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American Forces Press Service

Abizaid: No Middle Eastern Nation Should Harbor Terrorists

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Mar. 1, 2005 No country in the Middle East region should harbor terrorists, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, asserted during testimony on Capitol Hill today.

Middle Eastern-sourced terrorism not only works “against the goals of a free and prosperous and stable Middle East,” Abizaid told Senate Armed Services Committee members, “but it’s also against the religious goals of the people in the region who believe in Islam, Christianity or Judaism.”

For example, he said, Syrian troop and intelligence-agent presence in Lebanon “prohibits Lebanon from being able to be sovereign, free and move in a direction that the Lebanese people want to go.”

Abizaid predicted Syria eventually would withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanon. The Syrian government, he added, would also likely “do a reassessment of the role” it plays in the Middle East.

Syria will understand that becoming a role model for cooperation and stability in the region “will be a direction that they will find is in the best interests of Syria and everyone else,” Abizaid said.

The general, who oversees U.S. troop operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Syria has been an irritant to U.S. forces in Iraq “because of the well-known link between the Syrian border area and the infiltration of foreign fighters that have come across from Syria.”

Although there’s no evidence of Syrian government complicity in the trans-border crossing of fighters joining the insurgency in Iraq, Abizaid noted, the Syrians have so far done little to stem such infiltrations.

It’s also evident, the general said, that the Syrians were providing sanctuary for former Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In fact, he noted, some financial dealings for insurgent activities in Iraq have been traced to operatives in Syria.

Abizaid acknowledged that the recent capture of Saddam’s half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, in Syria is “a positive step forward.” Yet, he maintained, the Syrians could be even more helpful.

“We need, clearly, to move Iraq towards stability,” Abizaid said. And, achieving stability in Iraq is key to stability throughout the whole Middle East, he said.


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