Syria and Iran Blame U.S. in Deadly Blast on Iraq Border

An explosion on Sunday killed nine construction workers and wounded 19 others near the border of Iraq and Syria, the police in Anbar Province said.

Local witnesses said they believed the blast was caused by American shelling, but Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, which borders Syria, said that could not be confirmed.

The police statement did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place.

Syria’s state-run news channel later reported that United States helicopters had attacked an area within Syria, near the town of Abu Kamal. The official news agency, SANA, cited an anonymous official as saying four American helicopters had “launched aggression on a civilian building under construction,” killing eight people, and that the Syrian deputy foreign minister had summoned the chargé d’affaires from the American and Iraqi Embassies in protest.

In Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the attack on Monday, saying a violation of the territorial integrity of any sovereign state was unacceptable, The Associated Press reported. Syria’s state-run media intensified its criticism of the United States on Monday, with the government newspaper Tishrin accusing American forces of committing “a war crime,” Agence-France Press said.

A senior American military official, however, said United States military helicopters were not involved in the incident.

The United States is trying to negotiate a strategic agreement with Iraq that would allow American troops to remain in the country and carry out military operations. The pact faces strenuous opposition from neighboring countries, especially Syria and Iran, because of fears that the United States might use Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on them.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has withdrawn its ambassador to Syria.

Also late Sunday, an Iraqi lawmaker announced that the country’s oil and gas law had been sent on to Parliament. The law had been stalled in Iraq’s cabinet since February 2007 because of disputes over control of Iraq’s oil fields, and has gone through several revisions.

Abdul-Hadi al-Hasani, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on oil, gas and natural resources, said the latest draft of the law had been received by his committee on Thursday and was undergoing careful review before being presented to the full legislature.

“The draft still needs more discussion and the opinion of experts in this field before it really goes to the Parliament,” Mr. Hasani said in a telephone interview. “We wish to activate the law very soon, and we’re serious about it. We talked today with the parliamentary leadership and went through some points concerning the draft of the law.”

Also Sunday, the chief of the Wasit provincial council announced that he had refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with United States forces that was intended to formalize Wasit’s transfer to the control of Iraq’s own security forces. Wasit, a province that borders Iran, was due this week to become the 13th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to full Iraqi control.

The council chief, Muhammad Hassan Jasem, said he had rejected the memorandum because its first article gave the United States permission to continue military operations in Wasit.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, Mudhafer al-Husaini from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Ramadi and Wasit Province. Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/world/middleeast/28syria.html?hp