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Iraqi, Syrian Officials Discuss Border Security


Iraqi and Syrian officials meeting in Baghdad continued talks on security and cooperation for a second day. Meanwhile, the security situation remained critical, as police discovered another 14 tortured bodies in Baghdad, and Iraqi and U.S. security forces again raided a Shi'ite district to try to break up kidnapping and terror cells.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem met with Iraq's prime minister and president Monday, during what is being billed as an historic visit.

Moallem is the highest ranking Syrian official to visit Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

Earlier this week, Syria's ambassador to the United States was quoted in published reports as saying that former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who is now the head of a bipartisan panel on Iraq strategy, met on several occasions with Syrian officials to discuss how they might cooperate with the United States in Iraq.

At a news conference in Baghdad, the Syrian foreign minister was quick to tell reporters that there is no dialogue between Syria and the United States, and that he did not come to Baghdad to make the U.S. or any other country happy.

He went on to add that peace and security in Iraq are beneficial to Syria, and would enhance his own country's stability.

Moallem also met with influential Shi'ite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest political party.

Hakim said Iraq and Syria must cooperate on securing their common border, because that is the most important security issue between the two countries.

The United States and Iraq have repeatedly accused Syria of allowing insurgents and foreign fighters to slip across the border. A senior U.S. military official, Major General William Caldwell, said Monday that up to 70 foreign fighters are crossing the border from Syria each month.

Meanwhile, Shi'ite-Sunni violence continues to terrorize Baghdad and its surrounding areas. More than a hundred people have been killed or found dead since Sunday, and The Associated Press reports, more than 13-hundred Iraqis have been killed so far this month.

Police discovered the latest victims, 14 Sunni Arabs, whose bodies were bound and tortured, on the southern edge of the capital.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi deputy health minister said two of his bodyguards were killed when gunmen attacked his convoy in central Baghdad's al-Fadhil district. A fellow deputy health minister, Ammar al-Assafar, was kidnapped Sunday from his home in Baghdad.

In eastern Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. troops conducted another raid to root out Shi'ite militias and death squads believed to be operating in Sadr City. The American military says a mosque was slightly damaged during the operation, but there were no casualties. No one was detained during the raid.