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Iran's Ahmadinejad Makes Historic Visit to Iraq

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Iran's Ahmadinejad Makes Historic Visit to Iraq

Iraq

Iran's Ahmadinejad Makes Historic Visit to Iraq

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made history today when he arrived in Baghdad for a two-day state visit. He's the first Iranian president to visit Iraq and part of the reason was to show that the war the two countries fought 20 years ago was behind them.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Baghdad.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The Iranian president couldn't have asked for a better greeting than the one he received today in Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: There was an honor guard, a red carpet and a military band that played both the Iraqi and the Iranian national anthem.

(Soundbite of music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: In many ways, the Iranian president had come here for the pomp and circumstance. Arriving just days before parliamentary elections in his own country, Ahmadinejad is seeking to burnish his foreign policy credentials. In today's high-visibility lovefest with the Iraqi leadership was clearly calculated for effect.

Vali Nasr is a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

Professor VALI NASR (International Politics, Tufts University): It underscores the fact in the eyes of Arabs as well as the United States and the West that Iran is a player, an important player in Iraq.

TEMPLE-RASTON: To drive that point home, Ahmadinejad talked about friendly, even brotherly relations with Iraq.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through translator) The two people -Iraqis and Iranians - will remain always side by side. This visit will open a new page in the bilateral relations.

TEMPLE-RASTON: When asked by reporters at a joint press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani why he had decided to visit now, Ahmadinejad joked about family needing to visit family.

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) No one would ask why brothers meet, but questioned why brothers do not meet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The two presidents said they discussed economic, political, security and oil issues and said the two sides would sign agreements. But they weren't specific. That was hardly surprising as this trip was never supposed to be about substance; it was about spectacle.

And for all the kisses and compliments at the highest levels in Baghdad today, at the street level, the Ahmadinejad visit was seen very differently. Ahmed Fuzi(ph), a 23-year-old from Baghdad, who is in the antiquities business, was typical.

Mr. AHMED FUZI (Baghdad Resident): (Through translator) Each person has his own view, and a person who is benefiting from this visit (unintelligible) but the Iraqi people, many of them, three quarters, or 99 percent of Iraqi people do not like this Ahmadinejad visit.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He said that Iranian support of insurgence and militias in Iraq made Ahmadinejad an unwelcome guest.

Mr. FUZI: You see IEDs in their name, RPGs in their name. So I do not support the visit.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Indeed, for many Iraqi Sunnis, the visit seems to provide further evidence of Iran's influence over Iraq's largely Shiite government. There were demonstrations across the country. In the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, placards called the Iranian president a serial killer for his support of Shiite militias in Iraq that have targeted Sunnis. In the Corrada(ph) neighborhood of Baghdad there were flyers warning Iraqis not to be na�ve about Ahmadinejad. Today a visit, one said, tomorrow, they will take control.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Baghdad.

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