Iraq closes border with Syria


The Iraqi army sealed the main border crossing to Syria with concrete blast walls today, a day after officials said Syrian rebels took control of a border post on the other side.

A Reuters photographer overlooking the desert frontier from the Iraqi side said civilians had burned the main border post building at Abu Kamal in Syria and stripped it of electronic equipment and cables.

The Abu Kamal-Qaim border checkpoint, some 300km west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River highway, is one of the major trade routes across the Middle East.

A group of about 15 Syrians, including youths and women, moved in and around the blackened building.

A large picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hanging on the building was scorched while one of his father Hafez was untouched.

There was no sign of Syrian border guards, Syrian Free Army fighters or any civilians trying to cross into Iraq. There was no fighting and a nearby Syrian mosque could be heard holding Friday prayers.

Around 40 Iraqi soldiers and a provincial commander arrived at the border crossing early today to reinforce security.

A senior Iraqi interior ministry official, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Al-Khafaji, said Iraq had reinforced key points along its 680km desert border with Syria with troops, increased patrols and was preparing to receive people coming into Iraq.

On Tuesday Iraq called on tens of thousands of its citizens living in Syria to return home as violence in Damascus escalated.

The Iraqi Red Crescent said 2,285 Iraqis who had fled Syria had registered for repatriation in the past two days after passing through the northern al-Waleed border crossing, according to Iraqi media.

The security situation in Iraq is still perilous despite an easing in sectarian violence which killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis left the country for Syria during the post-war violence, but many have returned since the start of the Syrian uprising.

Iraqi officials say the al-Waleed gate, close to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, is still open and the Syrian side is controlled by Syrian government border officials.

Syrian rebels seized control of sections of Syria's international borders yesterday after the assassination of some of Dr Assad's closest lieutenants in Damascus.

The rebels said yesterday they had seized control of at least two border crossings into Turkey at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus, in what appeared to have been a coordinated campaign to seize Syria's frontiers.