UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — Syria”s U.N. ambassador said on Tuesday his country had arrested some 1,200 people over the past few months to prevent them from entering Iraq, despite U.S. charges that Damascus was not doing enough.
Many of the those trying to cross the border into Iraq, most likely to join insurgents, were sent home "to face trial" or were under investigation in Syrian jails, Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said in an interview.
He would not say from which countries the insurgents came but said they were from "neighboring countries of Iraq and other countries in the region."
"We have done a great job in this respect and something which should be recognized by the United States and others," Mekdad said. "We have arrested (about) 1,200 people who were infiltrating to Syria from other countries, and going to the front."
The Bush administration has complained frequently that Syria is not doing enough to halt the flow of men and money to the insurgency in Iraq. And Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey could do more to keep foreign fighters from entering Iraq or to prevent the insurgents from obtaining funding.
In response, Syria”s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, said earlier this week that his country had severed military and intelligence cooperation with the United States because of what he called unjust U.S. allegations.
"I wouldn”t say that they”ve cut off any particular regular and ongoing operation because there just hasn”t been regular and ongoing cooperation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher replied on Tuesday.
But Mekdad said of U.S. authorities, "They say this is not enough while we are doing our best."
"We requested that they help us technically … but no assistance has been forthcoming," he added.
He said Washington should look more closely into a still-secret report from a U.N. Security Council committee on terrorism, headed by Argentine Ambassador Cesar Mayoral, which recently visited Damascus and commented positively on Syria”s efforts.
Syria”s recently decided it intended to reestablish ties with Baghdad after 23 years, indicating a move to boost regional security along its 310-mile (499-km) shared border with Iraq.
Mekdad contended that 70 percent of the current Iraqi leadership took refuge in Syria during their opposition to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.
"Syria is doing its best to help the Iraqi people and we are very serious in stopping the suffering of Iraqi people and we hope others do the same," the ambassador said.
Mekdad also denied any Syrian involvement with Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ally of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is reported to have been wounded.
"These people are enemies of Syria and we have never been friends with them," Mekdad said.
Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a series of killings, hostage beheadings and suicide bombings as part of a "holy war" against U.S.-led forces in Iraq.