Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tensions rise as Iraq blames Syria over treatment of refugees, restrictions on travel; Decries Assad meeting with al-Dhari

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani review an honour guard at the presidential palace in Damascus two weeks ago

BAGHDAD, Iraq: The Iraqi government launched a verbal attack on neighboring Syria, accusing it of making problems for Iraqi refugees while welcoming Sunni figures wanted by the Baghdad government.

"Thousands of Iraqis are being put in a difficult situation," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the U.S.-financed Alhurra television Friday. He said Iraqis going to Syria are being given only 15-day entrance visas and some have to leave the country where it is not easy for them to enter Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey.

Al-Dabbagh added that Syrian authorities have imposed new regulations on state-run Iraqi Airways, which has not flown to Syria since Tuesday.

Syrian authorities on Wednesday denied reports arising elsewhere that it had halted Iraqi Airways flights but said it would bar Iraqi airliners lacking safety requirements or those arriving without advance permission to land.

Iraq also was angered by Syrian President Bashar Assad's meeting with the head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, Sheik Harith al-Dhari, who was in Damascus this week.

Iraq's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant against him in November, alleging al-Dhari instigated sectarian violence. Al-Dhari has said the government's bid to arrest him was illegal.

After meeting Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa on Wednesday, al-Dhari said the political process in Iraq and all its achievements so far — including the constitution and the national assembly — must be abandoned as a "precondition for a successful reconciliation among the Iraqis."

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

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