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Archive for Monday, November 20, 2006

Syrian foreign minister calls for U.S. withdrawal timetable in Iraq

November 20, 2006

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— Syria's foreign minister called Sunday for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces to help end Iraq's sectarian bloodbath, in a groundbreaking diplomatic mission to Iraq that comes amid increasing calls for the U.S. to seek cooperation from Syria and Iran. At least 112 people were killed nationwide, following a week that had already seen more than 700 deaths.

Walid Moallem, the highest level Syrian official to visit since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, denounced terrorism in Iraq even as Washington mulled its own overture to Damascus for help in ending Iraq's violence.

Moallem met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said he hoped the meeting would create regional momentum to assist Iraq in establishing greater security.

Moallem spoke at the end of a day that saw suspected Sunni Muslim bombers kill at least 33 Shiites and the kidnapping of a deputy health minister - believed the senior-most government official abducted in Iraq. Many Sunni attackers are believed to have infiltrated from Syria.

In the deep south of Iraq, security forces searching for five private security contractors, four Americans and an Austrian who were kidnapped near the Kuwait border, detained about 200 suspected insurgents, police said Sunday. Police Maj. Gen. Ali al-Moussawi said none of the hostages was found.

Family members identified one of the American captives as Jonathon Cote, 23, a native of Getzville, N.Y. He worked as a security guard for Crescent Security Group, his stepmother said. Family members spoke to The Associated Press anonymously out of fear for Cote's safety. A second captive was identified late last week as Paul Reuben, 39, a former police officer from a Minneapolis, Minn., suburb.

In one of the most significant diplomatic breakthrough since the ouster of Saddam, a restoration of contacts between Damascus and Baghdad was seen as a means of convincing Damascus to exert tighter control over its border. The frontier has been a major crossing point for Sunni Arab fighters who infiltrated to join the insurgency that has been responsible for the deaths of most U.S. soldiers since the American-led invasion in 2003.

Syria broke diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1982, accusing Iraq of inciting riots by the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Damascus also sided with Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Trade ties were restored in 1997.

In addition to Baghdad and Washington's complaints about poor border control, the two countries have blasted Syria for supporting the insurgency by allowing Saddam loyalists to take refuge in Damascus to organize financing and arms shipments. Syria denies the charges.

Kissinger opinion

Meanwhile in London, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that military victory is no longer possible in Iraq.

Kissinger presented a bleak vision of Iraq, saying the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's neighbors - including Iran - if progress is to be made in the region.

"If you mean by 'military victory,' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

But Kissinger, an architect of the Vietnam war who has advised President Bush about Iraq, warned against a rapid withdrawal of coalition troops, saying it could destabilize Iraq's neighbors and cause a long-lasting conflict.

"A dramatic collapse of Iraq - whatever we think about how the situation was created - would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region," he said.

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