Iraqi PM accuses Syria of harboring armed groups

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saidThursday that Syria was sheltering armed groups wanted for cross-borderattacks, forcing him to appeal to the United Nations for help instopping what he called a hostile act.

Relationsbetween the countries have been particularly tense since a pair oftruck bombings in August outside the foreign and finance ministries inBaghdad that killed about 100 people. Iraq, which has blamed analliance between al-Qaida in Iraq and Saddam Hussein's outlawed BaathParty, wants Syria to hand over several suspects it says are basedthere.

Maliki, who has faced criticism for security lapses that aidedthe bombers, met with a group of European and Arab ambassadors Thursdayto press his case that those who plotted the Aug. 19 attacks are basedin Syria.

It is an especially sensitive issue for Maliki, who has usedoverall improvements in security as his main campaign talking pointbefore January's national elections. The ministry bombings shookpeople's confidence at a time when his government is trying to show itcan ensure security now that most US forces have withdrawn from urbanareas.

"Why is there this insistence on harboring armedgroups and persons wanted by Iraqi jurisdiction?" the prime ministersaid, referring to Syria's refusal to deliver suspects. His commentswere released by his office after the meeting.

Syria, which has demanded to see proof of Iraq's claims,accuses Maliki's government of seeking to exploit the ministry attacksto press demands for the handover of Iraqi opposition figures living inDamascus.

Both countries have recalled their ambassadorsover the dispute, which came as relations between the neighbors werethawing after decades of tension.

Syria is home to a number of Iraqis who were mid-ranking andsenior members of Saddam's Baath Party, and Iraqi officials sayDamascus allows them to live and engage in political activity in Syria.

Maliki said such groups should not be allowed by the countrieshosting them to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs, especially afterthe start of the American troop withdrawal.

"Some neighboring countries considered the presence ofmultinational forces as harmful to their national security and theystarted to interfere with the pretext of resisting the occupation," hesaid. "But, after the withdrawal of US forces, this situation hasbecome unacceptable and we consider it a hostile act."

Even prior to the August attacks, Iraq had asked Syria tocooperate in stopping the activities of Baath Party figures, butinstead that activity increased, Maliki said.

"We are now compelled to request the [UN] Security Council toform an international tribunal because Iraq is facing a serious threatfrom neighboring countries," the prime minister said.

Iraq wants the formation of such a tribunal that would pressure Syria to deliver suspects in the August bombings.

Overall, violence has eased across Iraq, though attacks havepersisted in cities like Baghdad and Mosul in the north. Three roadsidebombings in the Mosul area on Thursday killed one Iraqi policeman andwounded three people.

Also Thursday, a car bomb apparently targeting the leader ofIraq's largest Sunni political party wounded four people northeast ofBaghdad, police said. The politician escaped unharmed.

Police said the car, parked near a restaurant in the city ofBaqouba, exploded two minutes after a convoy passed by with the leaderof the Iraqi Islamic Party, Osama al-Tikriti, and other officials. Fourcivilian bystanders were wounded in the blast, which destroyed a numberof shops along Baqouba's main street, said police Capt. Ghalibal-Karkhi.