Syria helps Arab volunteers cross border to join conflict in Iraq

Tuesday, April 2, 2003

ANKARA Syria has facilitated the passage of hundreds of Arab nationals intent on fighting U.S. and British troops in Iraq.

Arab diplomatic sources said several groups of Algerians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians have crossed the border into Iraq. They said the volunteers comprise mostly of Palestinians in the Damascus area recruited by the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

Syrian authorities have not regulated the flow of people who entered Iraq, the sources said. They said Syrian authorities have not asked volunteers to show passports at the border with Iraq.

At one point, the sources said, the flow of Syrians to Iraq reached 100 per day. They said the Syrians are heading for suicide missions for Saddam in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk.

Many of the volunteers leaving Syria were sent by Palestinian insurgency groups. On Sunday, Islamic Jihad, based in Damascus, announced that it had sent the first group of suicide bombers to Baghdad and compared the war with the United States to that with Israel.

"Iraq, we heed your call," the Jihad statement said. "It is one war from Najaf to Tulkarm and from Jenin to Baghdad."

The Qatari-owned A-Jazeera satellite channel said the Syrian nationals have been brought to the northern city of Mosul. From there, the channel said, the Syrians were recruited by Iraq's military to serve with units around Baghdad.

For its part, Iraq has reported the arrival of 4,000 Arabs ready to blow themselves up to stop the advance of U.S.-led forces toward Baghdad. The volunteers were said have come from Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

"The Islamic warriors who have come to Iraq have come from all Arab countries, without exception," Iraqi military spokesman Hazim Rawi told a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday. "More than 4,000 have already come to Baghdad."

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