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Iraqi minister says Syria trying to thwart efforts

UNITED NATIONS -- Syria is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters from entering Iraq because it is frightened of efforts to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants them to fail, Iraq's foreign minister says.

Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview Thursday with the Associated Press that Syria isn't alone in trying to thwart Iraq's efforts to establish a democracy but because of its proximity, its refusal to cooperate is having a more devastating impact in lost lives from terrorist attacks.

''It is important that the world should know, really, that Syria is not helping. It's not cooperating, despite the many, many pledges, promises -- none of that has happened," he said.

With Baghdad expecting insurgents to step up efforts to disrupt the Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution, Zebari in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday urged Iraq's neighbors, especially Syria, ''to root out elements of terror" by tightening border controls.

UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad of Syria insisted Wednesday that his country has been cooperating with Iraq by deploying 10,000 troops on the border, spending millions of dollars to establish barriers to prevent extremists from crossing, and arresting hundreds of potential infiltrators and sending them home.

He complained that requests to the United States for sophisticated equipment, including night vision binoculars, have been rejected, and he accused Iraq of not doing enough to stop those who make it into the country.

But Zebari said Thursday that the problem rests squarely with Syria.

''The question is not a technical issue . . . of border control equipment, technology. It's a question of political will," he said. ''We think if you want you can help, and so that's what we are saying. We're not calling for another invasion against Syria by American or international forces."

Asked why he thought Syria lacked the political will, Zebari replied, ''I think it's based on wrong assumptions -- to make life difficult in Iraq, to see this plan of democracy-building fail in Iraq."

''They and others are frightened, really, of this experiment to succeed. This is the bottom line. They don't want these values, these ideas to take root in a country like Iraq. This may affect them," he said.

''I think this project of democracy-building in Iraq has alarmed many authoritarian autocratic regimes in the region," Zebari said. ''Many of them are counting on our failure, and they have not been helpful."

He said his government's response to the Syrians and other opponents is to argue that supporting Baghdad is in their interest, ''that a democratic Iraq will not contradict your national interest, your country. We'll do business with you."

In contrast to Syria, he said, neighboring Iran has a very different agenda and is ''behaving in a more shrewd way."

The Iranians support their allies and friends in Iraq, ''but they are not encouraging or supporting groups to resort to violence, or to take up arms against the multinational force or against the government."

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