Syria still supplying Iraq despite U.S. warning

Monday, March 31, 2003

Syria continues to supply Iraq with a range of advanced military systems using established routes and systems that have not been affected by a strongly-worded U.S. warning.

U.S. officials said Syria has established a supply route to Baghdad that has ensured the flow of spare parts, night-vision systems, tank components and anti-tank missiles to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The officials said Syria has also been storing Iraqi missiles and weapons of mass destruction for the Saddam regime.

Much of the other equipment was purchased in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union, Middle East Newsline reported.

So far, officials said, the Iraqi-Syrian traffic has not been significantly affected by U.S. air operations over Baghdad and southern Iraq.

"The Syrians are getting the Iraqis everything they need," an official said. "They buy military and dual-use systems, put them in civilian vehicles and within a day they're in Baghdad."

Officials said Syria has supplied Iraq with munitions, night-vision goggles, spare parts, tank upgrade components, sensors, anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles and aircraft engines. They said some of the systems, such as the night-vision goggles, have been purchased in Western Europe.

On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said night-vision systems and other material were being transported from Syria to Iraq. Rumsfeld said he was holding Syria accountable for such shipments, but would not elaborate.

"We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," Rumsfeld said. "My guess is that they'll be more careful."

Officials also said Syria has allowed Russian military experts to move to Baghdad to advise the Saddam regime on defending against a U.S. attack.

They said Damascus has also supplied Iraq with intelligence on U.S. forces in the eastern Mediterranean as well as in neighboring Turkey.

"Syria can continue direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein or to embark on a different and more hopeful course," Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "Either way, Syria bears the responsibility for its choices and its consequences.

Officials said they are concerned that Iraq might order the return of medium-range Scud missiles and weapons of mass destruction stored in Syria over the last year. They said the material included biological and chemical weapons agents as well as equipment for the installation of these agents in missiles and artillery shells.

Last week, a U.S. aircraft dropped a bomb on a Syrian bus that turned out to be full of passengers. Five people were killed and 15 others were injured in the March 23 attack.

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