Syria is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters from entering Iraq because it is frightened of Iraq's effort to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants to see it fail, Iraq's foreign minister says.
Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview Thursday that Syria isn't alone in trying to thwart Iraq's efforts to establish a democracy but because of its proximity, its refusal to cooperate is having a more devastating impact in lost lives from terrorist attacks.
"It is important that the world should know, really, that Syria is not helping. It's not cooperating, despite the many, many pledges, promises -- none of that has happened," he said.
With the Iraqi government expecting insurgents to step up efforts to create tensions and disrupt next month's referendum on a new constitution, Zebari in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday urged Iraq's neighbors, especially Syria, "to root out elements of terror" by tightening border controls.
Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad insisted Wednesday that his country has been cooperating with Iraq by deploying 10,000 troops on the border, spending millions of dollars to establish barriers to prevent extremists from crossing, and arresting hundreds of potential infiltrators and sending them home.
He complained that requests to the US for sophisticated equipment, including night vision binoculars to spot insurgents crossing the border, have been rejected, and he accused Iraq of not doing enough to stop those who make it into the country.
But Zebari said Thursday that the problem rests squarely with Syria.
"The question is not a technical issue ... of border control equipment, technology. It's a question of political will," he said. "We think if you want you can help, and so that's what we are saying. We're not calling for another invasion against Syria by American or international forces."
Asked why he thought Syria lacked the political will, Zebari replied, "I think it's based on wrong assumptions -- to make life difficult in Iraq, to see this plan of democracy-building fail in Iraq."
"They and others are frightened really of this experiment to succeed. This is the bottom line. They don't want these values, these ideas to take root in a country like Iraq. This may affect them," he said.
"I think this project of democracy building in Iraq has alarmed many authoritarian autocratic regimes in the region," Zebari said. "Many of them are counting on our failure, and they have not been helpful."
The foreign minister said the Iraqi government's response to the Syrians and other opponents is to argue that supporting Baghdad is in their interest.
"Our response to them is that a democratic Iraq will not contradict your national interest, your country. We'll do business with you," Zebari said.
He said many Iraqis are standing up and defending Iraq's new democratic goals, many embedded in the new constitution including pluralism, democratic freedoms, a bill of rights, separation of powers, transparency and federalism.
"These are new ideas," Zebari said. "That's why they are not comfortable."
In contrast to the Syrians, he said, neighboring Iran has a very different agenda and is "behaving in a more shrewd way."