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Syria-Iraq Dispute Colors Regional Security Conference

Syria-Iraq Dispute Colors Regional Security Conference

Syria-Iraq Dispute Colors Regional Security Conference

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Tense relations between Iraq and Syria set the backdrop for a meeting on Iraqi security Wednesday. Officials from Iraq and its neighbors attended an annual conference, hosted this year by Egypt, on how other countries can help improve conditions or, at least, not make them worse.

The Iraqi government has been furious with Damascus since massive explosions ripped through Baghdad in August. Iraq accuses Syria of sheltering the suspected attackers, and is demanding they be turned over for prosecution.

Syria rejects the accusation, demanding evidence to back up the claims. The two sides recalled their ambassadors in protest.

At the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Kazem el Bolami sat across from his Syrian counterpart, Saiid Mohamed Sammour, and denounced both the attackers and those who support them.

El Bolami said those gathered must take a strong position and criminalize the aggressors, regardless of the sides involved.

The Iraqi government, and the U.S. military have long accused Iraq's neighbors of allowing fighters to cross into Iraq, while often underplaying the role of domestic opposition. Some military observers note that the bombers had to pass through extensive government checkpoints to carry out the August attacks, and argue at least some collusion with troops was likely.

A representative from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Abdalla Abdel Rahman picked up on that theme.

He noted that at the group's last meeting in Damascus, the ministers agreed that such terrorist groups find support both inside and outside Iraq.

While overall security is arguably better than it has been at any of the previous five conferences, participants were concerned about an increase in violence as Iraq prepares for national elections early next year.

Part of the U.S. military withdrawal is being planned around the vote, with a big drawdown in combat troops expected not long after it takes place.

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Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, along with others, stressed the importance of foreign troops leaving.

His comments follow a resolution by the Iraqi parliament this week to ask some British troops, who had already withdrawn, to come back.

Egypt was this year's host for the event, which was attended by the interior ministers of nations surrounding Iraq - Syria, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, as well as other regional players.

Security was tight, with soldiers lining the route to the conference site, scanning the mountains of the Sinai and the waters of the Red Sea, searching for potential trouble.