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Iraqi P.M. Designate Tells Neighbors to Mind Their Own Business

The incoming prime minister told neighboring countries in an interview televised Tuesday not to interfere in Iraq, while expressing gratitude to them for sheltering dissidents during Saddam Hussein's rule.

Jawad al-Maliki made the comment during an interview with Iraqi state television — his first since he was tapped three days ago to form a new government.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite who spent years in exile in Syria, specifically thanked Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for sheltering Saddam's opponents.

But he added that such gratitude did not mean the Iraqis would tolerate "security interference" or involvement with "certain movements inside Iraq."

His comments appeared directed primarily at Shiite-dominated Iran, which sheltered Iraqi Shiite groups which now wield great political influence here, and Syria, which has been accused of harboring Saddam loyalists directing the Sunni insurgency.

Al-Maliki also promised to appoint independents to the key defense and interior ministry posts. U.S. officials have insisted that those holding security portfolios have no ties to sectarian militias blamed for worsening tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

In an overture to disaffected Sunnis, al-Maliki, who had a reputation as a strong proponent of Shiite rights, said the entry of Sunnis into the government could help defeat "terrorism."

"If we can reach unity between all the components of the people, the canals of terrorism will dry up, as well as by ending unemployment and poverty," he said. "Our people and our tribes in the western areas have fought terrorism ... Our Sunni brothers by their particpation in a broad alliance have begun to carry responsibilties in the political process. That will dry up the sources" of terrorism.

He noted that many Sunnis risk assassination by cooperating with the new government.

"Yes, there is a chance that those among our Sunni brothers will face danger from the terrorists," al-Maliki said. "But we tell them, 'we are with you and we will stay with you, and you stay with us in a unified front against terrorism."'