Iraq accuses Iran of arming Sadr forces

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

BAGHDAD The interim government in Baghdad has again charged Teheran with supplying a range of weapons to the Mahdi Army, headed by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

"There are Iranian-made weapons that have been found in the hands of criminals in Najaf who received these weapons from across the Iranian border," Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said. "From far and near, the facts that we have say that what has happened to the Iraqi people is done by the one regarded as the chief enemy."

Shaalan's remarks, made during an interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel, was the latest in a litany of accusations by Baghdad against Teheran. Iraqi officials said Teheran has also sent thousands of operatives to Iraq to foment unrest and support the Shi'ite and Sunni insurgency.

Officials said Iran has ignored numerous Iraqi appeals to halt the weapons flow to Shi'ite insurgents, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said Iran has sent such weapons as tactical communications equipment, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns, light weapons and ammunition. They said some of these weapons were captured during the current fighting between the Mahdi Army and the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces in Najaf.

An estimated 400 Mahdi Army insurgents were said to have been killed in six days of fighting in Najaf. Iraqi officials said many of the Shi'ite insurgents in the Najaf battle have been Iranian nationals.

Najaf Governor Adnan Zurufi said 80 Iranian fighters took part in a battle near Najaf's cemetery. Heavy fighting between U.S. forces and Mahdi insurgents continued on Tuesday.

"There is Iranian support to Sadr's group and this is no secret," Zurufi said.

Over the last two days, Iraqi military troops have also fought Sadr insurgents in Baghdad. British troops battled with Mahdi Army units in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

For his part, Sadr has denied Iranian participation in the fighting in which U.S. aircraft conducted heavy bombing raids. He also disputed coalition reports that about 400 Mahdi Army fighters were killed.

"I will defend Najaf until my last drop of blood," Sadr told a news conference on Monday.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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