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Iraq And Its Neighbors Pledge To Boost Security

AMMAN (Reuters) -- Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran, are doing a better job of stopping the flow of people and money linked to insurgent violence across their porous borders, Iraq's interior minister said on October 23.

In contrast to the past, when Baghdad and Washington accused some regional governments of allowing militants and suspicious funds into Iraq, Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani praised what he called the start of a "concerted regional effort to address terrorist threats."

"Cooperation and coordination is now better," he said in a speech at a meeting of interior ministers from Iraq and its neighbours.

But Bolani told his counterparts they had to live up to old promises to beef up intelligence and enforce tighter border controls, despite improved domestic security more than five years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled former leader Saddam Hussein.

Syria, which had been accused of fomenting violence in Iraq, said it was supporting efforts to stabilise the country where violence has dropped to four-year lows after an increase in U.S. troop levels, known as the surge.

"Our ties have witnessed a qualitative improvement and Syria will continue to help Iraq to eliminate terrorism and refuses to be a launching pad for threats against Iraq," Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Majeed said.

Reflecting a new rapprochement between Shi'ite-led Iraq and its Sunni Muslim neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan praised Baghdad for helping stabilise the country.

"The reduction in terrorism in Iraq is due to the sacrifices of Iraqi security forces and they deserve every thanks," Sheikh Jaber Khaled al-Sabah, Kuwait's interior minister, said.

Iran said the expanding role of Iraqi forces and not the surge was behind the improved security, and reiterated a call for the unconditional withdrawal of America's 155,000 troops.

"The occupier is the main cause of insecurity in Iraq as everyone attests to improved security in the areas controlled by Iraqi forces," said Iranian Interior Minister Ali Kordan.

Iran, wary of its longtime foe securing a regional foothold, expressed concern about a proposed Iraqi-U.S. pact to extend the stay of American troops.

"The Islamic Republic opposes any document that does not conform to the will of the Iraqi people and its leadership and threatens the national interests of Iraq," said Kordan.

Iraq on October 21 demanded changes to the pact, despite having agreed to a final draft after months of painstaking negotiations with Washington. Washington has accused Tehran of pressing Iraqi parliamentarians to block it.