Iraqi vice president warns Iran to respect Iraq's borders
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on Tuesday protested Iranian troops' moves to claim an oil well on the Iraqi- Iranian border last week, calling it a "wanton aggression against Iraq's sovereignty."
"Iraq is not weak, and will not accept any breach of its sovereignty or interests at home," the vice president, a Sunni Muslim, said in a statement, DPA reported.
His remarks stood in stark contrast to conciliatory calls for calm from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim who lived in exile in Iran from 1982 until 1990, after an Iraqi general on Friday said Iranian troops had taken positions around the oil well and had raised the Iranian flag over it.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh on Saturday said Iranian troops had removed the flag and had pulled back following Iraqi diplomatic protests, but had not fully returned to the point where they were located prior to the start of the controversy on Friday.
Tehran and Baghdad have since maintained diplomatic contacts to settle what Iran dubbed a "misunderstanding."
On Monday, an Iraqi Oil Ministry official said Iraq would explore setting up joint ventures with Iran to exploit fields that straddle the border. The statement was made to investors at a press conference announcing the government's award of a contract to a Japanese- Malaysian consortium to develop southern Iraq's Gharraf oil field.
Iran's actions on Friday "reaffirmed Iran's ambitions on Iraqi territory and national wealth," al-Hashemi said Tuesday.
"Lowering the Iranian flag is not enough," he said. "If Iran aspires to have good relations with Iraq, it should refrain from harming (Iraq)."
Al-Hashemi praised the people of southern Iraq for overcoming internal Iraqi sectarian divides, saying Friday's "aggression unleashed a change."
Shiite and Sunni Iraqis found their "national spirit and said that the danger is external, not internal," he said.
The vice president urged all Iraqi politicians and parties to overcome sectarian divisions, which he said had recently reached a "critical" state, and to "line up and unite behind the banner of the national project."
"Today's turmoil and the lack of a solid relationship between Iraqis themselves has tempted others," he said. "The greedy reach out for our land and our resources."
Iran and Iraq fought a long and costly war between 1980-1988 that left millions dead. Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Shiite and Kurdish-dominated government in Baghdad has established closer relations with Tehran, a common source of complaint for many Sunni Iraqi politicians.