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Iraq's Foreign Minister Confirms Support for New US Strategy

Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari says his government supports the new strategy for his country, as outlined by President Bush in a speech Wednesday in Washington. At the same time, he repeated Iraqi government calls for U.S. forces to release five Iranians who were detained last week in Iraqi Kurdistan. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government is in favor of President Bush's plan, which calls for an increase of more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

"We think it is consistent with our strategy, also, to provide better security for Baghdad, and to move on the political and economic issues that are facing our government," said Zebari. "Additional troops are needed, indeed, because Baghdad has become the battleground for all the terrorist insurgents."

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition, he said he believes the U.S. and Iraqi governments share a common goal, achieving peace in Iraq, and that his government is ready to rise to the challenge of helping achieve it.

"This would be an Iraqi-led security campaign, supported by the coalition, with a strong political will by the government, to be even-handed in dealing with all the sources of violence and terrorism, in Baghdad streets and neighborhoods, irrespective of their sectarian affiliations," continued Zebari.

When asked if his government will crack down on the militia of powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, the Iraqi foreign minister emphasized that no group that poses a threat to the Iraqi people will be excluded.

Meanwhile, Zebari repeated calls from his government for U.S. forces to release five Iranians detained last week in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The U.S. military says the detainees are tied to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard group that provides money and weapons to insurgents in Iraq. Iran says they are diplomats who were engaged in legal activity.

The Iraqi foreign minister said although the Iranian facility in the Iraqi city of Irbil is not a diplomatic mission, the five Iranians were doing diplomatic work.

"I have to clarify to you and to your audience that in fact, these five Iranians have been working for many years in a liaison office," he added. "It is not a consulate or a diplomatic mission. We are in the process of regularizing, normalizing, that office into some sort of consulate entity."

Zebari agreed with President Bush's comments that the Iraqi government should work to stop efforts by Iran and Syria to support terrorism in Iraq.

But he indicated that Iraq has to, in his words, "live with" Iran and Syria, and that his government is committed to cultivating good neighborly relations with both of them.