U.S. and Iraqi officials inaugurated a portion of the country's new border security fence along the Iraqi-Syrian border, as efforts are stepped up to improve security before March parliamentary elections. Sunni and Shi'ite political leaders also continue to do battle over the suspension of scores of candidates for alleged ties to the Ba'ath Party.
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani and top security officers showed off the new border security fence with Syria, explaining to reporters that it will reduce both terrorism and smuggling between the two countries. Iraqi officials have complained bitterly in recent months that high-profile terrorist attacks in Baghdad were plotted and executed from inside Syria.
Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani, who was severely criticized by opposition politicians for lax security following suicide attacks in August and October in Baghdad, stressed the new border fence will prevent terrorists and other unwanted individuals from infiltrating:
He says that the most important job of border patrol commanders is to stop infiltration and smuggling to and from Iraq. He notes this is a 24 hour a day job to protect the border from infiltrators, terrorists and others who pose a threat to Iraqi security.
Several top Iraqi security forces officers in charge of the border pointed proudly to the new barbed wire fence stretching for hundreds of meters between control towers equipped with cameras to monitor both sides of the border. About 1,300 kilometers of border fence are in the process of being completed in the vast, arid plain that separates Iraq from Syria.
Colonel Ismail Haqi of the Iraqi security forces says the border patrol has been increasingly successful in catching dubious individuals crossing surreptitiously between Syria and Iraq:
He says the security forces have been successful in capturing more than 550 terrorists, infiltrators and smugglers, in addition to seizing quantities of smuggled items.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has frequently claimed that remnants of Saddam Hussein's deposed Ba'ath Party, based in Syria, were trying to either overthrow or discredit his government. Opposition members of parliament regularly accuse the government of security lapses.
The mostly Sunni-Arab opposition also continues to lock horns with a parliamentary committee that has been working to ban scores of candidates from running in March elections. The committee accuses them of ties to the Ba'ath Party.
Top Sunni leaders have condemned the committee and challenged its legality, while a presidential panel has been charged with investigating the matter. A top committee member, Ali Faisal al Lami denies opposition charges that his body is preparing to ban even more candidates:
He denies that there are any new lists of banned candidates being prepared by his committee to be sent to the Iraqi electoral commission. It is the electoral commission, he argues, that is asking our committee which candidates on the rolls should be barred from running because of to the Ba'ath Party.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Iyad al Samaraie also reportedly sent a letter to Iraq's high electoral commission, urging it not to apply the de-Ba'athification committee's decision to ban any candidates from running in the March elections.