Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offered his condolences to Bushra al-Assad, the sister of President Bashar al-Assad, regarding the death of her husband Assef Shawkat. Shawkat, the Syrian Deputy Defense Minister, was killed in the blast targeting the National Security Headquarters in Damascus on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Iraq’s fugitive vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, revealed his intention to meet with defected Syrian ambassador Nawaf Fares to get additional information over the smuggling of armed groups into Iraq.
While Iraqi official circles avoided commenting on the developments of the Syrian crisis, the Iraqi President communicated with the Assad family on a personal level, and avoided using Shawkat’s formal title.
In a letter sent to Bushra al-Assad, Talabani wrote: “It is with great sadness that we heard of the death of our brother Assef Shawkat, and we share with you the pain of your loss.”
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to you and your respectful family ...We pray to God Almighty to give you patience and fortitude, and to grant the deceased eternal peace in paradise, and bestow on Syria and its people security and peace.”
In a statement released yesterday, Iraq’s presidency denied that Nasser al-Samarrai, the head of the presidential office, met with defected Syrian Ambassador Nawaf Fares at Erbil International Airport before heading to Qatar, as the local media had reported. The presidency stated: “We categorically deny this news. His Excellency did not meet with the Syrian Ambassador at Erbil International Airport, and these allegations are false.”
In the meantime, the interim office of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said that he intends to meet with Fares in Qatar to discuss whether his confession regarding the Syrian regime’s support of terrorist activity in Iraq is factual.
The statement said that “Hashemi will meet with Fares in the next few days at his residence in Doha.”
The statement clarified that the meeting aims at obtaining additional information on the scandal that will be announced to the public inside and outside the country.
The Iraqi government previously announced their intention to prosecute the former Syrian ambassador for facilitating the entry of jihadist units into Iraq.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Fares said he assisted the [Syrian] regime in sending jihadist units to Iraq in order to carry out attacks in the years that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. According to Fares, this assistance was given upon the instructions of the Syrian authorities when he [Fares] was Governor of Deir al-Zour province, near the Iraqi border.
Ali al-Mousawi, spokesman for Iraq’s Prime Minister, said yesterday that these developments took place as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed a team to supervise the evacuation of Iraqi nationals stranded in Syria.
“Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed a team, headed by Hadi al-Amir, the Minister of Transportation, to supervise the evacuation of Iraqi nationals stranded in Syria,” Mousawi said.
He added that Al-Maliki assigned his private jet to assist in repatriation of Iraqi citizens from Syria.
A government statement issued on Tuesday said that Baghdad calls for its nationals, mainly refugees, to leave Syria and return to Iraq, following a “rise in killings and assaults” targeting Iraqis residing in Syria.
Syria estimates that the number of Iraqi refugees in the country is a quarter of a million people. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that as of the end of October 2010, the total number of registered refugees in Syria was 139,586 people.