Baghdad, Iraq Iraq indefinitely halted all flights to and from Syria and closed a border crossing with Iran as the government prepares for a new security crackdown aimed at crushing violence in the capital and surrounding regions.
An airport official said Wednesday that flights to and from Syria would be canceled for at least two weeks and that service had been interrupted on Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal the information.
The actions were seen as a signal to both countries not to interfere in Iraq's affairs as U.S. and Iraqi forces prepare for the major crackdown on armed groups in the capital.
Syria is believed to be harboring former Baath party officials who support the Sunni insurgency and has been accused of allowing foreign fighters to slip across its border with Iraq. And U.S. officials have complained that Iran smuggles weapons to Shiite extremists who have killed Americans and provides Shiite militia with training and support.
In other news Wednesday:
¢ Car bombs struck mostly Shiite targets in Baghdad on Wednesday, and the bodies of three Sunni professors and a student were found days after they were seized while leaving their campus in a Shiite part of the city.
¢ At least 43 people were reported killed across Iraq, including a U.S. soldier. The U.S. military death toll rose to 3,083.
¢ Iraqi police on Wednesday detained nearly 600 people suspected of being linked to the Soldiers of Heaven religious cult as burials began for the cult members who were killed by U.S. and Iraqi troops on Sunday.
The governor of Najaf, Assad Sultan Abu Galal, had planned to bury the dead in a mass grave, but the Shiite religious authority instead ordered individual graves, "so as not to repeat the mistake" of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who buried the victims of his atrocities in mass graves.
¢ Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim lawmakers announced plans Wednesday to form two new blocs in Iraq's parliament they hope will break away from the ethnic and religious mold of current alliances and ease sectarian strife.
A group of mostly independent legislators in the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shiite faction, said that within days they will launch a new "Solidarity bloc" intended to be a voice of moderation within parliament's largest political formation.
On the Sunni side, a number of independent lawmakers said they had already broken away from the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament with 44 members, and formed the new "Gathering of Independent Iraqis."
Both blocs said they hope eventually to draw in members of all ethnic and religious groups.