Words of wisdom from an Iranian diplomat. Imagine. From the Chicago Tribune, March 11 (emphasis added):
BAGHDAD — The United States and Iran traded blame for the violence engulfing Iraq at a conference of Iraq’s neighbors Saturday that was hailed as a first step toward resolving the building tensions between the decades-old rivals.
Seated near opposite ends of a large rectangular table, the U.S. and Iranian envoys exchanged accusations of kidnapping, arms smuggling and inciting violence, tempering hopes of an imminent thaw in their relationship.
Though they talked for nearly eight hours, the delegates from 13 nations and three organizations failed to reach agreement on the main item on the agenda: setting a time and a place for their next meeting, to be held at the ministerial level.
Just as the envoys were about to break for lunch, two mortars exploded beside the Foreign Ministry building where the conference was taking place, underscoring the dangers inherent in holding any kind of high-level gathering in Baghdad.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, heading the U.S. delegation, nonetheless hailed the talks as a “constructive first step” toward securing a regionwide consensus on ways to resolve the Iraq crisis that would help heal the regional rivalries that are helping to fuel the conflict. He was seen shaking hands with his Iranian counterpart during the opening session.
The delegates representing Iraq’s neighbors, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organization and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, issued a joint statement after the meeting agreeing on the need to find ways to improve security.
But they differed over what is causing the violence, with the sharpest exchanges occurring between the U.S. and Iranian envoys.
The head of the Iranian delegation, Abbas Araghchi, used his opening statement to call on the U.S. to set a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces, accusing Washington of perpetuating the violence by keeping its troops in Iraq.
“We are in fact facing a vicious cycle in Iraq. The presence of foreign forces justifies violence … and violence is used to justify the presence of foreign forces,” he said after the meeting.
In his opening statement, Khalilzad indirectly accused Iran, as well as Syria, of promoting the violence by encouraging the flow of weapons, fighters and money across their borders.
Iran also demanded that the U.S. release six of its “diplomats” held in Iraq.
These include five Iranians detained in Irbil by U.S. forces in January, whom the Americans have described as spies, and a sixth person from the Iranian Embassy who was abducted from a Baghdad street in early February.
The U.S. has rejected Iranian allegations that it was behind the kidnapping.
Khalilzad told the delegates that “the coalition does not have anyone in detention who is a diplomat,” according to his statement.
Khalilzad also said he raised the issue of Iranian involvement in the supply to militants of sophisticated roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, one of the biggest U.S. concerns about Iran’s involvement in Iraq.
Responding, the Iranian envoy told journalists: “The Americans are unfortunately suffering from intelligence failures,” and called the allegations false.
“They have made so many mistakes in Iraq … because of the wrong intelligence they had in the beginning. We hope they don’t repeat the previous mistakes,” he said in a veiled warning to the U.S. not to use the allegations against Iran to justify an attack.
But is Bush listening? No. From the Washington Post, March 11:
8,200 more troops OK’d for Iraq, Afghanistan
ANCHORENA PARK, Uruguay — President Bush approved 8,200 more U.S. troops for Iraq and Afghanistan on top of reinforcements already ordered to those two countries, the White House said Saturday, a move that comes amid a fiery debate in Washington over the Iraq war.
The president agreed to send 4,700 troops to Iraq in addition to the 21,500 he ordered to go in January, mainly to provide support for those combat forces and to handle more anticipated Iraqi prisoners. He also decided to send a 3,500-member brigade to Afghanistan to accelerate training of local forces, doubling his previous troop increase to fight a resurgent Taliban.
Although officials had foreshadowed the additional forces for Iraq in recent days, the latest troop increase in Afghanistan had not been known and will bring U.S. forces there to an all-time high. The deployments underscore the challenges facing the United States in both countries and further stretch an already-strained military. In Iraq particularly, the moves could fuel suspicions that a troop increase initially described as a temporary “surge” may grow larger and last longer than predicted.
Aides released a letter Bush signed Friday night aboard Air Force One as he flew to Uruguay from Brazil, asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for $3.2 billion in emergency funding to pay for the additional units. He proposed cuts in other spending to offset the cost.
Meanwhile in Iraq yesterday, a suicide car bomber killed 20 and wounded 50 near a joint US-Iraq military checkpoint in Sadr City. Six of the dead were soldiers. Police said 34 bodies were discovered across Baghdad that day, the likely victims of sectarian death squads. Other bombings and shootings killed at least 15 people. (Chicago Trib, op cit) On March 9, US soldiers were accused of opening fire on a car carrying a family in Sadr City, killing a man and his two young daughters and wounding his son. (NYT, March 11)
Looking good, eh?