Iraq's prime minister said Thursday he has nearly lost hope of resolving a dispute with neighboring Syria over claims it is harboring Saddam Hussein loyalists responsible for bombings that killed about 100 people in Iraq.
Baghdad has long pushed Damascus to extradite members of Saddam's outlawed Baath Party, and recently accused two Baathists living in Syria of financing and planning August 19 attacks on the foreign and finance ministries in the Iraqi capital.
The attacks seriously damaged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to assure Iraqis that the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces are able to maintain stability in the country after a U.S. troop pullout.
"Right from the start, we expected that Syrian side would not respond positively to the evidence and demands from Iraq, and now we are almost hopeless on this issue," al-Maliki said in remarks posted on a government Web site.
Syria has refused to hand the suspects over, saying that Iraq's government has failed to provide convincing evidence of their involvement in the devastating bombings.
As the dispute escalated, both countries withdrew their ambassadors in a serious setback to efforts at repairing relationships that had been strained for decades under Saddam's rule. Turkey and other leaders in the region have tried to mediate in the dispute.
Al-Maliki's government has asked the United Nations Security Council to lead an investigation into the August bombings and establish an international tribunal to try the suspects.
"Arab efforts aimed at reconciliation with Syria did not materialize," al-Maliki said. "However, we welcome any effort to put an end to foreign interference (in Iraq)."
The Iraqi prime minister also said he was against suggestions to shift the issue from the United Nations to the Arab League.
"We are going to the international community and will follow any means to halt the murder of Iraqis," he said.
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