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IRAQ: Baghdad-Damascus feud heats up again after bombings

August 31, 2009 | 12:11 pm

Iraq and Syria continued to spar verbally after the Aug. 19 bombings at Baghdad’s finance and foreign ministries that killed about 100 people and prompted accusations from the Iraqi government that Damascus was harboring the masterminds of the attacks. 

Iraq has charged Syria with sheltering leaders from late dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath party and with allowing other militants to operate inside its borders. The government broadcast footage a week ago of a suspected militant captured after the attacks who described receiving orders from Iraqi Baathists in Syria. 

Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, shuttled between Baghdad and Damascus on Monday in an effort to contain the dispute between the two countries, who only renewed diplomatic relations three years ago.  

Despite the Turkish intercession, Syrian President Bashar Assad lashed out at the Iraqi government. He called Iraq’s charges "a political accusation," according to the Syrian Arab News Agency. Assad claimed Iraq had failed to present Damascus with evidence backing up its accusations and called the charges “no less than immoral.”

“Syria is keen on the lives of Iraqi people in as much as it's keen on the interests, blood and lives of Syrian people," Assad told reporters, according to the news agency, after a meeting with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias.

The verbal fisticuffs came after a thaw in relations between Syria and Iraq earlier this year. The Syrian foreign minister traveled to Baghdad in March and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki visited Syria the day before the bombings.

For his part, Maliki had tough words for Damascus on Monday but also indicated a willingness to settle the dispute. The prime minister issued a statement after his meeting with Davutoglu, saying Iraq had demanded the handover of wanted Baathists and Islamic militants dating back to 2004. He specifically demanded those involved in the latest bombings and to have them tried before an international court. He called for Syria to hand over the Baath party leaders Mohamed Yunes Ahmed and Sattam Farhan. He made no direct mention of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Iraqi Islamic militant factions, which actually claimed responsibility for the Aug. 19 bombings in a statement posted on the Internet.  

“We ... demand to expel terrorists, Baathists and Takfiris who rendered Syrian territory as [a] base to launch criminal attacks inside Iraq,” Maliki said in the statement released by his office.  

Maliki also expressed hope that the two countries could repair their relationship and noted they had agreed during his August visit to form a strategic cooperation council and to open two oil pipelines. 

-- Ned Parker, Saif Hameed and Usama Redha in Baghdad

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