CAIRO, (AP) – The foreign ministers of Iraq and Syria had a heated exchange, trading accusations Wednesday in a failed attempt to resolve a deepening split over Iraqi claims that Syria is harboring Sunni militants behind a recent flareup in violence.
The Iraqi government says Syria-based loyalists of ousted leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda fighters were behind a bomb attack in Baghdad last month that killed more than 100 people.
Baghdad has demanded Damascus hand over 179 people, but Syria has refused, demanding evidence of their involvement of violence in Iraq.
The spat has deepened in recent weeks, marring what had been improving relations between the two nations. It comes as Iraq has seen increasing bloodshed over the summer as U.S. troops reduce their presence ahead of a full withdrawal.
Foreign Ministers Walid al-Moallem of Syria and Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq met Wednesday at the Arab League in Cairo in a closed-door meeting with their counterparts from Turkey and several Arab nations in a bid to resolve the dispute.
During the meeting, Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu said he had tried to present Syria with a list of those suspected in the attacks and documents that Iraq says prove their involvement, but Damascus refused to accept them, said an Arab diplomat who attended.
Iraq’s Zebari accused Syria of “fueling sectarian issues” in Iraq and “supporting terrorism and violence that threaten Iraqi unity,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting.
Al-Moallem replied by claiming that Iraq was accusing Syria on the orders of unnamed “foreigners” to cover up the failure to prevent violence.
Iraq “receives foreign instructions to involve Syria … while Syria has nothing to do with it,” al-Moallem said, according to the diplomat.
In a speech later to a full gathering of Arab foreign ministers, al-Moallem condemned terror attacks in Iraq and said Syria supports Iraq’s stability. He called Iraq’s accusations against Damascus “regrettable” and urged Baghdad to present “convincing evidence.”
Besides the demand for the extradition of the main suspects, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for an international tribunal to investigate the attacks.