- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

Syria’s ambassador to the United States said Monday that any future U.S.-Syria agreement on Iraq must prohibit American forces from conducting raids inside Syrian territory.

“We will not allow the so-called hot pursuit into Syria,” Imad Moustapha told reporters and editors of The Washington Times.

In October, U.S. special forces raided the Syrian village of Sukkariyeh, just over the Iraqi border, in an effort to apprehend a senior al Qaeda financier named Abu-Ghadiya. The Syrian government said that the raid killed defenseless villagers including 11 women and children.

“They killed them Rambo-style from their helicopters,” Mr. Moustapha said.

He said there have been other U.S. incursions from Iraq. “Time and again, the Americans did infiltrate into Syria,” Mr. Moustapha said.

He added, however, that the desert border between Iraq and Syria was difficult to demarcate and that in some cases, U.S. forces may have strayed across the frontier inadvertently.

“I give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “They just did not know.”

Geoffrey Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, declined comment on Mr. Moustapha’s allegations.

John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, said, “The United States will, of course, pursue its enemies and boundaries are often not well demarcated.”

Mr. Nagl, a former Army officer, helped draft the counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus, now head of U.S. Central Command.

U.S.-Syria relations have chilled since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 but the Syrian ambassador said ties were improving under the Obama administration. He pledged cooperation with the U.S. regarding Iraq and counter-terrorism, saying it was in Syria’s own interests.

President George W. Bush and U.S. military commanders repeatedly accused Syria of helping facilitate the travel of suicide bombers into Iraq.

At the height of the insurgency in 2006, U.S. officials said as many as 100 foreign fighters per month entered Iraq from Syria with the Syrian government’s cooperation.

Mr. Moustapha denied such cooperation and said that Syrian officials have arrested 1,200 Islamic militants and have a list of 4,000 foreign fighters denied entry into Syria.

In 2004, Mr. Moustapha said he met with two senior Pentagon officials and offered Syria’s security cooperation regarding Iraq but an agreement did not materialize.

The ambassador said he is confident that with the change in administrations, an agreement is close regarding Iraq. Syria is ready to make such a pact “operational,” he said.

“We will cooperate with the United States,” he said. “It is in our interest.”

Mr. Moustapha said that the Iraq track was the furthest along in talks between his government and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman and a senior director at the National Security Council, Dan Shapiro.

In the past two years, the American military has managed to reduce the number of civilian and soldier casualties in Iraq without any formal security agreement with Syria.

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