This comes as US military officials said the two neighbouring countries’ influence in post-Saddam Iraq is hard to assess.

“We will continue to make it clear, to both Syria and Iran, that — as will other nations in our coalition, including our friends the Italians — that meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest,” said Mr Bush at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

His warning comes after Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan accused Syria and Iran of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Iraq, in particular branding Tehran the “most dangerous enemy of Iraq”.

But the deputy commander of the US Central Command said, however, the extent of either country’s activities in Iraq is unclear because “our intelligence functions on that side of the border are very, very difficult.”

“So there is influence, there is an intent for Iran to influence things there,” said Lieutenant General Lance Smith.

As for Syria, he noted President Bashar Al-Assad’s categorical statements that he would not support those supporting the insurgency in Iraq, and reports that Syria has arrested between 1,000 and 2,000 people crossing the border.

Iraqi authorities and US-led forces are battling to flatten Iraq’s deadly insurgency ahead of general elections next month — the first multi-party polls in the country in half a century.

“Iran is the most dangerous enemy of Iraq and all Arabs,” said Mr Shaalan.

“The source of terrorism in Iraq is Iran.”

“Terrorism is Iraq is orchestrated by Iranian intelligence, Syrian intelligence and Saddam (Hussein) loyalists, in collaboration with Zarqawi,” Shaalan said of Iraq’s most-wanted man, Islamist fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Asked about those charges, Mr Bush replied: “We have made it very clear to the countries in the neighbourhood, including the two you mention, that we expect there to be help in establishing a society in which people are able to elect their leaders.”

Meanwhile, the head of Iraq’s telecommunications company has been shot dead by armed men as he was driving to work in Baghdad.

Gunmen reportedly pulled up alongside Kassim Imhawi’s car and opened fire.

Mr Imhawi was the director general of the Communications Ministry and regarded as one of the minister’s top aides.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warned his government earlier this week that insurgents were likely to wage a stepped-up campaign of violence and intimidation in the run-up to Iraq’s election, set for January 30.

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