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Iraq, striving to break loose from its political and economic isolation, is asking its neighbors to help it fight crippling U.N. trade sanctions.

The government in Baghdad has made calls for normalization of ties with former enemies - Syria and Iran - and has also asked Turkey to boost existing trade relations.The overtures come as its three neighbors prepare a meeting of foreign ministers in Iran due on Friday to discuss Iraq. Officials holding preparatory meetings talked of their "deep concern" over threats to Iraq's territorial integrity.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf surprised analysts and diplomats in Baghdad on Tuesday by praising President Hafez al-Assad of Syria for what he termed his "balanced and positive" remarks on the defection to Jordan of Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel Hassan.

Assad was quoted as saying the defection of President Saddam Hussein's son-in-law to Jordan last month was not as important as media reports had suggested.

Hussein Kamel, the brains behind Iraq's military industries, has called for the overthrow of the Baghdad government.

Sahaf's statement front-paged Baghdad newspapers and was repeated several times by the country's state radio and television.

"That was the first positive reaction from Baghdad towards Assad since 1979," said an Arab diplomat.

Hussein Kamel's defection, and reports of other dissent in Iraq's ruling circles, has already prompted one shift against Iraqi interests as Jordan's King Hussein moved sharply away from his one-time ally and openly called for change in Baghdad.

And the United States has been positively agitating against Iraq in the past few weeks, urging its Arab allies to band together against Saddam and moving troops and ships around the region.

In response, Iraq also has changed tone towards Tehran, the foe it fought for eight bloody years in the 1980s. Baghdad is now asking openly for a tactical or strategic alliance with Tehran against their tormentor, the United States.

As part of its policy to isolate both Iraq and Iran, Washington has banned American companies from doing business with Tehran and is the main advocate of sanctions on Iraq imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.