Syria facilitating Sunni insurgency in Iraq

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Syria continues to facilitate aid to Sunni insurgents in their battle against the U.S. military in Iraq.

U.S. officials said Syria has failed to stop the flow of Islamic combatants from entering and leaving Iraq. They estimate that hundreds of Iraqi, Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian nationals are entering Iraq to battle U.S. troops.

Damascus, the officials said, continues to allow entry to members of the deposed Iraqi regime as well as Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents. They said it was not clear whether President Bashar Assad himself was allowing the freedom of movement by the insurgents.

On June 18, a U.S. combined task crossed the Syrian border in pursuit of a convoy of vehicles believed to have contained senior aides of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the task force fought Syrian border guards who tried to block the entry of U.S. troops.

"We have things that would suggest that someone on the Syrian side was involved, but whether it was people connected with the government, that I haven't got a definitive answer to," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

[On Wednesday, a U.S. soldier was said to have been killed in the Baghdad region. Earlier, the Pentagon said six U.S. soldiers were injured on Tuesday.]

Officials said five Syrians were injured in the clash and 20 were captured. All but three of the Syrians have been released.

"As of Friday, they were still being interrogated," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday.

Officials said the U.S. task force had acted on intelligence that Iraqi regime officials were moving toward the Syrian border in a convoy of sport utility vehicles. At that point, they said, an air and infantry task force was sent to the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Meanwhile, the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Iron Horse have maintained counter-insurgency operations against Saddam strongholds in northwest Iraq. The U.S. military is said to have captured the son of Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, regarded as one of the leading members of the former regime. Ramadan's son was said to have been injured in the U.S. military operation.

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