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Iraq seeks wanted Saddam's aides in Syria

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iraq will ask Syria to hand over senior Saddam Hussein aides suspected of stealing millions of dollars and helping the anti-U.S. insurgency, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Thursday.

Talabani told Reuters an official request will be made after security officials accompanying him on a visit to Syria -- the first by an Iraqi president in decades -- finish meetings with their Syrian counterparts and return to Baghdad.

“The Iraqi officials concerned will ask Syria to hand over all those wanted by the Iraqi judiciary, including those suspected of committing non-political crimes, such as theft and corruption,” said Talabani, who arrived in Syria on Sunday.

“I didn’t personally ask for any suspects to be handed over but there is an extradition agreement between Iraq and Syria,” said Talabani, who lived in exile in Syria in the 1970s.

Damascus has not said whether it was willing to hand over those wanted by Iraq among scores of former government officials and officers who fled to Syria after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that removed late President Saddam Hussein from power.

The issue, however, has been a focus of talks between Syrian and Iraqi security officials.

Talabani’s 60-member delegation includes Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani and Hadi al-Amery, head of the Shi’ite Badr Brigades militia and chief of parliament’s security committee. Amery is a key figure in Iraq’s anti-Insurgency efforts.

The Iraqi president did not name people wanted by Iraq for links with the insurgency and the former Saddam era government, but Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam’s deputy in the Revolutionary Command Council, which functioned as both executive and legislature, figures high on the list.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gestures during an interview with Reuters in Damascus January 18, 2007. Iraq will ask Syria to hand over senior Saddam Hussein aides suspected of stealing millions of dollars and helping the anti-U.S. insurgency, Talabani said on Thursday. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

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Douri is suspected of directing rebels inside Iraq.

A number of Iraqi officials have said that Douri was in Syria, but Talabani said he was in Yemen.

“It had been said that Izzat al-Douri was in Syria but he is in Yemen. The government has not yet discussed requesting from Yemen to hand him over. We have had this information for a while. We have been tracing his movements,” said Talabani, who is a Kurd.

Syria, which fiercely opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is believed to have handed over former Saddam lieutenants, including Sabawi, Saddam’s half brother, to American forces, two year ago.

Relations between Damascus and Washington have since plummeted, with the United States accusing Syria of allowing rebels to cross its desert border into Iraq to fight U.S. forces there. Damascus denies supporting insurgents and says Iraq should do more to patrol its side of the border.

Talabani said Iraq expects Syria to take more effective measures to stop the alleged infiltration as part of a drive for cooperation between the two countries covering security, economy, trade and the oil sector.

“We expect that Syria will take all measures to stop terrorists from crossing and put a stop to their activity inside its territory. There is already an agreement to share intelligence, which will help improve the security situation in Iraq,” Talabani said.

Talabani said Syria was aware that playing a role in stabilizing Iraq could help it break Western isolation and improve ties with the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

“An improvement in Iraqi-Syrian ties will really help stabilize Iraq. Syrian fingerprints on an improved security situation in Iraq will facilitate talks between Damascus and Washington,” Talabani said.

Syria and Iraq restored diplomatic relations only last month after a breach in the 1980s when Syria, alone in the Arab world, sided with Tehran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

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