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Iraq Says Border Raid Targeted Insurgents In Syria

Secenes from Syrian TV show a building from the site of the attack
DAMASCUS (Reuters) -- A deadly raid on the Syrian side of Iraq's border, blamed by Syria on the United States, targeted an area used by insurgents for attacks on Iraq, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh has said.

Syria accused the United States of committing a "terrible crime".

"This is an outrageous raid which is against international law. It is a terrible crime. I don't know the political meaning of it. We are expecting clarifications from the Americans," Syrian Ambassador to London Sami al-Khiyami told Reuters.

Syria has said four U.S. helicopters attacked the Al-Sukkari farm in the Albu Kamal area in eastern Syria on October 26, killing eight civilians, and that U.S. soldiers stormed a building there.

Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the attacks, and al-Dabbagh would not say who had carried it out.

"The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq," al-Dabbagh told Reuters in Baghdad.

"The latest of these groups...killed 13 police recruits in an [Iraqi] border village. Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group, which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities."

A U.S. general said last week that U.S. and Iraqi security measures had reduced the flow of insurgents from Syria.

"The Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that Al-Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side," Marine Major General John Kelly, whose area of responsibility includes western Iraq, told reporters.

"And periodically we know that they try to come across," he said, citing a May 2 raid that killed 11 Iraqi Army recruits.

Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abd al-Majid said Damascus "refuses to be a launching pad for threats against Iraq."

'Terrible Crime'

Al-Khiyami said Syrian authorities were still awaiting word on the raid from the Americans before deciding how to respond and whether to complain to the UN Security Council.

"We are expecting clarifications. Depending what they give as reasons we will see what to do next.... They killed civilians. They have to admit their mistake and they have to compensate [the people] for it," al-Khiyami said.

U.S. forces in western Iraq denied involvement in the incident.

Reuters Television footage showed a fenced farm and a truck riddled with bullet holes. Blood stained the ground. Syrian state television showed columns of a building under construction and a nearby tent with food and blankets. Spent bullets lay around.

"Four helicopters came from different directions and hovered. Two of them landed and soldiers got out and started shooting," Osama Malla Hamid, who owns a farm nearby, told Reuters.

"They stayed for about four minutes and then departed," said Hamid, whose farm is about 300 meters from where the raid occurred.

A wounded woman, who was the wife of the building guard, confirmed Hamid's account to Syrian television and said she had come under machine-gun fire.

Syria's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Damascus on October 26 to protest the raid.

Syria has also urged the Iraqi government to carry out an immediate inquiry into the attack and to ensure that Iraq was not used for "aggression against Syria", the state news agency SANA said.

The Arab League has condemned the raid and called for an investigation.

"This violation does not help stability in the region and opens the door to new tension and destroys trust in the movement toward peace and stability in Iraq and its neighbors," it said in a statement.

Russia, meanwhile, has accused the United States of fuelling dangerous tension in the Middle East.

"Moscow has responded with great concern to what happened," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We believe attacks that are worthy of condemnation should not be launched on the territory of sovereign states under the slogan of the fight against terrorism."

"It is obvious that such unilateral military actions have a sharply negative effect on the situation in the region, and widen the seat of dangerous armed tension."