Iraq, Syria reviving diplomatic links

Neighboring countries hope to strengthen communication, security

embassies to reopen

November 22, 2006|By Solomon Moore | Solomon Moore,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The foreign ministers of Iraq and Syria formally announced the resumption of diplomatic relations yesterday and pledged to strengthen communication and security between their neighboring countries.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting at Iraq's Foreign Ministry that they will re-establish embassies in Baghdad and Damascus.

Syria will back off from its demand that U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq immediately, Moallem said, in recognition of their being deployed in the country with the permission of the Iraqi government.

Zebari said future discussions between Baghdad and Damascus will focus on the readiness of the Iraqi army to resume control of the nation's security.

Meanwhile, Moallem said, Syria will work to improve security and will negotiate with Iraqi dissenters based in his country.

Syria is a main refuge and entry point into Iraq for Sunni Arab militants.

The two diplomats also announced that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will visit Tehran, Iran, on Sunday and Damascus shortly thereafter to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer of a three-way summit.

"We focused on the concerns and worries of Iraq and decided that improving communication is the best way to coordinate shared security concerns," Zebari said. "There will be special task forces to set up diplomatic relations between us, and there will be frequent meetings with Syrian security officials."

Asked whether Syria will be able to persuade Iraqi militants to lay down their arms, Moallem said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

Meanwhile, the violence in Iraq continued yesterday.

Authorities announced that 26 corpses had been found in Baghdad, most of them scarred by torture and gunshot wounds.

Gunmen in the capital assassinated Saad Khraibit Rashid, an assistant general manager for the Health Ministry, and a bomb aboard a minibus killed one person and injured 10 others.

The U.S. military announced that U.S. troops killed three suspected insurgents during a raid in Baghdad yesterday.

Iraqi Special Forces troops and U.S. military advisers conducted a raid in Sadr City, a Baghdad slum that is the stronghold of the al-Mahdi Army, a Shiite paramilitary force, in an unsuccessful effort to find Spc. Ahmed Qusay al-Taayie, a U.S. soldier who was captured Oct. 23.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani, a Sunni Arab who was once detained by U.S. forces, narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a bomb planted under his car detonated as he left a legislative session in Baghdad.

In Hawija, near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, a policeman was assassinated, a local official said.

In Kirkuk, gunmen shot to death Hussein Qader Omar, director of the Education College at the University of Kirkuk.

Also yesterday, the White House announced that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will meet next week in Jordan to discuss the security situation in Iraq.

In a joint statement, the two leaders said: "We will meet in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 29-30 to continue our consultation on building security and stability in Iraq."

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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