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U.S. situation is escalating


October 27, 2008

Syria and Iran Condemn U.S. in Blast on Iraq Border


BAGHDAD — Iran joined  Syria  on Monday in condemning what they described as an attack by four United States helicopters on the Syrian side of the border with  Iraq  that they said killed eight people.

The United States confirmed that a Special Operations mission took place in the area on Sunday, but a senior military official gave no more details for now.

The United States is trying to negotiate a strategic agreement with Iraq that would allow American troops to remain in the country and carry out military operations. The pact faces strenuous opposition from neighboring countries, especially Syria and Iran, because of concerns that the United States might use Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on them.

Syria’s state-run news channel reported that United States helicopters on Sunday attacked an area within Syria near the town of Abu Kamal. The official news agency, SANA, cited an anonymous official as saying that four American helicopters had “launched aggression on a civilian building under construction,” killing eight people, giving the details of those it said were killed, and that the Syrian deputy foreign minister had summoned the chargé d’affaires from the American and Iraqi Embassies in protest.

Syria also said that United States soldiers on the ground had stormed a building in the area, Reuters reported.

In Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hassan Qashqavi, condemned the attack, saying a violation of the territorial integrity of any sovereign state was unacceptable.

“Iran condemns in strongest terms any form of aggression or violation of the states’ territorial integrity which leads to the death of innocent civilians,” he told reporters, according to the official news agency IRNA.

Syria’s state-run media also intensified its criticism of the United States on Monday, with the government newspaper Tishrin accusing American forces of committing “a war crime,” Agence France-Presse said.

The Iraqi government found itself in an awkward position, at once needing to remain on friendly terms with Syria — which is a neighbor and now home to more than a million  Iraqi refugees  — but also wanting to bolster the United States, which has said that the border area is used by people believed to be fomenting antigovernment unrest in Iraq.

In a statement, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman, tried to give something to each country. In support of the United States’ position he said, “This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq.”

In the most recent action, militants killed 13 Interior Ministry employees in a border village, he said, adding, “At the time, Iraq requested that the Syrian authorities hand over the personnel from this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities.”

At the same time, Mr. Dabbagh emphasized that Iraq wanted good relations with Syria. But he said that “the presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship.”

On Sunday, the police in Anbar Province in Iraq said an explosion on the border of Iraq and Syria had killed nine construction workers and wounded 19 others.

Local witnesses said they believed that the blast was caused by American shelling, but Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, which borders Syria, said that could not be immediately confirmed at the time.

The police statement did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has withdrawn its ambassador to Syria.

Also late Sunday, an Iraqi lawmaker announced that the country’s oil and gas draft law had been sent on to Parliament. It had been stalled in Iraq’s cabinet since February 2007 because of disputes over control of Iraq’s oil fields, and it has gone through several revisions.

Abdul-Hadi al-Hasani, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on oil, gas and natural resources, said the latest draft of the law had been received by his committee on Thursday and was undergoing careful review before being presented to the full legislature.

“The draft still needs more discussion and the opinion of experts in this field before it really goes to the Parliament,” Mr. Hasani said in a telephone interview. “We wish to activate the law very soon, and we’re serious about it. We talked today with the parliamentary leadership and went through some points concerning the draft of the law.”

Also Sunday, the chief of the Wasit provincial council announced that he had refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with United States forces that was intended to formalize Wasit’s transfer to the control of Iraq’s own security forces. Wasit, a province that borders Iran, was due this week to become the 13th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to full Iraqi control.

The council chief, Muhammad Hassan Jasem, said he had rejected the memorandum because its first article gave the United States permission to continue military operations in Wasit.

Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington, Alan Cowell from Paris, Graham Bowley from New York, Mudhafer al-Husaini from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Ramadi and Wasit Province.

Entry #408


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