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Neighboring nations anger Iraq official
Updated: 2004-12-07 23:29

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's deputy prime minister expressed growing impatience Tuesday with neighboring countries for not doing enough to keep foreign fighters from joining the insurgency here.

Barham Saleh, speaking to the Iraqi National Council, did not specify which countries were to blame, although he said Monday that Iraqi police had arrested a Syrian citizen driving a car bomb packed with artillery shells and other explosives.

"There is evidence indicating that some groups in some neighboring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people and such thing is not acceptable to us," Saleh said, adding that talks with foreign leaders to stop the problem had gotten nowhere.

"In my opinion, we have reached a stage in which if we do not see a real response from those countries, then we are obliged to take a decisive stance," Saleh said, without giving details.

In the past, Iraq has blamed much of its insurgency on foreign fighters and has called on its neighbors particularly Syria and Iran to guard their borders more closely against infiltration. Neighboring countries have expressed concern that instability in Iraq poses a threat to the entire region.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. military said American troops had captured 34 Iraqis, including 10 wanted for making explosive devices to attack coalition forces. South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed three Iraqi National Guardsmen.

Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division detained seven members of a car bomb-making cell Monday evening in As Siniyah, about 150 miles north of Baghdad. Another seven people, including three suspects wanted for making roadside bombs, were captured in raids Monday in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, about 80 miles north of Baghdad.

In the roadside bombing, the Iraqi National Guardsmen were patrolling an area near Jebala, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, on Monday evening when the attack occurred, an Iraqi National Guard official said on condition of anonymity. The national guard and other Iraqi security forces are frequently targeted by insurgents, who accuse them of collaborating with U.S.-led coalition forces.

Iraq has seen a wave of attacks in recent days targeting the country's security forces, who tend to have less training than their American counterparts and are thus far more vulnerable. More than 80 Iraqi security force members have been killed since Friday in a series of high-casualty attacks.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said three U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in fighting in western Anbar province, a region that includes the battleground cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. More than 1,270 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

A dawn attack on a domestic oil pipeline supplying fuel from northern Iraq to Baghdad and clashes that killed three militants in the country's turbulent west underlined the security difficulties ahead of Jan. 30 national elections.

Another U.S. Marine assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died Tuesday in what the military described as a non-hostile motor vehicle accident in Anbar province.

In Washington, President Bush met interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer and said it was impossible to "guarantee 100 percent security" in Iraq. Bush pledged the United States would do everything it could to make Iraq's elections as safe as possible.

Al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim, expressed resolve to defeat the insurgents, saying "victory is not only possible, it is a fact." He said most Iraqis want the elections. His White House visit is seen as a way to persuade Iraq's political minorities, comprising mostly Sunni groups, not to boycott the elections.

Sunni Muslims represent one-fifth of Iraq's nearly 26 million people and wielded the power under Saddam Hussein. They fear the election will give Shiite Muslims, with 60 percent of the population, an overpowering grip on the nation. U.S. and Iraqi officials are concerned that a boycott by Sunnis could undermine the legitimacy of a new government.

In his remarks to the National Council, Saleh touched on the elections briefly, saying that putting them off was the wrong move.

"The postponing of elections will have grave consequences on the credibility of the political process," Saleh said.

Also Tuesday, Australia warned its citizens against travel to Iraq, citing "a significant increase in hostage-taking and the likelihood of an increase in terrorist and anti-government activity" prior to next month's elections.

"We continue to receive reports that terrorists and anti-government forces are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners such as hotels, restaurants and international transport," the statement said.

Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have issued similar warnings. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003, and many have been killed.

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