Ahmadinejad says "enemies" tried to kill him in Iraq

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the United States and its allies of plotting to assassinate him during a visit to neighboring Iraq in March, state radio reported on Friday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the opening ceremony of the 29th Annual Session of the OPEC Ministerial Council in Isfahan 450 km (280 miles) south of Tehran June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

“Based on reliable intelligence, our enemies had plans to kidnap and kill your servant (Ahmadinejad). But we intentionally made last minute changes in our schedule,” the radio quoted Ahmadinejad telling a meeting of clerics in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom on Thursday.

Although he did not identify the United States by name, he used the usual term “enemies” to refer to Washington.

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad said: “The Coalition is unaware of any threats to President Ahmadinejad’s life during his

visit to Iraq.”

During the first visit by an Iranian leader to Iraq since the neighbors fought an eight-year war in the 1980s, Ahmadinejad cancelled his scheduled visit to Shi’ite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in southern Iraq.

The presidential office said at the time the trip was cancelled for security reasons.

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“The enemies learned about the changes when we already had left Iraq. They were shocked,” the radio quoted him as saying.

The United States accuses Iran of funding, arming and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Iran denies the charge.

Ahmadinejad, who often berates Washington in fiery speeches, used his visit to Baghdad to call on the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq, insisting their presence is to blame for the country’s sectarian violence.

Iran and the United States cut diplomatic ties shortly after the revolution when the U.S. embassy was seized by hardline students and 52 Americans were taken hostages for 444 days.

Ahmadinejad said his warm reception by Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders were in stark contrast to the rushed and secretive visits of U.S. President George W. Bush.

“I was the first head of government who made previous announcements about my trip to Iraq,” he was quoted as saying.

“British and American leaders had stayed only a few hours in Iraq and had not stayed there for two days, like I did.”

Both Iran and Iraq are run by Shi’ite majorities and many of Iraq’s Shi’ite leaders were in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule. The countries also have historical economic, political and cultural links.

Tehran and Washington are also at odds over Iran’s nuclear program, which Washington says is a cover to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, saying it needs nuclear power to generate electricity.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Samia Nakhoul