TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- The war of words between Iran and the United States has intensified, with a senior official pointedly accusing Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad and of fanning tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.
The broadside from Mohammad Jafari, deputy head of the Supreme National Security Council, came after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Persian Gulf Arab allies that Iranian leaders were “overplaying their hand” in the region.
Jafari said a January 11 raid by US forces in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, targeting Iran’s consulate general, was intended to sour relations between Iran and Iraq and to escalate tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“The United States wants relations between the Iranian and Iraqi governments to be strained,” said Jafari.
He said the raid, in which five Iranians diplomats, were captured on suspicion of aiding insurgents, coincided with his own visit to Erbil to meet Iraqi Kurdish leaders.
Washington’s view is that the building was not a consulate, while the Iraqi government says it was a liaison office in the process of becoming a consulate, staffed by Iranians who had official sanction.
Shiite-led Iran is already firmly in the sights of the administration of US President George W. Bush over its nuclear program. Tehran denies that its ambition is to build nuclear weapons.
“The Americans attacked the consulate as the Iranian delegation was having discussions with the president and government of the Iraqi Kurdistan region,” Jafari said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also said, “The objective of the Americans was to arrest Iranian security officials who had gone to Iraq to develop cooperation in the area of bilateral security.”
The raid came just hours after Bush announced he had ordered 21,500 more troops to Iraq and promised to take aggressive steps to curtail what he alleged as Iranian and Syrian help for insurgents.
US officials in Washington have alleged that the five Iranians were “suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces.”
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who visited Tehran in November, said in an interview published Friday that Iran was ready to reach an understanding with the United States over issues ranging “from Afghanistan to Lebanon.”
Talabani, currently in Syria, also told the Al-Hayat newspaper that both Tehran and Damascus “have started to help the Iraqi government in a good way” to curb the sectarian violence afflicting his nation.
He also said he did not want Iran and the United States to play out their differences on an Iraqi battlefield.
In his remarks, Jafari accused the United States of seeking to “hold Iran responsible for insecurity in Iraq… and its failure in the country.”
“Iran is not responsible for the state of insecurity, as it is not logical that we support the Iraqi government and, at the same time, we create difficulties for it,” he said.
He also said that “no Iranian” had taken part in suicide bombings in Iraq. Rather, he said, such attacks had been carried out “by people from Arab countries in the region that are allies of the United States.”