Iraq accuses neighbor of contributing to violence

Extremists from Syria cause half of attacks, spokesman says

February 05, 2007|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government accused Syria yesterday of harboring insurgents fomenting violence here after a huge suicide bombing the previous day that killed at least 130 people in a Shiite neighborhood of the nation's capital.

The allegation strained relations with Iraq's neighbor just weeks after a resumption of diplomatic ties, and led to squabbling among Iraqi politicians during a parliamentary session.

"I confirm that 50 percent of murders and bombings are by Arab extremists coming from Syria," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh, at a joint news conference with the top U.S. spokesman inside the heavily protected Green Zone compound. "They come from Syria, and we have evidence."

No such evidence was presented, however, at the session with reporters.

Meanwhile, in parliament, a Shiite lawmaker got into an argument with the Sunni Arab speaker of the House, Mahmoud Mashadani, when he called for expelling Syrians and for a closure of all of Iraq's borders. "Be careful about what you say," Mashadani said, "because we have half a million Iraqis there."

After more heated arguments between Mashadani and Shiite lawmakers, the speaker abruptly ended the parliamentary session.

Syria is predominantly Sunni and since 2003, has become home to many Sunnis fleeing Iraq, including members of the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein. The current Iraqi government, elected since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Hussein, is primarily Shiite.

The accusations also drew angry responses from Syrian officials who termed them unsubstantiated.

"If they had just one piece of evidence, they would have presented it a long time ago," Mehdi Dakhlallah, Syria's former information minister, told Arabiya TV.

Mohammed Habash, a Syrian lawmaker, said in the same program that the United States had put "40 million weapons" into the wrong hands by disbanding the Iraqi Army.

"These weapons are now available on the black market in Iraq, sold by people with no conscience," he said.

Highlighting just how abundant weapons and explosives are in Iraq, American soldiers on Saturday discovered more than 1,100 mortar rounds buried in a single stash just south of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement yesterday. Maj. Mark Aitken described the find as a "supermarket-type cache," used by insurgents to draw upon for multiple attacks.

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, U.S. troops left many Iraqi arms depots unguarded and large quantities of weapons and munitions were stolen by looters.

For their part, Americans have lately been accusing predominantly Shiite Iran of provoking instability in Iraq. But U.S. officials have yet to produce evidence specifically demonstrating that the Iranian regime is linked to attacks on American troops in Iraq.

There is "a gap between what we know and what we're willing to discuss," top U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said during his news conference with Dabbagh.

The statements by Iraqi and U.S. officials blaming Iraq's neighbors left many ordinary Iraqis unimpressed.

Ahmed Biden observed the tableaux of death and destruction in the Sadriya neighborhood where a truck filled with a ton of explosives exploded Saturday, leveling dozens of houses and shops.

"After what I saw, I swore that I would destroy the government," said Biden, shaken by the sight. "All they do is denounce and accuse countries like Syria and Iran for standing behind the violence. How long are we are going to go on like this? We are fed up with denouncements."

Even as families buried their dead and overtaxed physicians labored throughout the day at Baghdad's main hospitals to treat the hundreds of wounded, new attacks yesterday brought more death to the capital and elsewhere in Iraq.

American officials speaking to reporters at a base near Baghdad's airport said a new security plan for the capital will begin to take effect this week. An additional 21,500 U.S. troops are due to come to Iraq under President Bush's controversial troop surge plan. Most will deploy in Baghdad, where they will be based alongside Iraqi police and soldiers in small units throughout a number of as yet unidentified neighborhoods. Another 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi troops will also come to Baghdad, arriving from the south and north of the country, authorities say.

Some troops have already arrived. Others will arrive in coming weeks, said U.S. military spokesman Caldwell, cautioning patience.

"It is important to acknowledge that it will not turn the security situation overnight," said Caldwell, who during the news conference confirmed for the first time that four American helicopters that have crashed in Iraq since Jan. 20 were brought down by "ground fire." Caldwell did not elaborate.

Killed in the crashes were 21 U.S. troops and private security contractors.

At least 3,097 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since 2003, according to icasualties.org, which tracks military deaths. By comparison, at least 1,000 Iraqis were killed in the last week alone, an Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press. In an average week, about 840 Iraqis are killed, according to the United Nations.

Yesterday, bombings, assassinations and mortar rounds killed at least 74 people.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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