Iraq blasts Iran's 'blatant' support for insurgents

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

BAGHDAD Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan said Iraq's neighbors have been supporting the insurgency against Baghdad. He cited Iran as exercising "blatant interference" in Iraq's affairs.

"They [Iranians] confess to the presence of their spies in Iraq who have a mission to upset the social and political situation," Shaalan said yesterday in an interview with the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat.

"Since the establishment of the Iraqi state, Iranian intrusion has been vast and unprecedented." The defense minister did not cite other states as supporting the insurgency. But other Iraqi officials said Syria has failed to stop Al Qaida-inspired volunteers from joining the insurgency. They said the Iraqi government has invited its neighbors to a conference to discuss security cooperation.

"We are prepared to move the arena of the attacks on Iraq's honor and its rights to those countries," Shaalan said.

"We've spoken to them and confronted them with facts and evidence, but none of them have taken any action to stop supporting terrorism in Iraq.

Iraq has been preparing to launch its military, introducing new infantry, artillery and other units.

Iraqi officials said the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Alawi will focus on developing the military over the next few weeks. They said the military would focus on border control and supporting missions against insurgents in Iraq.

"We will start to prepare the organized Iraqi Army starting from the beginning of next month and we have already prepared a command," Shaalan said.

Officials said Iraqi Army will have 40,000 soldiers in the first stage, comprising three light divisions. Battalions for the first division were being trained and equipped.

Shaalan said the military was forming an air force, navy and artillery corps. He said many of soldiers were former members of the military under the Saddam Hussein regime.

"Iraq will have a modern and powerful air force, navy, artillery and operating in accordance with advanced techniques to protect Iraq," Shaalan said. "Currently, we have surveillance aircraft in the National Guard to monitor our borders from the air."

[On Wednesday, seven Iraqis and a U.S. soldier were killed in fierce fighting with Sunni insurgents in Samara. A U.S. combat unit was pursuing insurgents who entered houses and a mosque in the city, 125 kilometers north of Baghdad.]

Officials said Iraqi security forces have also completed their first large-scale operation. The operation on July 18 included 90 members of the Iraqi National Guard and 300 police officers in a search for insurgents.

In early July, Iraq and Syria agreed to launch a joint effort to stop infiltration along their more than 500-kilometer border. But Iraqi officials have been skeptical over whether the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would make the required effort. Alawi was scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Thursday.

"We're talking about hundreds [of insurgents] if not in the thousands," Shaalan said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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