UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The conflict in Syria is helping fuel terrorism and sectarian tensions in neighboring Iraq, enabling groups like al-Qaida to forge links with similar factions across the border, the U.N. envoy to Iraq said Monday.
Nickolay Mladenov told the U.N. Security Council that resolving the Syrian crisis and adopting a regional strategy against all forms of religious or sectarian extremism "are vital to bringing stability to Iraq."
"Today, more than ever, Iraq's challenges cannot be considered in isolation from the broader risks that face the region," he said, noting that more than 202,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Iraq, 98 percent of them in Kurdistan.
Mladenov said deteriorating security in Iraq, compounded by political deadlock, is being exploited by terrorists and armed groups trying to incite sectarian hatred and undermine the government.
The former Bulgarian former minister, who was appointed to the job in August by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said all political, civic and religious leaders that he met in Baghdad, Najaf, Erbil, Anbar and Kirkuk expressed deep concern over the escalating violence, and a growing anxiety that Syria and other outside influences "are fueling the terrorist threat to Iraq."
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim warned that the presence of nearly 35,000 armed foreigners in Syria, "battling alongside the parties to the conflict" is transforming it into a sectarian conflict that is spreading across the region.
"This has had a significant impact on increasing the frequency of terrorist acts in Iraq," he said, because jihadists and extremist groups linked to al-Qaida infiltrate across the border.
Alhakim urged the Security Council to consider these terrorist acts which have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis "crimes against humanity" and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Between July and October, the U.N. estimated that just under 9,000 civilians and members of the Iraqi security forces were killed, with thousands more injured.
The council responded by condemning the recent spate of terrorist attacks "in the strongest terms," and stressing that "no terrorist act can reverse a path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, which is supported by the people and the government ... and the international community."