Iraqi leader warns nearby nations against meddling

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Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, battling for another term in office, lashed out at Iraq’s neighbors Monday for meddling in its affairs as political leaders negotiate the composition of a new government.

The tough comments were broadcast on state TV and came as representatives of Iraqi parties tour the region. Some Middle East countries have issued statements in recent days on Iraq’s ongoing negotiations.

Without naming any neighboring countries, Maliki warned them not to intervene in Iraqi affairs. “Some are talking through the media as if they were our guardians,” he said.

The comment came two weeks after Iran hosted negotiations in Tehran on a preliminary agreement for a Shiite-Kurdish alliance to form the Iraqi government. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and representatives of the two main Shiite-led alliances, including Maliki’s, took part in the talks.

The Iraqi delegations arrived in Tehran at the end of March for what had been billed as a celebration of Nowruz, the regional New Year festival. In reality, said Iraqi and Western officials familiar with the talks, they discussed forming a coalition. Senior Iranian leaders were consulted, according to one Iraqi official with knowledge of the meetings.

The politicians returned to Baghdad ready to announce a preliminary deal on an alliance of both Shiite blocs and the Kurds, but the plan quickly unraveled, the officials said. The reasons included fears that a deal would alienate the Sunni Arab community, which in March voted en masse for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s rival Iraqiya slate; a public backlash over the visit of Iraqi officials to Tehran; and competition for the prime minister’s post.

Maliki, whose slate finished a close second to Allawi, is fighting for his political survival and hoping to retain his post. The coalition could take months.

On Saturday, the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad said Sunni participation was essential in the next government; that was interpreted as a subtle endorsement of Allawi. On a visit to Saudi Arabia, Talabani said Sunday that Iraq’s neighbors favored a unity government with all Iraqi components. Saudi Arabia has also welcomed Maliki’s main Shiite rivals in the last two weeks.

Representatives of Allawi’s coalition are expected to visit Iran this week. Parties have also made stops in Turkey, Qatar and Jordan.

Shiite supporters of Maliki have described Allawi as the choice of Sunni Arab states and Turkey. Some of Maliki’s allies have accused the CIA and State Department of trying to topple him.

Maliki’s coalition has claimed as many as 750,000 votes could be tainted by fraud and is waiting for a ruling from an Iraqi court. On Monday, Maliki advised foreign powers not to interfere with the judiciary.

Redha is a Times staff writer.