BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq has deployed thousands of reinforcements along its border with Syria to prevent insurgents from crossing the desert frontier, as the government said Friday it has provided Syria with evidence linking Iraqis there to bombings.
Extra police were sent to the border this week on the prime minister’s orders in response to the government’s assertion that former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party based in Syria planned and financed last month’s attacks against the foreign and finance ministries, said Maj. Gen. Tariq Youssef, the police commander in western Iraq.
Iraq is seeking the extradition of two suspects, but Syria has refused, demanding to see proof of their involvement.
The dispute has strained relations between the two countries and again put Syria on the defensive over accusations it is not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks.
The Aug. 19 truck bombings outside the government ministries in Baghdad killed about 100 people. Iraq has blamed an alliance between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the outlawed Baath Party.
Turkey, which has experience as a regional mediator, has tried to soothe the dispute between the two countries, which have both recalled their ambassadors.
“We have given them the evidence that we have through the Turkish foreign minister and we are waiting for their response,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.
Iraq’s post-Saddam government has for years sought the handover of former Baath Party officials who fled to Syria after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraqi officials say Damascus allows them to live and engage in political activity in Syria.
One of the Iraqis linked to the August bombings is Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, who was high up in the Baath Party and has been near the top of Iraq’s most-wanted list for several years. The other suspect is Satam Farhan.
Iraq’s foreign minister gave a U.S. congressional delegation led by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan a tour of the shattered ministry building Friday. Crunching over shattered glass, the group walked up to the edge of the water-filled bomb crater in front of the building’s shredded front facade.
The American delegation also met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who a day earlier accused Syria of sheltering the bombing suspects and appealed to the U.N. Security Council to investigate and set up an international tribunal to try those accused of involvement.
On Friday, al-Maliki stressed to the visiting Americans that Iraq would not tolerate interference by any nation in Iraq’s affairs, according to a statement from his office.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said fewer fighters are crossing into Iraq from Syria. In the past two months, Iraqi security forces have arrested two Syrians and one Jordanian trying to sneak across, said Youssef, the police commander in the former insurgent stronghold of Anbar province.
In Mosul, a city in Iraq’s north that remains plagued by violence, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi police patrol Friday night, killing three officers and wounding four civilian bystanders, police said.
Besides the violence that persists in areas like Baghdad and Mosul, Iraqi officials are concerned about the potential for conflict between Arabs and Kurds over land and oil in the north.
The semiautonomous government of Iraq’s Kurdish region issued a statement calling on government ministers in Baghdad to reconsider their decision to postpone a nationwide census meant to resolve the controversies over the size of the country’s religious and ethnic communities.
The census had been scheduled for October, but the government pushed it back by one year.
In particular, the census has implications for decisions over the fate of the oil-rich area of Kirkuk, contested between Kurds and Arabs, as well as the budget allocation for the Kurdish region.
Many lawmakers had called for the census to be postponed, arguing that war has caused radical change in the sectarian makeup of many areas and the results could ignite new tensions.