Iraq denounces U.S. raid on Syria

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s government denounced on Tuesday a U.S. air strike on a Syrian border village in an unexpected rebuke of Washington.

“The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria. The constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries,” spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

Dabbagh said Iraq had opened an investigation into the incident and urged U.S. forces not to repeat it. But he also called for a halt to what he described as insurgent activity inside Syria.

Dabbagh’s comments came a day after Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem angrily denounced Iraq’s initial description of the raid as targeting insurgents across the border. He said the attack killed eight civilians.

The criticism of the United States was announced after a cabinet meeting to discuss a security pact to allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq.

The pact has so far been blocked mainly by Shi’ite political parties, and one of their main complaints has been that the accord might allow U.S. troops to use Iraq as a base to attack neighboring countries.

Syria said U.S. helicopters struck a border village on Sunday night. Iraq had said the raid targeted staging grounds used by militants, and a U.S. military official said the raid was believed to have killed a major smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq.

Iraq “reiterates its demand to halt all activities of organizations that are using Syria as a staging ground to arm and train terrorists that are targeting Iraq,” Dabbagh said.

The cabinet agreed on Tuesday to amendments which it will now propose to Washington. Dabbagh said those amendments cover the content as well as the wording of the accord, although he gave no further details.

Washington has indicated it is reluctant to make substantial changes to the pact which already included a number of important concessions to Baghdad, such as a 2011 withdrawal date and a mechanism for Iraqi courts to try U.S. troops for crimes.

Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite political parties have historical ties to Iran, which has long claimed that the pact would allow Washington to use Iraq as a base for attacks on its neighbors.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Samia Nakhoul