Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2007

Explosives belts seized on Syrian border

July 12, 2007

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— Iraqi security forces seized 200 explosive belts along the Syrian border Wednesday, a police spokesman said, reinforcing Baghdad's claims that its western neighbor isn't doing enough to stop the flow of fighters and weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The belts were found during a search of a truck that had crossed into Iraq from Syria at the Waleed border station, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

"When the truck was searched, 200 explosives belts were found in it," the general said. He said the driver was detained but he would not give his name or nationality.

Iraqi and U.S. authorities have long complained that Syria is not doing enough to stem the flow of weapons, ammunition and foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria insists it is trying to stop the flow but that it is impossible to seal off the long desert border.

But U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters that 60 to 80 foreign fighters enter Iraq "in any given month" - 70 percent of them through Syria. He said up to 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by "foreign-born al-Qaida terrorists."

Bergner did not offer detailed evidence to support the claim.

However, he cited the July 1 suicide attack that collapsed part of a major bridge across the Euphrates River north of Ramadi. A second bomber was supposed to have attacked the bridge but backed out and was captured, Bergner said.

The surviving attacker told interrogators he had been recruited by al-Qaida in his home country, flown to Syria and smuggled across the border to Ramadi, where he stayed for about 10 days before the attack.

Bergner would not give the would-be attacker's nationality, but other military officials said he was a Saudi. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.

Bergner said the U.S. command expected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters "to lash out and stage spectacular attacks to reassert themselves" after U.S. troops' gains in their stronghold of Baqouba, located northeast of Baghdad.

A number of private security analysts have questioned the U.S. military's emphasis on al-Qaida in Iraq, saying it is one of many Sunni and Shiite groups threatening Iraq's stability. Some have suggested that the emphasis on al-Qaida is to link the fight in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. at a time when the American public is turning against the conflict.

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