Iran Backing Iraq in Confrontation with U.S

Article excerpt

Despite its on-again, off-again overtures to the United States, Iran has put aside resentments over its 10-year war with Iraq and is supporting Iraq against the threat of new U.S. air strikes.

U.S. and Israeli experts dismiss the likelihood of any formal pact being reached between Iraq and Iran, which fought the bloodiest war in modern Middle East history from 1980 to 1988. As many as 1 million people died, more than 10 times as many as in all the Israel-Arab wars combined.

But Iranian and Iraqi leaders claim in their public statements that they are coordinating moves against what both call U.S. aggression in the Persian Gulf region, the world's most important source of oil.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami yesterday criticized the U.S. military buildup in the Gulf to prepare for possible air strikes against Iraq. And he called on countries in the region to ensure their own defense.

"The presence of dozens of warships in the Persian Gulf gives offense to the people of the region," Mr. Khatami said. "The people of the region should themselves assure the security of the Persian Gulf."

Baghdad's official Iraq News Agency (INA) said Iran was coordinating its diplomatic moves with Iraq, an event Arab and Western diplomats said would have been inconceivable two months ago.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi telephoned Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf yesterday to tell him that Tehran rejected U.S. threats against Baghdad, INA said.

"Kamal Kharazi told Sahhaf of his country's rejection of U.S. threats to use force against Iraq," INA said.

Iran's leaders have coordinated a steady increase in support for Iraq over the past week. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on Monday "urged Islamic states, especially countries of the Persian Gulf region, to resist the new American military moves," the Iranian news agency (IRNA) said.

Mr. Shamkhani was quoted later saying the White House "is trying to secure its access to the Persian Gulf's energy resources by creating tension and war in the region."

And Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, head of Iran's judiciary, said in a prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio: "No Muslim, and in particular we in the Islamic Republic of Iran, can accept that America would again attack Iraq. …