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Iraq, Syria relations thaw after 24 years

BAGHDAD, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a restoration of diplomatic ties with Syria Tuesday, ending 24 years of strained relations.

Maliki made the announcement after meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Alsumaria reported.

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The countries severed relations in 1982 under Saddam Hussein's rule while both countries were ruled by competing Baathist party factions, the BBC said.

Maliki said one of the foremost concerns he expressed to Moallem was seeking assurances Syria would clamp down on Sunni Muslim insurgents entering Iraq from Syria.

"We refuse to let any regional neighbor countries become a passage or a headquarters for the terrorist organizations that hurt Iraq," Maliki said.

The United States has encouraged both Syria and Iran to help their neighbor overcome the fractious fighting between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunnis. The Bush administration has also expressed concern Iran has been allowing Shiite militias to cross into Iraq, The Washington Post said.

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