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Iraqi Shiite leader disputes Iran charges

He says more proof needed that neighboring country is fueling militant violence, as U.S. alleges.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad, left, welcomes Iraqi Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim for a meeting in Tehran Nov. 13.

AP file photo

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s most influential Shiite politician said Sunday that the U.S had not backed up claims that Iran is fueling violence here, underscoring a wide gap on the issue between Washington and the Shiite-led Baghdad government.

A draft bill to ease curbs on ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists in government services also drew sharp criticism from Shiite lawmakers, opening old wounds at a time when the United States is pressing the Iraqis for compromise for the sake of national unity.

The Americans have long accused the Iranians of arming and training Shiite militias, including some linked to the U.S.-backed government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S. officials have also alleged that Iran has provided weapons used to kill Americans – a charge the Iranians vehemently deny.

“These are only accusations raised by the multinational forces and I think these accusations need more proof,” Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, told reporters.

Al-Hakim, who has been undergoing treatment for lung cancer in Iran, said the Iranians have insisted in meetings with Iraqi officials that “their true will is to support the Iraqi government” and to promote stability.

His comments were made ahead of a new round of talks between U.S. and Iranian officials here over ways to promote stability in Iraq and exploit the sharp downturn in violence since the U.S. sent 30,000 reinforcements early this year.

The U.S. military has blamed an Iranian-backed Shiite cell for a bombing Friday in a Baghdad market that killed 15 people – the deadliest attack in the heart of the capital in more than two months.

A U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, stressed he was not accusing Iran of ordering the attack.

Meanwhile, at least 21 people were killed or found dead nationwide on Sunday.

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