TEHRAN — Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Monday rejected accusations by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that Iran had armed rebels in neighbouring Iraq.
“The United States is not in a good position in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are doing everything they can to maintain their military presence in these two countries,” the state television website quoted him as saying.
“The United States is facing a wave of hostility from Iraq’s people, government and political parties. They must leave Iraq by the end of 2011 and Afghanistan by 2014,” he added.
Panetta, visiting Iraq on Monday, said that the US army would pursue Shiite groups in Iraq he said are supported by Iran.
“We are very concerned about Iran and weapons they’re providing to extremists here in Iraq. We lost a heck of a lot of Americans as a result. We can’t allow this to continue,” he told troops at US Camp Victory near Baghdad airport.
In recent weeks US officials have also accused Iran of supplying weaponry to the Afghan Taliban.
Panetta called for “pressure on Iran not to engage in this kind of behaviour.”
Tehran has denied US accusations of smuggling weapons to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Seventeen US soldiers have been killed by bomb or rocket attacks in Iraq since June 6. June was the deadliest month for US troops in Iraq since 2008.
The resumption of attacks against American troops comes as Iraqi leaders approach decision time on whether they want to maintain a contingent of soldiers after 2011 when all US troops are scheduled to pull out.
The remaining 46,000 US troops in Iraq are primarily engaged in advising and training the Iraqi police and army.
US officials have been pressing Baghdad for several months to make a decision on the future of US contingent in Iraq.
Iraq’s Kurds want the US troops to remain in the country, while radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr is totally opposed to the US presence.