Iraqi PM to pay first visit to Syria
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a second visit this month to an arch foe of Washington, will go to Syria next week for three days, the official SANA news agency said on Saturday.
Maliki “will arrive in Syria on Monday on an official three-day visit,” the agency said, adding that he would “discuss with Syrian officials ways of developing bilateral cooperation in several areas.”
The Iraqi prime minister visited Iran earlier in August for talks that caused unease in Washington. This will be his first official trip to Syria.
On August 9 US President George W. Bush warned Maliki against cozying up to Iran, and said he was not surprised at pictures showing cordial meetings between Maliki and Iranian leaders in Tehran but that he hoped the Iraqi premier was delivering a tough message.
Washington accuses Shiite-majority Iran of fomenting sectarian violence in Iraq and providing militants with sophisticated roadside bombs for use against US soldiers.
Tehran denies the allegation, in turn blaming the US-led occupation for the insecurity in its western neighbour.
Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara said on Tuesday that Maliki, during his visit, would discuss how to tackle the needs of more than a million Iraqi refugees in Syria who have fled the brutal sectarian conflict in their home country.
Shara told a Damascus news conference that Syria was ready to cooperate closely with Iraq in all areas if Maliki shows a “sincere Iraqi position that leads to comprehensive reconciliation and sets a timetable for the departure of US forces from Iraq.”
Maliki received a similar message during his visit to Iran, being told by supreme leader Ali Khamenei that the presence of US troops in Iraq was the biggest obstacle to restoring security there.
Shara also told the news conference that there was no rivalry in relations with Iran, and that the two countries had a common goal — “they want an Iraq that is unified, independent, Arab and free from all occupying forces.”
Iraq’s neighbours, including Syria and Iran, agreed this month in Damascus during a two-day meeting of the Iraqi Neighbours Border Security Working Group to cooperate with Baghdad in a bid to restore stability to Iraq and to build the Iraqi army.
On Saturday Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani urged the nation’s diplomats to forge strong global ties at a time when Baghdad faces bitter criticism over its failure to end its own bloodshed.
“Your role should be as militants to defend the new Iraq,” Talabani said at the opening of a four-day conference of Iraqi ambassadors.
“You have to play an effective role in the political and media domain. You should show the achievements made in Iraq.”