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Iraq Accuses Syria Of Taking Measures Against Iraqi Refugees February 2, 2007

Posted by notapundit in World News.

BAGHDAD (AP)–The Iraqi government launched a verbal attack Friday 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. 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 hasn’t 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.”

Relations between Syria and Iraq have been cool since after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003. U.S. and Iraqi authorities accuse Syria of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from entering the country – a claim that Syria denies.

Still, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled their country to Syria where they were given rights similar to those of Syrians such as free education and medical care.

Syrian officials weren’t available for comment Friday, the weekend holiday, but Iraqis living in Syria said they now get a 15-day permit to stay, then they have to apply for a three-month permit to stay that can be renewed only once. After six months, if the Iraqi is not a student or doesn’t have business or a job, he or she will have to leave the country for at least 30 days before being allowed in again.

In the past all Iraqis needed was an exit stamp and many drove to the border and re-entered the same day.

A legislator and member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party said Syria was taking measures against the interest of Iraqis despite a visit to Damascus by President Jalal Talabani last month and the restoration of relations between the two countries in November.

“They started taking measures against Iraqis in Syria and Harith al-Dhari was welcomed like a hero,” Sami al-Askari said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “This does not express goodwill or a frank step in dealing with the Iraqi government.”

He added that infiltration is “still going on and activities from inside Syria are continuing. Nothing has changed.” Al-Askari was apparently referring to Iraqi dissidents who are believed to be in Syria.

“Talabani heard nice talk there but the results came after the visit. Measures began against Iraqis and the Syrian behavior was regrettable,” he said.

Al-Askari also pointed out that Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority has ruled the country for almost four decades, despite the fact that Sunni Arabs make up an estimated 60% of Syria’s population.

“When Syria wants to speak about supporting Sunni Arabs, it should remember that it has an oppressed Sunni majority,” he said. “It (Syria) should start with its citizens before thinking about the Sunni Arabs in Iraq who have rights that no Syrian citizen could even dream of.”

Iraq and Syria restored diplomatic relations late last year, more than two decades after they were cut over ideological disputes, Syria’s support of Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq, and charges that Baghdad supported Syrian militants.


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