UN chief in Iraq for talks on Syria war

AFP , Monday 13 Jan 2014

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad Monday for talks with senior Iraqi officials on the war in neighbouring Syria, as Iraq grapples with its own deadly crisis.

Ban, whose arrival was confirmed by Iraqi state television and the UN's official Twitter feed, was due to meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

The talks were to concentrate on the situation in the Middle East and in particular the bloodshed in Syria, Maliki's office said in a statement.

Ban was also due to give a news conference later on Monday.

His visit comes ahead of peace conference next week on the Syrian crisis in Switzerland dubbed "Geneva 2" which is aimed at engaging regime and opposition members in their first direct talks.

Talks held in Geneva in July 2012, involving world powers but no Syrian regime or rebel officials, concluded with an agreement that Assad and his opponents should decide on a transitional government whose representatives suited all sides.

Ban's visit also comes as Iraq is embroiled in a bloody standoff between government forces and militants and anti-government tribes in Anbar province, the mostly-Sunni desert province in west Iraq which shares a long border with Syria.

US and Iraqi officials have warned for months that insecurity in Syria was spilling over into Anbar, and that Sunni militants were setting up training camps and rear bases in Anbar.

Earlier this month, gunmen took control of parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah, another city in Anbar which lies just 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Baghdad.

It is the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

Fighting erupted in the Ramadi area on December 30, when security forces cleared a year-old Sunni Arab protest camp.

The violence spread to Fallujah, and militants moved in and seized the city and parts of Ramadi after security forces withdrew.

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