Syria rejects US Iraq charge

Syria's UN ambassador has said his country had arrested some 1200 people over the past few months to prevent them from entering Iraq, despite US charges that Damascus was not doing enough.

    Syria has stepped up its patrols alongside the Iraq border

    Many of those trying to cross the border into Iraq, most likely to join the resistence, were sent home "to face trial" or were under investigation in Syrian jails, Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said in an interview on Thrusday.
    He would not say from which nations the fighters came but said they were from "neighboring countries of Iraq and other countries in the region."
    Seeking recognition

    "We have done a great job in this respect and something which should be recognized by the United States and others," Mekdad said. "We have arrested [about] 1200 people who were infiltrating to Syria from other countries, and going to the front."
    The Bush administration has complained frequently that Syria is not doing enough to halt the flow of men and money to the insurgency in Iraq.

    "We have done a great job and [it is] something which should be recognized by the United States and others"

    Fayssal Mekdad, Syrian UN ambassador


    Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey could do more to keep foreign fighters from entering Iraq or to prevent the Iraqi resistence from obtaining funding.
    "I don't know for sure how many there might have been or what they might have been doing," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Thursday in response to the 1200 figure.
    Still coming through

    "Whatever number it is they might have stopped there's still much greater flow than there should be. There's a flow of people, money and resources across that border," he said.
    Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustafa, said earlier this week that his country had severed military and intelligence cooperation with the United States because of what he called unjust US allegations.
    But Mekdad said of US authorities, "They say this is not enough while we are doing our best. We requested that they help us technically ... but no assistance has been forthcoming," he added.
    He said Washington should look more closely into a still-secret report from a UN Security Council committee on terrorism, headed by Argentine Ambassador Cesar Mayoral, which recently visited Damascus and commented positively on Syria's efforts. 
    Syrian-Iraq ties

    Assad has renewed ties with
    the Iraqi leadership 

    Syria recently decided it intended to reestablish ties with Baghdad after 23 years, indicating a move to boost regional security along its 499km shared border with Iraq.
    Mekdad contended that 70% of the current Iraqi leadership took refuge in Syria during their opposition to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, overthrown by the US-led invasion two years ago.
    "Syria is doing its best to help the Iraqi people and we are very serious in stopping the suffering of Iraqi people and
    we hope others do the same," the ambassador said.
    Mekdad also denied any Syrian involvement with Jordanian fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ally of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is reported to have been wounded.
    "These people are enemies of Syria and we have never been friends with them," Mekdad said.
    Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a series of killings, hostage beheadings and suicide bombings as part of a "holy war" against US-led forces in Iraq. 

    SOURCE: Reuters


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