US reminds Syria, Iran to watch Iraq borders
The World Today - Wednesday, 29 October , 2003
ELIZABETH JACKSON: In Iraq, there have been more attacks on US-backed forces overnight and the US Army revealed Baghdad's Deputy Mayor was killed in a drive-by shooting on the weekend.
As a suicide bomber killed himself and at least four others in the northern town of Fallujah, President George W. Bush was reminding Iraq's neighbours not to let in any foreign fighters who Washington thinks are helping attack its soldiers.
The warning to Iran and Syria followed the bloodiest day in Baghdad since the end of major hostilities, when 35 people died in near-simultaneous attacks on the Red Cross and various police stations.
At the same time, the US has indicated that it may once again take part in rare talks with Tehran to discuss the alleged flow of foreign fighters and other issues "of common interest", as Rafael Epstein reports.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: According to a newspaper in Kuwait, the US authorities in Iraq believe large numbers of al-Qaeda fighters from Saudi Arabia are using Iranian territory as their route into Iraq.
The US authorities there also believe al-Qaeda fighters come from Pakistan's Baluchistan region and from Afghanistan's Herat province, staying for a while in Iran before moving into the north of Iraq.
US President George W. Bush gave little away today, when he was asked what Iran and Syria were actually doing to stem the supposed flow.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we're working closely with those countries to let them know that we expect them to enforce borders, prevent people from coming across borders, if in fact we catch them doing that.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: After the end of major hostilities there were reportedly hundreds of foreign fighters. Now, anonymous US Pentagon officials are telling Reuters there could be as many as 3,000 of them in Iraq.
They say such information is based on interrogations of people detained in Iraq who are familiar with the flow of fighters from Syria and Iran. They say al-Qaeda groups in Iraq are supposedly called, "Jundullah" or "Warriors of God" and al-Usud, "the Lions".
It's all impossible to confirm or corroborate, although various media groups have conducted interviews with people calling themselves "foreign fighters" who back up some and sometimes all such claims.
It's all been given immediacy by Iraq's Police Chief, Ahmed Ibrahim. He says a man who was shot while trying to detonate a suicide car bomb was carrying a Syrian passport.
President Bush again.
GEORGE W. BUSH: There are now more Iraqis patrolling the border and that is why it is important that we step up training for Iraqis, border patrol agents, so they can enforce their own borders.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: US politicians are pushing for action against both Iran and Syria. While the House of Representatives passed a bill that will place economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria, in response Iran's already saying it will financially support Damascus if the bill becomes law.
It all complicates the international community's push to get Iran to accept more inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Just before President Bush spoke, his Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outlined how the administration may deal with Iran's previous reluctance to allow inspections.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Clearly, Iran has been in non-compliance. It should be found that way, but whether you would take the non-compliance and move them towards the UN Security Council and possibly sanctions or put them on probation or give them an ankle bracelet, this sort of, as they do to people on
in, in sort of house arrest, those are things that we have to consider and consider with our colleagues in Europe and the non-aligned movement.
It's the most important thing, I think, at having gotten the solidarity thus far we have to maintain it.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: While Iran and Syria both insist they can't stop people crossing their borders, Iran's given money for Iraq's reconstruction and it's also offered to give up some of its oil until the new country gets its infrastructure back in shape.
And Damascus is aiming to sign a trade agreement with the EU by the end of the year. Syria does far more trade with Europe than it does with North America.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Rafael Epstein with that report. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2003/s977774.htm