Iraq seeks tribunal for Syria suspects

Associated Press / September 7, 2009

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BAGHDAD - Iraq’s prime minister pressed a UN envoy yesterday on the need for an international tribunal to bring Syrian-based bombing suspects to trial, as Damascus refused to hand over those it called political refugees.

The dispute, triggered by suicide truck bombings on government ministries in Baghdad last month, threatens to unravel steps toward better ties between the onetime adversaries.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has bluntly accused Syria of betrayal and of harboring killers, briefed the special UN envoy, Ad Melkert, on the intensifying dispute, Iraqi state TV reported.

Both nations have recalled their ambassadors in a serious setback to relations that had just begun to improve after years of animosity during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Iraq says two wanted members of Hussein’s Ba’ath Party who fled to Syria at the start of the war planned and financed the Aug. 19 attacks. Syria has refused to hand them over, demanding evidence.

Yesterday, Syria said through a government-run newspaper that it would not hand over people it considers political refugees.

“Syria never handed over people who took shelter from the threat of injustice, arbitrary acts, and death,’’ the Al-Thawra newspaper said.

It said that if Damascus had followed such a policy, Iraq’s prime minister and president - who both lived as dissidents in Syria during Hussein’s rule - would not have fared well.

One of the Iraqis linked to the August bombings is Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, who was high up in the Ba’ath Party and has been near the top of Iraq’s most wanted list for several years. The other suspect is Satam Farhan.

Syria and Iraq restored diplomatic relations in November 2006, ending a 24-year break.