Iraqi Neighbors to Denounce Terror Groups

Published November 02, 2003

| Associated Press

Arab, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers denounced terrorist groups operating in Iraq and urged U.S.-led forces to restore security and stability there, according to a draft communique obtained Sunday on the final day of talks on the war's regional impact.

The foreign ministers of Syria, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, plus politically influential Egypt, met for almost two hours Sunday in a downtown Damascus (search) hotel Sunday before breaking and traveling to Syrian President Bashar Assad (search)'s palace for talks.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (search) refused to attend the meeting after rejecting two last-minute invitations. He has also said the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) would not accept decisions taken by the meeting.

Despite Zebari's no-show, the ministers said in the draft communique, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, that they supported the Governing Council to "bear its transitional responsibilities until an elected Iraqi government with wide representation is established."

The communique also denounced terrorist groups operating inside Iraq and said U.S.-led occupation forces must restore security and stability to the country they invaded in March.

The talks took place as violence flared again in Iraq. Fifteen U.S. soldiers were killed and 21 injured Sunday when a U.S. Chinook helicopter (search) carrying dozens of soldiers to R&R leaves was shot down.

The draft communique, which is yet to be officially announced, denounced terrorist attacks in Iraq aimed at civilians, humanitarian and religious institutions, international organizations and diplomatic missions.

The ministers condemned some terrorist groups who have been using Iraqi territory to endanger security in neighboring states, but rejected accusations against their countries of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs.

U.S. officials have said foreign fighters may be behind a recent upsurge in attacks against coalition forces, international aid agencies and Iraqis in Iraq. Washington has accused regional states, particularly Syria, of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters infiltrating through its eastern border into Iraq to attack U.S.-led coalition forces.

The ministers reiterated their support for Syria and stressed on the need to preserve Iraq's sovereignty and independence. They also called for strengthening the United Nations (search)' role, particularly in drafting a new Iraqi constitution, holding elections and drawing up a time table to end the U.S.-led occupation.

Syria and Iran strongly opposed the U.S.-led conflict, while Kuwait was the launching pad for the invading American forces. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt are key U.S. allies in the region.

Some worried Iraq's presence could divert the forum's focus from discussing the war's regional impact to direct involvement by neighboring states in the process of security and stability. The issue of military participation by Iraq's neighbors in a stabilization force was expected to be raised.

Turkey has offered to send 10,000 troops to Iraq, but deployment is increasingly uncertain amid strong opposition by many Iraqis and some neighboring countries.

Iraqi officials had planned to use the Damascus meeting to demand an end to cross-border infiltration by foreign fighters believed to have been behind a recent upsurge of violence in Iraq. They also wanted to urge neighbors to provide information on former Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) loyalists who may be hiding in their countries.

"What is required of neighboring countries that care about the unity and sovereignty and security of Iraq is to back Iraqi efforts to bolster security and stability, combating terrorism and barring terrorists from crossing over, and protecting the border," Zebari said before Saturday's talks.

On Saturday, Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian foreign minister, acknowledged cross-border infiltration and said Iraq's neighbors wanted to promote security there and control their own borders.

"They're doing their best to control their border line, but at the same time there may be some elements who cross the border, which has to be avoided," he said.

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