U.S. charges against Iran need proof, top Iraqi says

Iran supports a stable Iraq, the Shiite leader said.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s most influential Shiite politician said Sunday that the U.S had not backed up claims that Iran is fueling violence here, underscoring a wide gap on the issue between Washington and the Shiite-led Baghdad government.

A draft bill to ease curbs on ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists in government services also drew sharp criticism from Shiite lawmakers, opening old wounds at a time when the United States is pressing the Iraqis for compromise for the sake of national unity.

The Americans have long accused the Iranians of arming and training Shiite militias, including some linked to the U.S.-backed government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S. officials have also alleged that Iran has provided weapons used to kill Americans — a charge the Iranians vehemently deny.

“These are only accusations raised by the multinational forces and I think these accusations need more proof,” Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, told reporters.

Al-Hakim, who has been undergoing treatment for lung cancer in Iran, said the Iranians have insisted in meetings with Iraqi officials that “their true will is to support the Iraqi government” and to promote stability.

This month, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been held in Iraq for months. They included two accused of being members of the elite Quds Force suspected of arming Shiite extremists.

But the U.S. military has blamed an Iranian-backed Shiite cell for a bombing Friday in a Baghdad market that killed 15 people — the deadliest attack in the heart of the capital in more than two months.

A U.S. military spokesman, Rear. Adm. Gregory Smith stressed he was not accusing Iran of ordering the attack. Nonetheless, Iran dismissed any suggestion that it was at fault.

Sunni fears of Iranian domination are among the obstacles standing in the way of reconciliation among Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities.

Another hurdle has been Sunni complaints that they have been marginalized politically by regulations that banned former members of Saddam’s Baath party from holding government jobs or running for public office.

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