Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Iraq issues threat to Iran over insurgents

By Adrian Blomfield in Baghdad

Iraq threatened military retaliation against Iran yesterday, accusing its former foe of backing terrorists who have begun to focus their campaign of violence on the interim government itself.

Hazim al-Shaalan, the defence minister, denounced Iranian interference, saying that Teheran was supporting foreign Islamic militants fighting alongside remnants of the Saddam era to destabilise Iraq.

"They confess to the presence of their spies in Iraq who have a mission to shake up the social and political situation," he said. "Iranian intrusion has been vast and unprecedented since the establishment of the Iraqi state."

In the past Iraq has levelled similar accusations against Syria and Mr Shaalan warned: "We are prepared to move the arena of the attacks on Iraq's honour and its rights to those countries."

Meanwhile, gunmen shot dead Basra's acting governor, the latest in a series of attacks on members of the three-week-old government. Two of Hazim al-Aynachi's bodyguards were also killed.

In the past week militants killed the governor of Mosul and a director general in the defence ministry. An assassination attempt against the justice minister, who will play an integral role in the trial of Saddam Hussain, narrowly failed.

After a fortnight of relative calm since sovereignty was handed over by the American-led coalition at the end of June, insurgents have sharply increased the intensity of their attacks in the past week.

Iraq is furious with the Philippines for withdrawing its troops in compliance with a deadline imposed by militants who held a Filipino lorry driver hostage for two weeks.

Angelo de la Cruz was released by his captors yesterday, prompting jubilation in the Philippines but bringing condemnation from the United States, which said the decision amounted to caving in to terrorism.

Published in the Telegraph UK on 21/07/2004


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