The Iraqi foreign minister called on Sunday for the release of five Iranians detained by US forces in what he said was a legitimate mission in northern Iraq, but he stressed that foreign intervention to help insurgents would not be tolerated.
The twin-pronged statement by Hoshyar Zebari highlighted the delicate balance facing the Iraqi government as it tries to secure Baghdad with the help of American forces while maintaining ties with its neighbours, including US rivals Iran and Syria.
"Any interventions - or any harmful interventions to kill Iraqis or to provide support for insurgency or for the insurgents should be stopped by the Iraqi government and by the coalition forces," Zebari said in an interview with CNN's "Late Edition".
But he also stressed Iraq has to keep good relations with other countries in the region.
"You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries," he said. "So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighbourly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation."
Iran's government denied the five detainees had been involved in financing and arming insurgents and called for their release along with compensation for damages.
"Their job was basically consular, official and in the framework of regulations," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Sunday.