Iraq: U.S. Warns Syria To Stop Insurgents Entering Iraq
By Charles Recknagel
U.S. officials again warned Syria to stop allowing insurgents to penetrate Iraq from its territory. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said in Washington that "patience is running out with Syria" and that "all options are on the table." The stepped-up warnings come as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces continue efforts to take control of the border town of Tal Afar. U.S. and Iraqi commanders say the town is a staging post for foreign fighters infiltrating from Syria.
Prague, 13 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has warned Damascus to do more to stop fighters from crossing its border into Iraq.
Khalilzad, speaking in Washington on 12 September, said: “Our patience is running out, the patience of Iraqis are running out. The time for decision...has arrived for Damascus.”
He told reporters at the U.S. State Department that Syria “should not allow youngsters misguided by Al-Qaeda, from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, from North Africa, to fly into Damascus international airport.”
The U.S. official did not specify any actions that the United States might take toward Syria.
Asked whether responses might include seeking a reproach from the United Nations or possible military action, Khalilzad said only that “all options are on the table.”
Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustapha called Khalilzad’s allegations “100 percent rubbish.” He said Damascus had previously invited U.S. and Iraqi officials to discuss the problem but did not receive a response.
The latest warnings come as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces wrap up an operation to secure the border town of Tal Afar.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’fari visited the town on 12 September to assess the situation during the third day of the military operation:
"This visit to the field coincides with the military operation to clean this patient city from terrorists, who have tried to turn the city into a place from which to export terrorism," al-Ja'fari said. "Particularly [because] Tal Afar is on the border with Syria from where infiltrators enter. The good thing is that I found that the morale of the army is high. They avoid harming any populated area, and they try to target the enemy only.”
Iraqi commanders say up to 200 alleged insurgents have been killed in Tal Afar since the assault began on 10 September.
U.S. and Iraqi commanders say the town had been the base of an estimated 300 to 500 insurgents, many of whom left ahead of the attack.
The Iraqi Army on 12 September reported losing the first of its soldiers in the fighting and said that six civilians had also died.
About 5,000 Iraqi and 3,500 U.S. soldiers combing the bombed mountain town have found a bomb factory, underground tunnels, and large weapons caches.
News reports say an estimated 90 percent of Tal Afar’s 200,000 residents have fled to a crowded tent camp outside the town.
Washington has warned Syria repeatedly in the past that it must do more to control its border with Iraq. And at times, Washington has also praised Damascus for saying it will cooperate. But since the turn of the year, Washington has shown increasing impatience with Syria as insurgent activity around Tal Afar has intensified.
In December, Iraq’s then-interim President Ghazi al-Yawir accused Syria of offering a "safe haven" to former top Ba'athist officials who fled Iraq with state funds.
Al-Yawir's national security adviser said at the time that last year’s operation to retake Al-Fallujah had uncovered a money trail between the Ba'athist exiles and insurgents. He said, "It is very difficult to convince me that the Syrian government does not know about these activities."
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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