KRT Wire | 06/03/2005 | Reports of terrorists meeting in Syria were flawed, U.S. officials say:
"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a thinly veiled warning Wednesday to Damascus against providing harbor to anyone allied with Osama bin Laden's network.
'Any country that decides it wants to provide medical assistance or haven to a leading terrorist, al-Qaida terrorist, is obviously associating themselves with al-Qaida and contributing to a great many Iraqis being killed, as well as coalition forces in Iraq. And that is something that people would want to take note of,' Rumsfeld said.
But there are sharp differences within the U.S. government over the roles Syria and Iran are playing in the insurgency, which has claimed the lives of more than 800 Iraqis and 80 U.S. troops since Iraq's Shiite-led government was named April 28.
A U.S. official said experts at the Pentagon believe 'the keys to the insurgency are external to Iraq' and that closing the Syrian and Iranian borders to the transit of Islamic extremists, weapons and cash would cripple the guerrillas.
But officials at other agencies see the insurgency - the bulk of which is being waged by former members of Saddam Hussein's regime and Sunnis opposed to the Shiite-led government and its U.S. allies - as 'an internal Iraqi phenomenon,' he said.
Despite the charges that Syria is an important supporter of the insurgency, the U.S. Army has deployed only 400 U.S. soldiers to patrol a 10,000 square-mile area in northwest Iraq abutting Syria and Turkey, Knight Ridder reported this week.
While there's no doubt that insurgents, weapons and cash have crossed into Iraq via Syria, current and former officials say Syria's efforts to stop them too often have been dismissed.
Syria has been 'the route of choice' for foreign jihadists trying to enter Iraq, but 'putting too much focus on Syria could divert attention away from the much bigger problem: our inability, so far, to deal effectively with the insurgency's center of gravity inside Iraq,' said Wayne White, a veteran Middle East intelligence analyst who recently left the State Department.
One official said many fanatics coming to Iraq to wage holy war cross from Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, which also borders Iraq.
Comparing Syria's efforts with Saudi Arabia's, he said: 'I'm not sure they're doing any worse.'"