BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The United States will ignite a fire across the Middle East if it attacks Syria, Iran's new foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to Iraq on Sunday, warning Western powers against warmongering.
After more than two years of civil war, U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to drum up support for limited strikes on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on the government of Bashar al-Assad.
The Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad has sought to maintain a neutral stance towards the conflict and opposes any Western military intervention in Syria, fearing it will further destabilize Iraq.
"We are concerned about warmongering in this region," said Zarif at a news conference during his first official trip abroad since taking office. "Those who are short-sighted and are beating the drums of war are starting a fire that will burn everyone."
Zarif was received by his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari and was also expected to meet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later in the day.
The Syrian conflict has widened a fault line between Islam's two main denominations, pitting mainly Sunni rebels, their Gulf Arab sponsors and some Western powers against Assad, whose Alawite sect derives from Shi'ism.
Iraq's own sectarian balance has come under acute strain from the civil war next door, which has given new momentum to Sunni Islamist insurgents who have been striking with a frequency and on a scale not seen in years.
Sunni and Shi'ite militants from Iraq have also crossed into Syria to fight on opposite sides of the conflict, complicating the government's official position of neutrality.
"Interference (in Syria) will affect the neighboring countries maybe directly, including Iraq, which will be affected in terms of security and humanitarian issues," Zebari said at the news conference.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the United States had intercepted a directive from a senior Iranian official instructing Shi'ite militants in Iraq to attack U.S. interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike.
Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission in New York, on Saturday denied the allegations and dismissed them as "baseless".
"One should remember that reliance on such intelligence reports from anonymous US officials will lead to another disaster similar to the Iraq tragedy," Miryousefi was quoted as saying by Press TV.
Reporting by Raheem Salman and Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Patrick Graham