WASHINGTON — Rivals Iran and the United States are vying for influence in Iraq, but Iraq wants to be friends with both and subjugated by neither, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States said Wednesday.

"Iraqis have a history of being independent-minded," said Samir Sumaida’ie. "They are very jealous about independence and despite the wishes of any of our neighbors, we will pursue our interests.

"However, it is also in our interest to reassure our neighbors that we do not want to pose a threat to them, that we do not want to be a platform for anybody to attack them," he said.

"We do not want also to harbor organizations or activities that are inimical to their interests."

The United States’ goal is to help create an Iraq that is "sovereign, stable and self-reliant," and that is "neither a safe haven for, nor sponsor of, terrorism," said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman.

But Iraq has occasionally "diverged in our thinking from our American friends," such as when U.S. officials urged Iraq to privatize state-run industry, Sumaida’ie told Stars and Stripes.

Iraq eventually decided to embrace a gradual program of privatization instead of disbanding the state-run economy as quickly as possible, Sumaida’ie said.

"In the end, only things that are palatable to Iraqis could be established," he said.

It is up to the Iraqis themselves to make sure that Iraq can stand on its own, Sumaida’ie said.

"Once we build up our capability, then irrespective of the wishes of this party or another, it will become much more difficult to actually interfere," he said.

The most recent Defense Department report on progress in Iraq said that Iran wants the Iraqi government to be "relatively weak" so that it can exert its political and economic influence over Iraq.

An Iranian official disputed the report.

"It is true that an unstable Iraq would be a source of concern for the region, and not only Iran, but to avoid such a situation, Iran has done and will do all it can to help the people and the government of Iraq," said M.A. Mohammadi, of the Iranian mission to the United Nations.

Sumaida’ie said that it is natural that Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, would like to create a friendly Iraqi government.

"The significant thing is the political process has produced through elections a government that stands up for Iraq, that has made it clear to all our neighbors that it is Iraqis who will decide on strategic choices for Iraq."

For example, Iran strongly opposed Iraq signing a security pact with the U.S., Sumaida’ie said.

Instead, the Iraqi government negotiated with the U.S. to get the best terms for Iraq, and then it signed the security agreement despite Iran’s opposition, he said.

"We are obliged by geography to live with our neighbors and we want this coexistence to be peaceful and mutually beneficial, but we are also induced by our recent history to create a dynamic and positive relationship with the United States, which will be very much in the interests of Iraq."

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