Jordan, Iraq agree to tighten border controls against militants, smugglers

Jordan and Iraq agreed Saturday to tighten their border controls against militants and smugglers, the Jordanian interior minister said.

Speaking after talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Interior Minister Awni Yirfas said senior civil servants from two countries would begin meeting Sunday to work out details of increased cooperation against insurgents and members of organized crime rings.

Yirfas and Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr signed a memorandum of understanding on the matter during their talks in Amman. But the memorandum was not released to the press.

The threat of militancy was highlighted after the meeting when journalists told Jabr of reports that his brother had been kidnapped in Baghdad.

"I didn't hear about it, and I have no information," Jabr responded.

Minutes later in Iraq, the Interior Ministry confirmed that gunmen had kidnapped Jebbar Jabr Solagh, the minister's brother, as he drove home in Baghdad's mainly Shiite district of Sadr City, where he works as a hospital director.

Jabr said Jordan and Iraq had agreed "to work hand in hand to fight terrorism and lead both of our countries toward security and stability."

Jordan is the homeland of Iraq's most wanted terrorist, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. It is also concerned about militants using Iraq as a base for strikes in neighboring states.

Jordan says the Aug. 19 attack in Aqaba, in which a missile narrowly missed a U.S. warship at anchor in the Red Sea bay, was carried out by militants who smuggled rockets from Iraq and returned to the country afterward.

Jabr said Iraq had "serious information which confirms that terrorism intends to move in different directions." He indicated that Jordan was one such route.

Referring to al-Zarqawi's deputy, who was slain last week, Jabr said: "We seized a letter sent by Abdullah Abu Azzam, who was killed in Iraq, to Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi asking him to move battalions of (holy warriors) to Arab and Islamic countries in order to establish points of support."

In the bilateral meetings beginning Sunday, the two sides are also scheduled the issue of Iraqi residents in Jordan and transport bottlenecks on the Iraqi-Jordan border.

Yirfas has previously said that while Jordan has some 400,000 to 500,000 Iraqis, only 27,000 Iraqis enjoy permanent residence. Unofficial reports put the Iraqi population at 800,000 to one million _ a figure that is particularly high when Jordan's population is officially about 5.3 million.

Jabr's visit is a sign of a further strengthening of relations between Iraq and Jordan following tension between the two neighbors earlier this year, AP reported.

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