'Change to occur' in Iraq ties with Iran after US pullout

AFP , Saturday 22 Oct 2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expects "a change to occur" in Tehran-Baghdad ties after US military forces pull out from neighbouring Iraq,

"I think a change will occur. We have special relations with Iraq," Ahmadinejad said in an interview with CNN, according to excerpts of the interview reported in Farsi by the website of Iran's state broadcaster. He called the US withdrawal "a good thing."

The Iranian president's comments were published after his US counterpart Barack Obama said Friday that all US troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year. US officials have long accused Iran of arming and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq against US troops.

In the published excerpts, Ahmadinejad did not expand on what he meant by "change" in Iraq ties. But he and other Iranian officials have repeatedly called for US troops to leave Iraq ever since the 2003 invasion which overthrew Saddam Hussein

"I think this is a good thing and should have been carried out a long time ago. If it were done seven or eight years ago, there would have been fewer Iraqi and American forces killed," Ahamdinejad said.

Asked about the possibility of Iran and Iraq cooperating militarily in the future, Ahmadinejad said: "The Iraqi government is independent. It is they who have to decide how to train their military forces. We have to wait for the Iraqi government's decision."

He stressed that Tehran had established "special relations with Iraq" since the overthrow of Saddam, who had launched a devastating but ultimately unsuccessful 1980-1988 war against Iran.

Obama's announcement that the 39,000 US soldiers still stationed in Iraq will leave by the end of 2011 has been criticised by the Republican opposition, which fears the withdrawal will enable Iran to expand its regional clout.

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