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U.S., Iraq warn of rising al-Qaida threat

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John Kerry, Hoshyar Zebari

Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari at the State Department in Washington on Thursday. Their discussion included halting the transit of weapons through Iraq.

3,000 have died in past few months

WASHINGTON – Top U.S. and Iraqi diplomats warned Thursday of a rising threat in Iraq from al-Qaida, which is carrying out suicide and car bombings with greater frequency nearly two years after U.S. troops withdrew from the country.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also discussed how to stop Iraqi airspace being used to ferry weapons and illicit cargo from Iran to the embattled Syrian government, and how to stem the flow of weapons and extremist fighters into Iraq from neighboring Syria. “It’s a two-way street. It’s a dangerous street,” Kerry said.

The two met on the same day a wave of car bombs hit the Iraqi capital, killing 33 and wounding dozens. More than 3,000 people have been killed over the past few months, including 69 in a series of car bombings targeting those celebrating the end of Ramadan.

“Iraq sits at the intersection of regional currents of increasingly turbulent, violent and unpredictable actions,” Kerry said. “Sunni and Shia extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide … have an ability to … threaten Iraq’s stability if they’re not checked.

“And al-Qaida, as we have seen, has launched a horrific series of assaults on innocent Iraqis, even taking credit for the deplorable bombings this past weekend that targeted families that were celebrating the Eid holiday. And this al-Qaida network, we know, stretches well beyond Iraq’s borders.”

In 2011 and 2012 there was an average of five to 10 suicide bombings a month, according to a senior administration official familiar with Kerry’s talks with his Iraqi counterpart. They have averaged about 30 in each of the past three months and the attackers are mostly suspected to be from Syria, indicating a fairly sophisticated al-Qaida network, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.

The official said the U.S. wants to share intelligence, and help the Iraqis map the network and disrupt its financing. Also, the U.S. is encouraging Iraq to make precision attacks to avoid aggravating the fragile security situation in the country by rounding up too many people or targeting the wrong person.

The overflights in Iraq, which is sandwiched between Iran and Syria, long have been a source of contention between the U.S. and Iraq.

Iraq and Iran claim the flights are carrying humanitarian goods, but American officials say the planes are being used to arm and support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s fight against U.S.-backed opposition forces.

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