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Syria's Assad slams Iraq over "immoral" charges
Mon Aug 31, 2009 11:59am EDT
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By Marwan Makdessi
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday described as "immoral" Iraq's accusation that Damascus bore some responsibility for attacks inside its territory and again asked Baghdad to produce evidence.
His remarks were the latest salvo in an escalating dispute between the two neighbors since Iraqi officials accused Syria of allowing those responsible for militant attacks in Iraq to find refuge within its borders.
"When Syria is accused of killing Iraqis, while it is housing around 1.2 million Iraqis ... this is considered an immoral accusation," Assad told a joint news conference with visiting Cypriot President Demetris Christofias in Damascus.
"When Syria is accused of supporting terrorism, while it has been fighting it for decades ... this is a political accusation that follows no political logic. And when it is accused of terrorism without proof, it is outside any legal logic."
Iraq and Syria recalled their ambassadors last week after Baghdad demanded that Damascus hand over two alleged masterminds of bombings in Baghdad that killed almost 100 people, mainly at two government ministries.
On Sunday, Iraq aired a confession from a suspected al Qaeda militant who said Syrian intelligence agents trained foreign fighters like himself in a camp before sending them to fight in Iraq.
Assad said Syria was still waiting for Iraq to send a delegation with documented evidence of the charges.
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER MEDIATES
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Baghdad on Monday in an attempt to soothe tensions and a Turkish official said he had received a promise from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to tone down his rhetoric.
But a statement from Maliki's office issued after the meeting with Davutoglu reiterated a demand that Syria hand over suspects it says were behind bombings in Iraq.
"Iraq has presented to Syria since 2004 names, addresses, information, documents and proof of the activities of terrorists ... and the ways in which they sneak through Syrian lands," Maliki was quoted as saying, adding that 90 percent of foreign fighters come to Iraq through Syria.
"Iraq demands the United Nations form an international criminal court to try the perpetrators of these ugly crimes ... and asks the Syrian side to hand over the main wanted men."
A Turkish official traveling with Davutoglu said Maliki had complained in the meeting that Syria says it is cooperating with Iraq but then refuses to hand over suspected militants and allows its intelligence agents to offer them logistical support.
Iraqi security officials fear that efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the spat between Iraq and Damascus will move the focus away from legitimate concerns about Syria being used as a haven by militants.
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party for recent attacks, and says it has already captured some suspects. Continued...
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