Iraq’s foreign minister urged neighbors to prevent “terrorists and killers” from crossing into his country and warned Sunday that the violence in Iraq could spill across its borders.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari’s comments came during the opening of a daylong conference that brought to Baghdad officials from all of Iraq’s neighbors and other Mideast countries, as well as representatives from the U.N. and the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
The first such conference in March saw the first direct U.S.-Iranian talks since the war began, focusing on border problems, Iraqi refugees and energy issues, including oil supplies.
“Despite our emphasis on national reconciliation at home, we also need to reconcile with our neighborhood, with the international community at large,” Zebari told the group.
Zebari’s appeal to Iraq’s neighbors occurred on the eve of congressional hearings in Washington by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and top commander Gen. David Petraeus, who are to report on Iraq’s progress amid a debate over calls to start bringing American troops home.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said he there has been “progress on the security side, particularly in Baghdad,” but said support from the U.S. was still needed.
“When things get better and the security situation gets better the Iraqi government will be able to talk about a timetable,” he told a regular news conference.
U.S. officials also say security is improving, but complain of too little progress politically with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
Al-Maliki disputed that assessment at the meeting Sunday, saying the “Iraqi national unity government has achieved great victories in different fields.”
Closed roads cancel parliament session
Security was extraordinarily tight in central Baghdad where the meeting was taking place at the Foreign Ministry complex with security forces blocking two main bridges linking the city’s eastern and western sectors to all but official traffic.
Parliament canceled its session Sunday quorum because many legislators could not make it due to the closed roads, said Wissam al-Zubaidi, an adviser to deputy parliament speaker Khaled al-Attiyah.
The Iranian and Syrian deputy foreign ministers headed their countries’ delegations while other regional countries were represented by their ambassadors, Zebari told the AP ahead of the meeting. In addition to neighbors Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, delegations from Egypt and Bahrain were present.
With Crocker in Washington, the U.S. was represented by the deputy chief of mission in Iraq, Patricia Butenis.
Zebari said they needed to talk about helping the Iraqi government bring security and stability to Iraq internally, but added that the country’s neighbors needed to “actively work on controlling the borders and prevent terrorists and killers from infiltrating across into Iraq.”
“Terrorism should be fought ... because the fires that they are igniting in the land of the two rivers (Iraq) will spread outside the borders and endanger neighboring countries,” Zebari said.
Syria accused in the past
He did not identify any country by name, but the Iraqi and U.S. governments have accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq and say Iran is supplying Shiite militias with weapons — claims that both countries deny. The Iraqi government has also said that many of those who carry out suicide attacks in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia.
Though violence has been slowed by the U.S. buildup in troops from the start of the year, sectarian and insurgent attacks are still common.
In northern Iraq, a U.S. airstrike killed an insurgent suspected to be behind the quadruple suicide bombings in August against communities of Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, that killed 520 people, U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox said.
Elsewhere, the U.S. command said a Marine died in Iraq’s Anbar province. The non-combat death Friday of the Marine, with the Multinational Force-West, is under investigation, the military said.
In other violence Sunday, a coordinated attack on a police station in Hajaj, a predominantly Sunni village in northern Iraq, left five policemen and four civilians dead before the gunmen were driven off with the help of residents, police and eyewitnesses said. They spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.
A mortar attack in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad killed one person, police said, and an explosion in a booby-trapped minibus south of the capital, in Mahmoudiya, also killed one.