Ahmadinejad makes an historic 2 day visit to Iraq

BAGHDAD – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Baghdad for the first-ever visit by an Iranian president to Iraq, waving as he stepped off his plane to be greeted by representatives of a nation that was once Iran’s bitter enemy.

The visit gives Ahmadinejad a chance to highlight the improved relationship his nation has with post-Saddam Hussein Iraq while also serving as an act of defiance toward the U.S., which accuses Iran of aiding Shiite extremists in Iraq.

Upon Ahmadinejad’s arrival, the group piled into a military convoy headed for a meeting at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s residence.

Security was tight along the airport road, once among the most dangerous in this war-torn city, with Iraqi army patrols stationed every 100 yards or so. The U.S. has said it would not be involved in providing security for Ahmadinejad’s visit.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet not only with Talabani but also Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, both of whom have made official visits to Iran since taking office. Talabani’s headquarters are located right across the Tigris River from the mammoth new U.S. Embassy in the fortified Green Zone.

Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies , said the visit sends a “clear message to Iraqis that the Iranian influence in the country is significant and enduring.”

President Bush denied that Ahmadinejad’s visit undermined U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran but had some advice for what al-Maliki should say to the Iranian leader. “He’s a neighbor. And the message needs to be, quit sending in sophisticated equipment that’s killing our citizens.”

Ahmadinejad Welcomed Heartily in Iraq

BAGHDAD — It’s a damning indication of how poorly things have gone for the United States during its five-year misadventure in Iraq that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can drive in broad daylight though this war-ravaged city and spend the night at the presidential palace, but George W. Bush can’t.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with lavish ceremony yesterday as he became the first Iranian President to visit Baghdad, a trip some said reflected Iran’s great and growing power in Iraq and how severely the U.S. effort to remake Iraq into a Western-friendly democracy has gone awry.

Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died since the war began in 2003, but Iraq’s U.S.-backed government warmly welcomed Washington’s No. 1 enemy with flowers and a band.

Apparently ignoring repeated U.S. charges that Iran is destabilizing his country, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani smiled broadly as he greeted Mr. Ahmadinejad outside his palace. Hailing a new era in ties between their states, the two men clasped hands and exchanged traditional kisses on the cheeks before walking together down a red carpet to review an honour guard as a military band played the two national anthems.

Unlike Mr. Bush’s cloak-and-dagger visits here – fly-in trips to heavily guarded U.S. military bases that only last a few hours, often with no advance notice given to even the Iraqi government – Mr. Ahmadinejad’s schedule was announced days earlier. He spent last night at Mr. Talabani’s palace, across the Tigris River from the fortified Green Zone that houses the massive new U.S. embassy.

The Iranian leader said it was ridiculous for President Bush to be accusing others of interfering in Iraq when it was the United States that invaded the country in 2003, sparking the violence that has since taken tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives.

“We tell Mr. Bush that accusing others without evidence will increase the problems in the region and will not solve them,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said at a press conference alongside Mr. al-Maliki. “The Americans have to understand the facts of the region. The Iraqi people do not like America.”


Yesterday’s visit was even more significant given the acrimonious history between Iran and Iraq, which fought a long and bloody war from 1980 to 1988 that left upwards of a million people dead and saw the first battlefield use of chemical weapons since the First World War. The United States backed Iraq, which was ruled at the time by Saddam Hussein, with weapons and money during the war.

The eventual U.S. decision to depose Mr. Hussein, a Sunni dictator, set off a chain reaction that has seen Iraq’s once-oppressed Shia majority rise to power, setting off the brutal civil conflict between the country’s Sunni and Shia communities.

Joost Hiltermann, a regional analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, noted that the groups now in power in Iraq, including key Shia and Kurdish political factions, are some of same groups that allied themselves with Tehran during the conflict while the United States was supporting Mr. Hussein. Many Iraqi Shia leaders lived in Iran during the war, while Mr. Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, speaks fluent Farsi.

“There was always a contradiction in American policy in Iraq,” he said. “If you want to turn Iraq into a democracy, you’re going to bring Iran’s friends to power.

“If people in Washington are surprised [at the reception for Mr. Ahmadinejad] it’s because they didn’t understand what they were getting into.”

"But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."

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