Monday, August 20, 2007

Iraqi PM in Syria to talk security, economy

DAMASCUS, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Iraq's prime minister arrived in Syria on Monday to discuss security and economic relations strained by accusations of Syrian support for rebels in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki is the first Iraqi premier to visit neighbouring Syria since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003. His meetings, including one with President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, are also expected to focus on more than a million Iraqis who have fled to Syria to escape violence at home. Damascus this month hosted an international conference on security in Iraq at which Iraqi officials urged Syria and other neighbouring countries to help boost Iraqi security or risk militancy at home. The United States has accused Syria of not doing enough to stem a flow of fighters crossing its border with Iraq to join the anti-U.S. insurgency. Washington also says Syria allows Iraqi rebels to operate from Syria. Damascus denies the charges. Syria and Iraq restored diplomatic relations and reopened embassies in each other's capitals in December. Washington also accuses Shi'ite Iran, a close ally of Syria, of stoking violence in Iraq. Tehran dismisses the accusations. Maliki won pledges of support from Iran during a visit to Tehran earlier this month. The Iraqi leader, whose delegation includes the oil and interior ministers, was due to meet Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otaria later on Monday. His visit to Damascus follows trips to Syria by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and its interior minister.
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