At a regional security conference in Baghdad, Iraqi leaders focused on the positive role Iraq's neighbors can play in improving security, but they also warned the country must not be used as a battleground for international conflicts. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from the Iraqi capital, representatives from the United States and Iran talked with each other during the meeting about security in Iraq.
The one-day Baghdad conference brought together representatives from Iraq's neighboring countries as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to try to find a way to end Iraq's crippling sectarian fighting.
The conference focused on what delegates said were common goals of ending violence, supporting the Iraqi government and trying to improve the lives of Iraq's citizens. Representatives agreed to form three committees that would address Iraq's security, the needs of Iraqis fleeing violence and the country's desperate need for fuel.
But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also told delegates that Iraq would not tolerate foreign nations trying to exert influence in Iraq by backing certain groups. Mr. Maliki said Iraq is changing from a totalitarian to a democratic state, and will not allow its streets to be used as an arena for international disputes. He also said Iraq does not allow its territory to be used to launch attacks against other nations, and he expects other nations to have the same policy.
As the delegates met in closed-door meetings inside the tightly-guarded Foreign Ministry, a reminder of Baghdad's perilous security situation came when a mortar round struck near the building, sending people outside running for cover. Elsewhere in Baghdad, officials said, at least 18 people were killed and scores of others wounded when two suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Sadr City.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari urged delegates to recognize that improving Iraq's security is in the long-term interest of all nations. "It is in nobody's interest to see Iraq fail, because there would be a spillover. Your interests would be affected, and you should look beyond any short-term self interest to long-term strategic interests to see a viable, a stable recovered Iraq," he said.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have accused Iran and Syria of not doing enough to secure their borders to stop the flow of weapons and fighters that fuel the insurgency.
The United States has also accused Iran of directly supporting militia fighters by suppling them with explosive projectile weapons that are capable of piercing thick armor. In the past, the United States has opposed discussing those issues directly with Iran.
But U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said American delegates on Saturday spoke about the weapons concerns with their Iranian counterparts. "I did talk with them directly, and in the presence of others. We engaged across the table, as well. I did raise those concerns," he said.
The ambassador also said Iranian representatives voiced support for improving security in Iraq, but he said statements alone are not enough. "They have stated today that they support Iraq, that they support the reconciliation effort, that they support the effort to bring security to the people of Iraq. The next step is to see that these good sentiments, good statements be translated into concrete action," he said.
The head of Iran's delegation, Abas Arakchi, said security in Iraq is necessary for stability in the region, so there is no reason for Iran to interfere in Iraqi politics, other than to support peace. He blamed Iraq's violence on the presence of foreign forces in the country. "The presence of foreign forces in Iraq justifies violence in that country, or serves the benefit of terrorists and violence in Iraq. And, violence is used to justify the presence of foreign forces. So, for the sake of peace and stability in Iraq, and to keep its integrity and unity, we need a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign forces," he said.
Delegates from all of the attending countries did agree to attend a future meeting on Iraq's security. The date and location have not been decided, although Egypt and Turkey have offered to host.