Saadoun al-Dulaimi's was speaking during a visit to Jordan following Wednesday's triple hotel bombings in Amman, by the al-Qaida in Iraq group, which killed 57 people.

 

"We have more than 450 detainees who came from different Arab and Muslim countries to train in Syria and enter with their booby-trapped vehicles into Iraq to bring destruction and killings," al-Dulaimi said on Sunday after meeting Jordan's prime minister in Amman.

 

"Let me tell the Syrians that if the Iraqi volcano explodes, no neighbouring capital will be saved," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

 

Al-Dulaimi also offered Iraq's condolences and support to Jordan to try to find those responsible for the hotel attacks, Jordan's deadliest ever, saying: "We are partners in facing terrorism."

 

"Amman's ordeal and Jordan's ordeal is the ordeal of all Iraqis," he said. The terrorists' "target is to kill tolerance and destroy coexistence in Arab and Muslim cities".

 

Border entry

 

Jordan's King Abdullah has said that the bombers who hit the Radisson SAS, Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels were likely to have been Iraqi and entered Jordan from either Syria or Iraq.

 

"We have a 620km border with this country and we have 620 problems with the Syrians"

Saadoun al-Dulaimi,
Iraqi defence minister

The Iraqi minister demanded more anti-terror support from Damascus, which is facing intense pressure from the United States and Iraq to lockdown its borders and stop al-Qaida in Iraq-linked fighters allied to Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi entering the country.

 

"Iraq is bordering several countries, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but why is it only the Syrian borders that I have complained more than once about?" al-Dulaimi said.

 

"We have a 620km border with this country and we have 620 problems with the Syrians," he said. "It seems our brothers in Syria won't like what we say in this critical period for the Syrians."

 

Iraqi and US forces have been trying to crush Iraq's rampant uprising for the past two years. But despite multiple US-Iraqi operations targeting suspected fighter bases, fighters led by al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein loyalists continue to launch attacks across the country.

 

UK troop withdrawal

 

British troops could leave Iraq by the end of next year, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Sunday.

 

"We don't want British forces forever in Iraq. Within one year - I think at the end of 2006 - Iraqi troops will be ready to replace British forces in the south," Talabani told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

 

Talabani also said, however, that an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces would be a catastrophe for Iraq and would lead to civil war.

 

British soldiers could leave Iraq
by the end of the year

Iraqis are working on training their own soldiers and police to take full control of security and to beat the uprising that has killed thousands of people since 2003's US-led invasion.

 

Britain, which has about 8000 soldiers in Iraq, has said it will start to pull out its troops as soon as local forces think they can maintain security, but London has so far declined to set a timetable.

 

British forces are stationed mainly in southern Iraq which had been more stable than some other regions but violence has also risen there in the past few months.

 

No firm date

 

Britain's top army general, Sir Mike Jackson, agreed it was possible soldiers could leave within the next year or so, but warned against giving a firm date for a pullout.

 

"What we are trying to achieve is a set of conditions at which point we have the confidence, and more importantly the Iraqi government and people have the confidence, they can fully stand on their own feet," Jackson said in a BBC TV interview.

 

"When those conditions come together, then the time will be right," he said.

 

 Green Zone blast

 

A mortar bomb hit an apartment block in central Baghdad near the heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday, but Iraqi security forces said there were no injuries.

 

Ivanov was holding a briefing in
the Green Zone during the blast

The mortar hit a building across the river from the Green Zone, landing on the roof. Thick black smoke was seen rising from the area.

 

Iraqi soldiers quickly secured the area and told Reuters there were no injuries or deaths.

 

The explosion shook the city just as Russia's security chief, Igor Ivanov, secretary of the National Security Council, was holding a news conference in the Green Zone with al-Jaafari.