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Iraqi Minister Says Iranian Interference Waning

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iran is no longer so "agitative."
KUWAIT (Reuters) -- Iran is interfering less in Iraq's affairs and is less "agitative" than it was, Iraq's foreign minister has said, days after a Pentagon report said Iran was still a threat to Iraqi stability.

Hoshyar Zebari said interference in Iraq by its neighbor -- long accused by Washington of funding, arming, and training anti-American Shi'ite militias -- had decreased as Iraq's security apparatus has improved.

Tehran denies meddling in Iraq and blames instability there on the presence of U.S. troops.

"Generally there is less interference, that I can tell you. It hasn't stopped, but it is less agitative and interventional," Zebari said on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait.

He was commenting on a January 13 Pentagon report that said that "Iranian behavior continues to reflect a fundamental desire to oppose the development of a fully secure and stable Iraq."

The report accused the Islamic republic of continuing to support militant groups, and said it would try to use Iraq's provincial elections on January 31 to expand its influence through pro-Iranian candidates and parties.

Tehran has good ties with Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government, and was among the first countries in the region to forge links with Iraq's new leaders after the fall of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The presence of around 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq has long been a source of tension with Iran, which Washington separately accuses of seeking nuclear arms, a charge Tehran denies.