First Published: 2005-11-01

Talabani: Iraq cannot stop US using bases against Syria

Iraqi president says he is opposed to military action against Syria, Israel welcomes UN resolution.


Middle East Online

Syria feels more isolated

DUBAI - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he opposed military action against neighbouring Syria but lacked the power to prevent US troops from using his country as a launchpad if it chose to do so.

"I categorically refuse the use of Iraqi soil to launch a military strike against Syria or any other Arab country," Talabani told the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Tuesday.

"But at the end of the day my ability to confront the US military is limited and I cannot impose on them my will."

Talabani spoke before the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday demanding full Syrian cooperation with a UN inquiry into the assassination in Beirut in February of five-time Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had stern words for Syria in her speech to the council accusing it of supporting terrorism, interfering in the affairs of neighbouring countries and having a "destabilising behaviour in the Middle East."

The Iraqi government and its US backers have long accused Syria of not doing enough to prevent the flow of men and materiel across its borders to insurgents fighting US-backed troops in Iraq.

On Monday, US warplanes struck what commanders described as a house sheltering an "Al-Qaeda cell leader" near the border town of Al-Qaim, in the latest in a string of operations against suspected foreign fighters in the region.

But medics in the town and Arabic media reports spoke of 35-plus civilian deaths in the air strike.

Meanwhile, Israel welcomed the UN Security Council resolution.

"Israel supports the international community's efforts to investigate and uncover the truth about the Rafiq Hariri attack," foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

"We are happy to see that the rules of the game and the kind of action we were accustomed to for many years in Lebanon is no longer acceptable and subject to condemnation from the international community," he added.

A UN inquiry obtained witness testimony linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher, chief of the presidential guard, and brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, head of military intelligence, to the murder.

Israel also urged full implementation of UN resolution 1559, adopted in September 2004, in order to end all Syrian domination of Lebanon.

Regev said Israel supported a UN report last week that focusing on 1559, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, and the disbanding of Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah and 12 Palestinian groups in the country.

"We found this report completely satisfactory and we call for the complete implementation, as quickly as possible, of resolution 1559," he said.

The report, drawn up by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, made clear that the Shebaa Farms were not part of Lebanon and that Israel's presence in the area was nothing more than an excuse for anti-Israeli raids, the spokesman said.

The small mountainous Shebaa Farms territory lies at the convergence of the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli borders. Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, and it is now claimed by Lebanon with Damascus's consent.

Israeli troops have retained control of the area since their withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000.


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