BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq reopened its border with Syria on Tuesday to receive refugees escaping violence, but refused entry to young men for security reasons, Iraqi officials said.
“They (the central government) fear that some of those young men could be members of al Qaeda or the Free Syrian Army,” a local government official in Iraq’s Anbar province said.
Al Qaim was closed at the end of August when Syrian forces backed by jets fought rebels for control of an airfield and military base near the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, within meters of the crossing and on a major supply route from Iraq.
“The prime minister gave orders to receive 100 refugees daily and the priority is for women, children, elderly, wounded and sick people, but excluded young men,” al Qaim’s mayor Farhan Ftaikhan told Reuters by phone.
Ftaikhan said Iraqi authorities had set up refugee camp facilities with a capacity for five hundred families.
Al Qaim is already suffering spillover from the fighting in Syria and Syrian jets fly over Iraqi airspace almost daily to make bombing runs on rebel positions just inside Iraq.
Iraq’s government is struggling to overcome its own insurgency and legacy of sectarian violence. Baghdad says it has evidence Sunni Islamist fighters are crossing the porous border to fight against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
“This is an unjust decision towards Syrian families. Some Syrian families reject leaving their young sons behind,” the Anbar province official said, declining to be named.
Most people in Albu Kamal have family in al Qaim and Anbar’s government has opposed the border closure from the start.
Syria’s 18-month-old revolt is focused for now on the capital Damascus and the port city of Aleppo, but fighting is also fierce in strategically important Albu Kamal.
Editing by Louise Ireland