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March 28, 2003
 
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U.S. Warns Syria, Iran Over Activities in Iraq War

Reuters


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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday shipments of military equipment have been crossing into Iraq from neighboring Syria and the United States would hold Syria accountable for these "hostile acts."

Rumsfeld also issued a sharp warning to another neighboring country, Iran, alleging the presence inside Iraq of "hundreds" of armed Iraqi Shiite Muslim forces opposed to the government of President Saddam Hussein who are trained and financed by the Iranians.

During a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said U.S. forces would consider these members of the Badr Brigade as "combatants," although he said they have "not yet" been hostile toward the U.S.-led invasion force.

The Badr Brigade is the armed wing of the Tehren-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), made up of Iraqi exiles who share the Shiite brand of Islam with Iran. It is headed by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim.

"The entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of (U.S. commander) Gen. (Tommy) Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces," Rumsfeld added.

The statements indicate concern within the Pentagon about the actions of Iraq's neighbors during the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam and rid the country of alleged weapons of mass destruction..

"It seems to me that Gen. Franks and the coalition countries are busy. They've got a complicated task. We would prefer it not be made more difficult by any of the neighbors," Rumsfeld said, adding that "we don't want neighboring countries or anyone else for that matter to be in there assisting the Iraqi forces."

Rumsfeld said the United States had received information that shipments of "military supplies and material and equipment" have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq. He said this has included night-vision goggles. Syria rejected the charge.

Rumsfeld did not provide further information about the shipments, including when they were made, who transported the shipments across the border, to whom the shipments were being made, and where the border was crossed.

"These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts, and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," Rumsfeld said.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthaine Shaban called Rumsfeld's accusation about shipments into Iraq "an absolutely unfounded, irresponsible statement." Shaban, speaking from Damascus to British television's Channel 4, called the invasion "a terrible war, an unnecessary war."

Asked whether the United States was threatening military action against Syria, Rumsfeld did not answer directly, saying only that the activity "vastly complicates our situation."

Asked whether Syria's government was sponsoring the shipments, he said: "I don't think I want to get into it. It's an intelligence issue. They control their border. And we're hopeful that that type of thing doesn't happen."

SYRIA OUTSPOKEN CRITIC

Syria has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and opposed efforts at the United Nations for a second U.N. Security Council resolution specifically authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Members of the Badr Brigade, like the majority of Iraq's population, are Shiite Muslims, while the country is ruled by a Sunni Muslim minority.

SCIRI leader Hakim said in Tehran on Tuesday that U.S. troops would face armed resistance if they stayed in Iraq once Saddam is overthrown. He said SCIRI had tens of thousands of troops stationed inside and outside Iraq, ready to resist any foreign occupation.

Referring to members of the Badr Brigade, Rumsfeld noted that they are Iraqis, not Iranians, and have been hostile to the current Iraqi government.

"They have been housed in Iran. They have been funded by Iran. They have been armed by Iran, and sponsored by Iran. And they report up through the Revolutionary Guard," Rumsfeld said. He added that "how they would behave with a different regime is unclear."

Rumsfeld said in addition to the hundreds detected inside Iraq, "there are some additional ones that are close to the border." He added that "we're suggesting they not interfere."

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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