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Ahmadinejad defends embattled Iraqi leader, warns Iran can help fill power gap in Iraq

Ahmadinejad defends embattled Iraqi leader, warns Iran can help fill power gap in Iraq

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boldly declared Tuesday that U.S. political influence in Iraq is "collapsing rapidly" and that Tehran is ready to help fill any power vacuum.
The hardline Iranian leader also defended the neighboring country's embattled Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has recently faced harsh criticism by U.S. politicians for his unsuccessful efforts to reconcile Iraq's divided Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
"The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly," Ahmadinejad said at a press conference, referring to U.S. troops in Iraq. "Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation."
Ahmadinejad did not elaborate how Iran would fill an eventual power gap in Iraq, but his remarks reflected what may be perceived as Iran's eagerness to have an increasing influence on its neighbor's political scene.
His mentioning a Saudi role may have sought to allay regional fears that Ahmadinejad would want to dominate in Iraq. Even though Riyadh and Tehran have not cooperated in the past, it "doesn't mean it can't happen," Ahmadinejad said.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday that the United States wants to see Iran play a more positive role in Iraq but that Ahmadinejad's remarks reflected "just more of the same Iranian rhetoric that claims to hold down support and friendship for the people of Iraq, while actions, unfortunately, take them in the opposite direction."
In defending al-Maliki, Ahmadinejad accused the United States of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs and said any U.S. effort to topple al-Maliki's government will fail.
Key U.S. Democrats including Sen. Hillary Clinton have called for al-Maliki to be replaced because his Shiite-dominated government has been unable to forge national unity.
U.S. President George W. Bush and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq both have given blunt assessments of the political stagnation in Baghdad, and Bush has said it would be up to the Iraqi people to decide if their government deserved to be replaced.
"They rudely say (the Iraqi) prime minister and the constitution must change," Ahmadinejad said of U.S. critics. "Who are you? Who has given you the right" to ask for such a change, he added, addressing American critics of al-Maliki.
For his part, al-Maliki has shrugged off the gloomy assessments, saying he would "pay no attention" to American critics and if necessary "find friends elsewhere."
Ousting al-Maliki, a longtime Shiite political activist, would require a majority vote in the 275-member Iraqi parliament. And as long as the Kurdish parties and the main Shiite bloc stand beside al-Maliki, his opponents lack the votes for that.
During al-Maliki's visit here earlier this month, Iranian leaders said that only a U.S. pullout would bring peace to Iraq.
"Occupation is the root of all problems in Iraq," Ahmadinejad said Tuesday. "It has become clear that occupiers are not able to resolve regional issues."
Even as Ahmadinejad spoke, fighting between Shiite factions in southern Iraq raised new fears that a British troops pullout and waning U.S. influence in the south could lead to chaos there that Iran may exploit.
Ahmadinejad also called on the Bush administration to provide an answer as to why have 600,000 Iraqis been killed so far. "Who will answer for this? What was achieved?"
Ahmadinejad dismissed the possibility of any U.S. military action against Tehran, saying Washington has no plan and is not in a position to take such action.
U.S. has accused Tehran of being behind attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq _ a claim al-Maliki's government has only partially backed, saying Iran could have a role in the attacks. Iran has denied the charges.
On another issue of contention, the U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is solely geared toward generating electricity.
Ahmadinejad again Tuesday rejected any possibility of Iran suspending its controversial uranium enrichment program, saying it was "out of the question" and that the nation has achieved full proficiency in the nuclear fuel cycle.
"Today, Iran is a nuclear Iran," Ahmadinejad said, while vowing Iran was committed to a "peaceful (nuclear) path."
His comments followed an announcement Monday by the U.N. nuclear watchdog which said Tehran has offering some cooperation in the agency's probe of an alleged secret uranium processing project linked by U.S. intelligence to a nuclear arms program.
The U.S. criticized the deal with the watchdog, saying it won't save Iran from a third set of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt enrichment.
Ahmadinejad said the U.S. president was a "wicked, selfish and arrogant" leader who has abused the U.N. Security Council in a push to stop Iran's nuclear program.
"You saw that your coercion ... was futile," Ahmdinejad said, addressing his U.S. counterpart. "You sold out your prestige and stood against a cultured nation ... I recommend that you don't repeat this ugly behavior."


Updated : 2021-05-15 14:09 GMT+08:00