Syria requests schedule for troop withdrawal

BAGHDAD – Syria’s foreign minister called yesterday for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces to help end Iraq’s sectarian bloodbath, in a groundbreaking diplomatic mission to Iraq that comes amid increasing calls for the U.S. to seek cooperation from Syria and Iran. At least 111 people were killed nationwide, following a week that had already seen hundreds of deaths.

Walid Moallem, the highest level Syrian official to visit since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, denounced terrorism in Iraq even as Washington mulled its own overture to Damascus for help in ending Iraq’s violence.

Syria and Iraq share a long and porous desert border and both Baghdad and Washington have accused Damascus of not doing enough to stop the flow of foreign Arab fighters.

Moallem spoke at the end of a day that saw suspected Sunni Muslim bombers kill at least 33 Shiites and the kidnapping of a deputy health minister – believed the senior-most government official abducted in Iraq.

Many Sunni attackers are believed to have infiltrated from Syria.

A suicide bomber in the predominantly Shiite city of Hillah south of Baghdad lured men to his KIA minivan with promises of a day’s work as laborers, then blew it up.