Atul Aneja

Damascus to play bigger role in strife-torn nation

DUBAI: After a gap of 26 years, Syria has established full diplomatic relations with Iraq, as part of an effort by Damascus and Tehran to play a bigger role in the strife-torn nation.

"We have signed a little while ago an agreement to restore complete

diplomatic relations with Syria," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a joint news conference with his visiting Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem on Tuesday.

He said both sides would also step up security cooperation and deepen commercial ties.

"There was an agreement to have meetings between security officials from both countries and we also discussed developing commercial relations."

The U.S. has accused Syria of not doing enough to check

cross-border infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq. Mr. Muallem had earlier said his country was ready to cooperate, but stressed that Washington should declare a timetable for the withdrawal ofits troops from Iraq.

Apart from Syria, Iran is also signalling its intent to raise its profile, in the backdrop of the growing violence in Iraq. At the press conference, Mr. Muallem hoped that the U.S. would stop criticising Syria over the Iraq situation, now that the relationship between Damascus and Baghdad had been normalised. Diplomatic ties between Syria and Iraq had broken down during the Iran-Iraq war, where Damascus had supported Tehran.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa hailed the restoration of ties

between Iraq and Syria who are members of the 22-meber Arab bloc.

He pointed out that at the Arab summit in Khartoum, it had been suggested that member-countries should establish ties with Baghdad, irrespective of their stance on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.