TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's Foreign Ministry condemned for the first time Tuesday rocket and mortar attacks against the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad by supporters of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also denounced raids by U.S. forces against Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad that al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has been using to launch the attacks.
"We are hopeful that restraint and prudence of various Iraqi groups will provide security and peace," Hosseini was quoted as saying on the state broadcasting company's Web site.
Iran has been accused of supplying weapons, money and training to most Iraqi Shiite factions, including al-Sadr loyalists. But Iran recently helped broker a truce between al-Sadr and the Shiite-led Iraqi government based in the Green Zone, saying its involvement was for the sake of Shiite unity.
Sergey Barseqian, an independent Iranian political analyst, said Iran's decision to condemn Green Zone attacks and push for the recent truce was an attempt by the majority Shiite nation to improve its image in Iraq.
"Iran is trying to distance itself from accusations of supporting Iraqi Shiite militia and show that Iran supports the Iraqi government," said Barseqian.
Iran has denied providing support to Shiite militias, instead blaming the U.S. presence in Iraq for fueling violence in the country.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sparked clashes with the Mahdi Army over a week ago when he sent government troops to Basra to crack down on Shiite militias. U.S. and Iraqi authorities have insisted the Basra operation was not aimed at al-Sadr's powerful political movement but was aimed at ridding the streets of criminals and gunmen who had effectively ruled the city since 2005.
But al-Sadr's supporters believe the crackdown was aimed at weakening their movement before provincial elections this fall. Al-Sadr expects to score major electoral gains against Shiite parties that work with the Americans.
Hosseini expressed support for al-Maliki's crackdown on Monday, saying it was aimed at "confronting illegal armed groups who had also committed some crimes."
"There is a difference between such groups and those who were active in the political scene in Iraq," added Hosseini, without providing specific names.