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In a shift, Iraq urges Syrian president to step down

By Michael S. Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi
New York Times / September 21, 2011

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BAGHDAD - After months of striking a far friendlier tone toward the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad, the Iraqi government has joined a chorus of other nations calling on him to step down.

An adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said in an interview with the New York Times yesterday that the Iraqi government had sent messages to Assad that said he should step down.

“We believe that the Syrian people should have more freedom and have the right to experience democracy,’’ said the adviser, Ali al-Moussawi. “We are against the one-party rule and the dictatorship that hasn’t allowed for the freedom of expression.’’

The statements from Moussawi mark a significant change for Iraq. When the United States and several of its major allies called last month for Assad to cede power, the Iraqi government appeared to be more in line with Iran, which has supported Assad. The same day as the US statement, Maliki gave a speech warning Arab leaders that Israel would benefit the most from the Arab Spring.

“There is no doubt that there is a country that is waiting for the Arab countries to be ripped and is waiting for internal corrosion,’’ Maliki said in that speech. “Zionists and Israel are the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process.’’

As violence began to spread across Syria in June, Maliki received a delegation of visiting Syrian businesspeople and government officials, including the foreign minister, to discuss closer economic ties between the two countries. At the time, Maliki called on Syrians to stick to peaceful protests and rely on the government to enact reforms.

Moussawi said yesterday that the Iraqi government was very worried that if Assad’s government collapses, violence will spill over the border and further destabilize Iraq.

He said the Iraqi government was asking Washington what the US plans were in the event of Assad’s departure. top stories on Twitter

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