Posted by Joshua on Monday, September 17th, 2007
Fewer Foreigners Crossing Into Iraq From Syria to Fight
Drop Parallels Dip in Al-Qaeda Attacks
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2007; A19
The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria has decreased noticeably in recent months, corresponding to a similar decrease in suicide bombings and other attacks by the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
"There is an early indication of a trend," said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, in an interview. Border crossings from Syria that averaged 80 to 90 a month have fallen to "half or two-thirds of that over the last two or three months," Petraeus said.
An intelligence official said that "the Syrians do appear to be mounting a crackdown on some of the most hardened terrorists transiting through the country, particularly al-Qaeda-affiliated foreign fighters." The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said there is also evidence that the Syrians have been stopping return crossings by foreign fighters leaving Iraq.
Other administration officials, while confirming the decrease in border crossings, said they are not yet prepared to attribute it to Syrian action, instead citing increased U.S. operations against al-Qaeda inside Iraq and stepped-up cooperation by terrorist "source" countries, such as Saudi Arabia, in prohibiting travel to Damascus. U.S. intelligence has said Saudis form the biggest group of foreigners fighting with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Petraeus also said his command is uncertain of the reason for the decrease, adding that "we're watching it on the ground."
A National Intelligence Estimate last month attributed an apparent crackdown in Syria to that government's concern about the threat al-Qaeda posed to its own stability. The NIE also assessed that Syria had stepped up its support to non-al-Qaeda groups to bolster their influence — and that of Damascus — in Iraq. Several Iraqi Sunni extremist groups opposed to the United States and al-Qaeda in Iraq are present in Damascus.
…The al-Qaeda in Iraq organization, which largely consists of Iraqi Sunnis, is said to be led by foreigners whose primary route into Iraq is through Syria. Syria is also believed by U.S. officials to be the primary route for foreign terrorists moving out of Iraq to return to their home countries in Arab countries, Europe and North Africa.
Nascent U.S. diplomatic dialogues with Damascus and Tehran, begun last spring after demands by war critics and the Iraqi government, have been judged unproductive by the White House….
Rice plans to attend a second neighbors conference at the end of October in Istanbul, but U.S. policymakers have made no decision on whether they would seek or agree to another high-level meeting with Syria. "We haven't ruled it out yet," an administration official said. "I could speculate that if the end of October came and the numbers of suicide bombers had really dropped significantly and people . . . came to the conclusion there really had been a change in [Syrian] policy, that would give us every reason to have a meeting."
Just as it does with Iran, which the United States alleges is working toward production of a nuclear weapon, U.S. policy toward Syria is to separate Iraq-related issues from other points of contention.
Israeli Official Muzzled on Syria Attack
By AMY TEIBEL
The Associated Press
Sunday, September 16, 2007; 8:52 PM
JERUSALEM — Israel's chief of military intelligence was ordered Sunday not to discuss an alleged air raid on Syria before a powerful parliamentary panel, tightening the veil of secrecy the government has thrown around the issue….
In a statement some participants saw as an oblique reference to the alleged Syria raid, Yadlin told the meeting, "Israel's deterrence has been rehabilitated since the Lebanon war, and it affects the entire regional system, including Iran and Syria," according to a lawmaker who was present.
Richard Silverstein on his blog Tikun Olam translates a Hebrew language story which casts doubt on the U.S.-Israeli version of what happened in Syria:
The doubters of the U.S.-Israel story that the IAF attacked a Syrian-North Korean nuclear facility in Syria last weak are few and far between inside Israel. So it is worth noting a story published in Hebrew by Israeli Channel 10 correspondent, Yigal Laviv, which warns us to suspend belief until the facts are more fully known……