence in Iraq," he added.
The People's Mujahedeen sought refuge in Iraq in 1986, and sided with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. They are currently confined to their camp northeast of Baghdad, but Iraqi authorities have yet to follow through on a vow to expel them.
But Moussavi-Lari did acknowledge "we need to reinforce controls along the border", and in this light he said "Iran is ready to train and equip Iraqi police and border guards."
"From the beginning we have taken positive steps," he later told reporters.
This offer was rejected by his Iraqi counterpart Falah Hasan al-Naqib, who told reporters "we are strong and a rich country and we don't need them to train us."
Iran has consistently denied interfering, and has challenged its accusers to come up with hard evidence of an Iranian hand in the insurgency. The Islamic republic blames the insurgency on the US occupation, and says the departure of foreign forces is the sole solution.
But after the initial talks, Naqib went on to complain that "many of the neighbouring countries have not fully understood the situation in Iraq so far."
"We need their support for a short period of time to stop terrorists and gangsters from entering Iraq, to exchange information and to secure their borders. But first of all they have to understand Iraq is a sovereign country," he said.
However he did add that "we did not accuse the Iranian government" of directly backing the insurgency, and said he believed "the Iranian government is trying its best" to prevent the infiltration of insurgents, including elements from Afghanistan.
It was not clear if his reference to the "Iranian government" meant Iraqi authorities still suspected other, more hardline elements of the Iranian regime.
And regarding the People's Mujahedeen, he asserted "they are isolated" and called on Iran to put in place "some kind of amnesty" programme so that the rebels can return home.
Despite the bickering, the top United Nations envoy for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, nevertheless told reporters it was a "very important conference", and he said he was "looking forward to an agreed joint statement" when the meeting ends on Wednesday.