BAGHDAD — Despite Turkish efforts to cool the war of words between Iraq and Syria, tensions between the two countries have escalated. Some international security analysts are now voicing concern that the situation could turn violent.
On Sept. 5, Iraq deployed thousands of security forces and police to the Iraqi-Syrian border to stop insurgents from crossing from Syria into Iraq.
Police commander in the governorate of Al-Anbar Maj Gen Tariq Yousef said police forces had been deployed to plug the holes in the porous border.
Iraq has long accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross unimpeded into Iraq to join Al-Qaeda insurgents. In recent months, Syria has taken some steps to stop such cross-border traffic, and Syrian-Iraqi relations seemed to be improving after decades of diplomatic hostility.
That changed drastically on Aug. 19 when a series of explosions rocked Baghdad. Iraq accused Syria of sheltering two insurgents wanted for their role in bombings that took more than 100 lives and wounded still more, making it the bloodiest day in Iraq this year. Syria countered with a demand that Iraq present evidence to support its accusations; it denies any role in the destructive events and continues to reject the demand that the accused be handed over to Iraq.
On Sept. 5, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who is facing a tough election campaign this autumn, sent additional forces to the Syrian border amidst reports that the insurgents involved in the Aug. 19 bombings are members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, now based in Syria.
Syria’s response to the increased Iraqi police and military presence on its border, which it may interpret as aggressive behaviour, has not been revealed. Leaders in Damascus still claim Iraq has provided insufficient evidence to support the charge that the two wanted men in Syria were indeed behind the Aug. 19 bombings.