February 28, 2009 / 7:12 PM / 11 years ago

Iran says U.S.-led forces plan to stay in Iraq

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s supreme leader said on Saturday U.S.-led forces in Iraq were planning to establish a permanent presence there and urged Iraqis not to let them stay.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as telling visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani “the occupiers were preparing the ground for a long and permanent presence in Iraq” and the country’s leaders should be aware of the danger.

“Iraq’s ... interest is to oppose the demands of the foreigners because they are not happy with the close relationship of Iran and Iraq,” the official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

“The occupying forces should leave Iraq as soon as possible because with each passing day their withdrawal is delayed, it will harm the Iraqi nation.”

Iran, which has had no diplomatic ties with the United States since 1980, has called for U.S. forces to leave Iraq and the region.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who has offered to talk to Iran marking a break with his predecessor George W. Bush, said on Friday he would end U.S. combat operations in Iraq in 18 months but leave up to 50,000 troops there to provide stability.

Khamenei said Iran was waiting for Iraq to carry out its decision to close a camp of an Iranian exiled opposition group, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), on Iraqi soil. Iraq considers the PMOI a terrorist group, although it says it has renounced violence.

Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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