In a caustic attack on a senior member of the Iraqi government, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi anted the recent spate of heated exchange between Tehran and Baghdad.
In a joint press conference with the visiting Azerbaijani foreign minister, Kharrazi derided recent statements by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, saying that the ensuing events showed the country is being mismanaged.
"Those who oppose Iran-Iraq relations encourage their agents to speak against Iran without thinking of the consequences, Kharrazi said. We value remarks by Iraqi high-ranking officials and we listen to them. We hope Iraqi officials treat us in the same way and will correct the current state of affairs by reining in foreigners and remnants of Saddam Husseins regime who continue to view us in a negative way.
In an interview with the Washington Post on July 26, Defense Minister Shaalan had accused the Iranian regime of taking over Iraqi border positions, sending spies and saboteurs into the country and infiltrating the new government -- including his own ministry. Iran remained "the first enemy of Iraq," he declared.
"I've seen clear interference in Iraqi issues by Iran. Iran interferes in order to kill democracy." Shaalan bluntly warned Iran: "We can send the death to Tehran's streets, like they do to us. But we can't do it if we are a democracy. But if my people say do it now, I will do it."
In another interview on July 20 with the Arabic daily, Asharq al-Awsat, Shaalan said, Iran is the principal party involved in infiltrating Iraq through the border and making aggression against Iraq.
The Iranian infiltration into Iraq is widespread and unprecedented since the founding of the Iraqi state, Shaalan said. The Iranians have infiltrated government departments and have set up intelligence and security centers in Iraqi cities. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister clearly opposed Irans massive meddling in Iraqi affairs and this dangerous precedent. They (Iranians) confessed to the presence of their spies in Iraq, who are instructed to cause havoc in the social and political situation.
Shaalan was not the only senior Iraqi official complaining openly about Tehrans increasing meddling in Iraq. Asharq al-Awsat reported on July 21 that after a meeting with his Jordanian counter-part in Amman, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naghib told reporters, One should acknowledge that Iran, through its governmental and non-governmental channels, has played a massive role in terrorist operations and acts of sabotage in Iraq.
As part of a government-orchestrated campaign, the official media in Tehran have been subjecting the Iraqi defense minister to a barrage of venomous personal attacks. Tehrans accusations and insults against the Iraqi defense minister range from being a Saudi agent to political prostitution and taking bribes and embezzlement.
U.S. officials have also voiced concern at the Iranian regimes clandestine activities in Iraq. Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with the Associated Press in Bahrain that he believed there were elements in Iran that were interfering in southern Iraq.
"I do know there are groups within Iran that want to play a destabilizing role in Iraq and I think that would be most unhelpful for Iran and most unhelpful for Iraq," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Tehran, during a surprise visit to Iraq, that Washington was becoming increasingly concerned about Iranian attempts to gain influence in the south of the country. The London-based Guardian reported that Powell's intervention appeared to have been prompted by repeated warnings from western diplomats that weapons and money have been crossing the border with Iran.
In an interview with the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, the Iraqi defense minister said his accusations against Tehran were based on accurate and reliable information and revealed that in recent days there has been several telephone contacts between Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zibari, and Iranian officials to put right his claims, but they were to no avail.