Monday, August 16, 2004

Iran calls for U.N. intervention to stop fighting in Iraq

Iran calls for U.N. intervention to stop fighting in Iraq
By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, 8/16/2004 14:49

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran and Saudi Arabia called Monday for the United Nations to intervene in Iraq to stop the fighting between U.S. forces and Shhite militants hiding in the holy city of Najaf.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi made the request in a telephone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Monday.

''Americans once again made a grave blunder in calculating developments in Iraq and provoked the sentiments of the Iraqi people through resorting to the use of force,'' IRNA quoted Kharrazi as telling Annan.

The Saudi Cabinet issued a statement expressing ''deep pain and sorrow'' over the situation in parts of Iraq and calling for ''a greater role for the United Nations in efforts to stop the bloodshed,'' the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers have fought U.S. and Iraqi forces from within the compound of the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, in central Iraq, for over a week.

U.S. forces on Sunday launched a new offensive against the militants in the mosque, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, who is revered by Shiites.

Predominantly Shiite Iran is keenly interested in the security of the holy sites. It also has links to Iraq's Shiite majority, and Iraqi officials have accused Tehran of meddling in the country's politics a charge Iran denies.

Meanwhile, Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Tehran holds the interim Iraqi government responsible for the safety of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Baghdad.

A militant group holding Iranian diplomat Faridoun Jihani has said it would release him if Iran frees 500 Iraqi prisoners it is holding but Tehran has rejected the conditions, saying there were no Iraqi prisoners in Iran.

''We hold the Iraqi interim government responsible for the safety of the diplomat,'' Ramezanzadeh told reporters Monday.

According to the Arab television station Al-Jazeera, the kidnappers who say they belong to a group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq has threatened to ''punish'' the diplomat but hasn't specified how.

Jihani, the Iranian consul to the Iraqi city of Karbala, was kidnapped while traveling from Baghdad to Karbala, 50 miles south of the capital last week.

Scores of other foreigners have been kidnapped as leverage to force foreign troops and businesses from the country.

There has been tension between Iraq and Iran in recent weeks. Last month, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Iran was Iraq's ''first enemy'' because it was playing a role in the insurgency. Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi later distanced his government from the remark.

Ramezanzadeh said such hostile comments resembled the language used by the toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iran, a Shiite Muslim country with close ties to Iraq's majority Shiite population, is suspected of using money to influence the political field in Iraq.

The Iranian government has denied interfering in Iraq. It says it does not allow fighters to cross into Iraq, but it does not rule out that such people might cross the long border illegally.

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