WASHINGTON - Iran is taking steps to greatly expand military and economic
ties with Iraq, Tehran's ambassador to Iraq said in an interview on Sunday with
New York Times.
The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi
Qomi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraqi forces training, equipment and
advisers for "the security fight" and was ready to assume major responsibility
for the reconstruction of Iraq.
Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan
Kazemi Qomi, seen during a news conference at the Iranian embassy in
Baghdad in this January 18, 2007 file photo. Iran's ambassador to Iraq,
Hassan Kazemi Qomi, seen during a news conference at the Iranian embassy
in Baghdad in this January 18, 2007 file photo. [Reuters]
He also acknowledged for the first time that two Iranians detained last month
by US forces were security officials as the United States has claimed.
"They worked in the security sector in the Islamic Republic, that's clear,"
Qomi said in a 90-minute interview at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. The
interview appeared in Monday's New York Times.
The Iranians were in Iraq because "the two countries agreed to solve the
security problems," the ambassador said. The Iranians "went to meet with the
Iraqi side," he told the newspaper.
Qomi said the Iranians should not have been detained and he ridiculed
evidence the US military said it has which proving the Iranians were involved in
planning attacks on American and Iraqi forces.
Qomi also announced that Iran would soon open a national bank in Baghdad. An
Iraqi banking official confirmed that Iran has received a license to open what
would be the first "wholly owned subsidiary bank" of a foreign country in Iraq,
the newspaper reported.
US forces this month detained five more Iranians in a raid on a diplomatic
office in the northern city of Arbil.
The United States has accused Iran of helping arm, train and fund Iraqi
militants, notably fellow Shi'ite Muslims.
President George W. Bush said on Friday US forces in Iraq have authority to
protect themselves against Iranians attempting to launch attacks inside Iraq.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told The New York Times that the
United States had a significant body of evidence tying Iran to sectarian attacks
"There is a high degree of confidence in the information that we already
have, and we are constantly accumulating more," McCormack said.
The report said McCormack did not address the specifics of Qomi's comments
about plans for stronger economic and security ties, but said Iran currently
plays "a negative role in many respects" in Iraq.