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Border buffer discussed

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Allawi (The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s former interim prime minister said Monday that he has discussed with Syria’s president the possibility of creating a buffer zone along the border between the two countries to help keep out foreign insurgents.

Ayad Allawi told the Associated Press he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad recently in Damascus.

However, Allawi did not say when the meeting took place, but Allawi stepped down as prime minister in late April.

Allawi added that during his talks with Assad he touched on the possible reactivation of a committee that would bring together officials from Syria, Iraq and the United States to deal with outstanding problems.

The committee was set up last year and held only one meeting in the Syrian capital.

The United States and Iraq accuse Syria of turning a blind eye to the use of its territory by Islamic extremists crossing into Iraq and joining the insurgency.

The Syrian government has denied the allegations, arguing that it is impossible to seal the 360-mile border.

Allawi said the proposed buffer zone would be manned by U.N. observers.

He did not say whether Assad agreed to such a proposal. However, he told APTN that he later briefed two senior U.S. State Department officials in Amman, Jordan, about it.

Their initial response was “positive,” he said.

U.S. officials in Baghdad were not available for comment.

Allawi said he also wrote to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari informing them of the proposal.

“I hope this will be taken forward,” he said. “There will not be 100 percent control over the border, but at least there will be substantial control. So, we are moving one of the problems or causes that’s helping terrorism.”

“While I was talking to the president, I said ‘You know what is happening in Iraq may happen in Syria,’ ” Allawi told APTN, alluding to the possibility that the violence in Iraq may eventually spill over into Syria.

“It will, of course, give Iraq a lot of leverage in fighting terrorism and closing or sealing the border,” he said.

Allawi is a secular Shiite politician who spent three decades in exile abroad before he returned to Iraq after Saddam’s ouster in 2003.

Allawi forged close ties with the American government, including the CIA, in those years.

His party won 40 of parliament’s 275 seats in last January’s historic elections.

On Monday he said he was working to forge alliances with various political groups, especially among Iraq’s Kurds and moderate Muslim groups, to contest the next election, slated for December.

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