DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria is facing a violent campaign by Islamist militants and six border soldiers died in attacks launched from inside Iraq, a senior Syrian security official said on Thursday.
This is the first time Syria has publicly disclosed details of the fight against militants, which has intensified this year.
“We are conducting operations against terrorist cells and we have taken martyrs,” Mohammad Mansoura, head of the Political Security branch of Syria’s intelligence apparatus, told a closed door session of an international security conference on Iraq.
“Raids have yielded arsenals of weapons including suicide explosive belts. Our border forces have come under 100 attacks from inside Iraq. Six soldiers died and 17 were injured,” he said in a speech obtained by Reuters in a translated copy.
Mansoura said security forces had foiled several attacks in addition to the few already known of, such as the failed attempt to blow up the U.S. embassy in Damascus last year.
Mansoura dismissed U.S. accusations that Syria is letting militants cross into Iraq to fight U.S. forces and repeated the official line that Islamist militants were as much a threat to Syria as to Iraq.
Syria is ruled by the secular Baath Party, which crushed a revolt led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s.
Western diplomats have questioned whether Syria has softened its stance against militants as a way of countering U.S. pressure and showing that its secular system is the only guarantor of stability.
Mansoura said Syria was resolutely against the spread of militant Islamist influence in the region.
“We view the attacks that have spared nothing in Iraq as an attempt to destroy the Iraqi people and a threat that could expand to the region,” he said.
Officials from Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Britain and the United States ended closed talks aimed at coming up with security cooperation measures to help stop the violence in Iraq and attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
The conference concluded with a call to set up intelligence hotlines with Baghdad and take practical measures to stabilize Iraq, delegates said.
A copy of the classified recommendations seen by Reuters called on border experts from Iraq’s neighbors to meet in a month to prevent the flow of fighters and weapons into Iraq.
The document said no support should be extended for “terrorist groups” waging a violent campaign against the U.S.- backed government in Baghdad and incitement against it must be banned.
The states agreed to meet again on the sidelines of a foreign ministers’ meeting in Istanbul in the next few months.
“The recommendations should be approved in Istanbul. They were an achievement, considering the modest expectations that were pinned on the meeting,” one delegate told Reuters.
“A regular mechanism for intelligence sharing is crucial,” he said. “The conference also emphasized the need to cut political support for the rebels.”