Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraq restores full ties with Syria after 26-year hiatus

AFP AND AP , BAGHDAD

Iraq yesterday announced it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Syria after a 26-year break and hailed a pledge from its western neighbor to do more to cooperate on security.

"We have signed a little while ago an agreement to restore complete diplomatic relations with Syria," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a joint news conference with his visiting Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.

"[The] Iraqi flag will be raised in Syria and the Syrian flag will be hoisted in Baghdad," Zebari said.

The Iraqi minister said agreement had also been reached on closer security cooperation following repeated US accusations that Syria was turning a blind eye to Sunni Arab insurgents smuggling men and materiel across the border.

"There was an agreement to have meetings between security officials from both countries and we also discussed developing commercial relations," he said.

The Syrian minister acknowledged that his talks in Baghdad had been "frank after they [relations] were disturbed all these years."

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime cut ties with Syria in 1980 in protest at its support for Iran after an eight-year war between the two neighbors broke out that year.

Muallem said he hoped the restoration of normal relations would put an end to US criticism of Syria over its role in Iraq.

"I do not want to go back to the former accusations. We seek future cooperation in all fields," he said.

Although Iraqi officials have visited Damascus, Muallem, who arrived on Sunday, was the first Syrian official to visit Baghdad since the US-led invasion of 2003.

The rapprochement between the two neighbors comes amid mounting calls for the US administration to engage Syria and its regional ally Iran in efforts to stabilize Iraq three and a half years after the invasion.

Coalition forces yesterday raided Baghdad's Sadr City Shiite stronghold on Tuesday, killing three people, including a young boy, police said. Holding the body of the child in his arms, a Shiite legislator condemned Iraq's government for allowing such attacks.

"I am suspending my membership in Parliament since it remains silent about crimes such as this against the Iraqi people," legislator Saleh al-Ukailli told reporters. "I will not return to parliament until the occupation troops leave the country."

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