TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Monday that his government is not supporting the uprising by Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and blamed U.S. troops for the fighting in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
“We have never taken sides in favor or against any group or faction in Iraq,” Khatami was quoted as telling reporters when asked if Iran backs al-Sadr, whose militiamen are battling with U.S. and Iraqi government forces in Najaf and elsewhere.
Iran, a Shiite Muslim country with close ties to Iraq’s majority Shiite population, is believed to want to counter U.S. influence in Iraq and to be trying to ensure future Iraqi governments are friendly with Iran. The Iranian government insists it is not interfering in Iraq.
Khatami said these are testing times for Iraq’s interim government. “If it can’t resolve the problems, then definitely the Iraqi public opinion won’t have a positive view of it,” he said.
The fighting in Najaf, a holy city to Shiite Muslims as the home to the revered Imam Ali Shrine, has sparked concern in predominantly Shiite Iran.
Khatami said al-Sadr’s militants “had not provoked the U.S. forces in Iraq this time to justify the attacks” in Najaf. “The occupying forces play the main role in these attacks,” IRNA quoted Khatami as saying.