Iraq Reinforces Syrian Border as Tensions Rise Between Countries
BAGHDAD – Iraq sent police reinforcements Saturday to the Syrian border after last weekend's U.S. raid against an alleged Al Qaeda hideout in Syria raised tension between the two countries, officials said.
Police Col. Jubair Rashid Naief said a police quick reaction force for Anbar province moved to the border town of Qaim, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, to prevent Al Qaeda from moving into the area from Syria.
Al-Arabiya television quoted witnesses as saying scores of armored vehicles were seen moving from the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi to Qaim, which had been a major Al Qaeda stronghold until Anbar's Sunni tribes turned against Al Qaeda.
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The police moves follow last Sunday's bold U.S. raid on the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal, during which U.S. officials say they killed a top Al Qaeda militant who operated a network of smuggling fighters into Iraq.
The U.S. has not officially acknowledged the attack. Syria says eight civilians were killed and has branded the raid as aggression.
Damascus has demanded that Washington apologize for the strike and has threatened to cut off cooperation on Iraqi border security in response to the attack. Earlier this week, Syria also sent additional troops to the border following the raid, but has since withdrawn them.
The Iraqi government has rejected the attack, but has urged Syria to crack down on organizations on its territory that are trying to hurt Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari voiced confidence the raid would not damage long-term relations, saying there is "good understanding to overcome this crisis."
Also Saturday, unknown assailants gunned down a policeman on a foot patrol along Palestine Street in Shiite eastern Baghdad, police said.
Violence is down sharply in Iraq since the Sunni revolt against Al Qaeda and the routing of Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq last spring. Still, attacks continue, although at a lower level.