Iraqis Waiting for Iran’s Popular President Excitedly

A00870802.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iraqis are excitedly awaiting a Sunday visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 revolution.

At Friday prayers in Baghdad, Sunni cleric Sheikh Abdul Karim Samarrai, speaking at Shawaf Mosque, expressed admiration for the leader for coming to Iraq despite the presence of US forces.

He scolded the leaders of Arab countries who haven’t yet made the trip, or even established full diplomatic ties with Iraq.

“This is a message to the Arab leaders,” said Samarrai, who is also a member of parliament. “Where are you? Where are your embassies?”

“We wish this visit to be the way to create prominent relations with Iran on the basis of mutual respect,” he said.

Iran is offering a $1 billion loan to Iraq for projects to be handled by Iranian firms, an Iranian official said on Friday, two days before a landmark visit by President Ahmadinejad to Baghdad.

Analysts say that the visit will aim to tell the United States that Tehran is an influential player in its neighbor which cannot be ignored.

Iraq imposed an eight-year war on Iran in the 1980s that left about a million dead but relations and Iran’s influence in Iraq have increased substantially since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Ahmadinejad is due to start the two-day trip to build on business and political ties with Iraq on Sunday.

“Iran’s $1 billion loan to Iraq has been one of the main issues of discussion with the Iraqi side,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Sheikh-Attar said in Baghdad.

The loan will cover basic projects to be executed by Iranian contractors using Iranian goods and equipment, he said in the report carried on the state broadcaster’s Web site.

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