September 8, 2009 / 3:24 PM / 10 years ago

Divisions emerge in Iraq's stand against Syria

* Maliki faces dissent on strong Syria stance

* Iraqi president calls for wider consultation

By Sherko Raouf

DUKAN, Iraq, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Rifts emerged in Baghdad’s stand against Syria on Tuesday as the Iraqi president criticised Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for holding Syria responsible for sheltering militants blamed for bomb attacks last month. Iraq’s Presidency Council, which includes President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents, issued a statement after an overnight meeting, calling for dialogue and speaking of the need "to ease tension with Syria."

Talabani, a Kurd, told Reuters after meeting with the council that the escalation of tensions was ‘unacceptable.’

"This is not in the interest of Syria, Iraq or (other) Arab nations. Such a stand from the Iraqi government, without consultation with the presidency council, is illegal," he said.

A diplomatic feud has cropped up between the neighbouring nations since Aug. 19, when militants blew up truck bombs at two ministries in downtown Baghdad, killing almost 100 people.

Iraqi officials have blamed the attacks on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda militants and members of Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath party, believed to be in Syria.

Maliki demanded Damascus, which Iraq has often blamed in recent years for failing to stop jihadists from entering Iraq, hand over suspected militants and asked the United Nations, without naming Syria, to open an inquiry into the attacks.

Both countries, which only recently have begun to deepen fragile ties, have recalled their respective ambassadors. Iraq has also put thousands of extra police on the Syrian border.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Iraq’s accusations ‘immoral’ and demanded Baghdad provide proof to back them up.

At home, Maliki’s stance appears to have rankled other Iraqi officials, too.

"The council decided to send a letter to the prime minister and Arab League to explain the situation and the position of the presidency council, which insists it must be consulted and give its approval on major political issues," the statement said.

Rivalries in the Iraqi government are becoming more clear as the country gears up for national elections expected in January.

In a separate statement, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, called for an internal fact-finding committee to collect more evidence about the Aug. 19 attacks. (Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad; writing by Missy Ryan and editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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