Ayatollah Khamenei accuses US of exploiting Iraq crisis

Iran’s supreme leader condemns Obama’s decision to send in 300 ‘military advisers’

“We are strongly opposed to US and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying. Photograph: Reuters

“We are strongly opposed to US and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying. Photograph: Reuters

Mon, Jun 23, 2014, 06:10

Iran’s supreme leader yesterday accused the US of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove toward Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of US action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Mr Khamenei may want to block any US choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shia premier Nuri al-Maliki.

Yesterday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to US and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Mr Khamenei as saying.

“We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Sunni minority

Some Iraqi observers interpreted his remarks as a warning to the US not to try to pick its own replacement for Mr Maliki, whom many in the West and Iraq hold responsible for the crisis. In eight years in power, he has alienated many in the Sunni minority that dominated the country under Saddam Hussein.

Mr Khamenei has not made clear how far Iran itself will back Mr Maliki to hold on to his job once parliament reconvenes following an election in which Maliki’s bloc won the most seats.

In Cairo, US secretary of state John Kerry said the US wanted Iraqis to find a leadership that would represent all the country’s communities – though he echoed Mr Obama in saying it would not pick or choose those leaders.

“The United States would like the Iraqi people to find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq, that is prepared to be inclusive and share power,” Mr Kerry said.

The Iranian and the US governments had seemed open to collaboration against Isis, which is also fighting the Iranian-backed president of Syria, whom Washington wants to see removed.

“American authorities are trying to portray this as a sectarian war, but what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shia and Sunnis,” said Mr Khamenei, who has the last word in the Islamic Republic’s Shia clerical administration.

Accusing Washington of using Sunni Islamists and loyalists of Saddam’s Baath party, he added: “The US is seeking an Iraq under its hegemony and ruled by its stooges.”

During Iran’s long war with Saddam in the 1980s, Iraq enjoyed quiet US support.

Tehran and Washington have been shocked by the lightning offensive, spearheaded by Isis but also involving Sunni tribes and Saddam loyalists. It has seen swathes of northern and western Iraq fall, including the major city of Mosul on June 10th. – (Reuters)