More Foreigners Fight U.S. In Iraq: "More Foreigners Fight U.S. In Iraq
WASHINGTON - More foreign fighters than ever are crossing Iraq's porous borders to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces, and a growing number are from U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, a Senate Democrat said Thursday.
'The mix is changing,' said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., citing conversations last week in Iraq with Marine and Army generals. 'Now, the mix is increasingly more Islamist crossing the border ... and a lot of them are Saudis. It presents a different profile' that is harder for U.S. forces to confront.
Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, gave no specific numbers, for foreign fighters as a whole or for the percentage from Saudi Arabia. He said he was told repeatedly that the totals are going up and that Saudis are 'a disproportionate number.'
'They kept talking about their belief ... that more in terms of numbers of jihadists are crossing the border, more sophisticatedly trained and more capable of doing harm and damage than existed a month ago, three months ago, five months ago,' Biden told reporters.
In the past, the U.S. military has said foreign fighters are a small percentage - perhaps one in 10 - of the insurgents fighting the U.S. presence in Iraq. They do a disproportionate amount of killing, however, in part because they are more likely to carry out suicide bombings.
U.S. and other analysts say the foreign fighters are primarily Islamic jihadists, fighting what they claim are anti-Islamic invaders, while the much larger homegrown, mostly Sunni Arab, insurgency has tended to be motivated more by political grievance and factional rivalry.
Part of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq is to improve living conditions and security for ordinary Iraqis and thereby reduce support for the homegrown insurgency. That calculation won't work with foreign fighters, Biden said.
'If you turn on lights, get the air conditioning running and clean up the sewage, that ain't going to have any impact on the jihadist coming across from Saudi Arabia with a bomb strapped on his stomach,' said Biden, who has made five trips to Iraq since U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein a little more than two years ago."
Saudis have been among the foreigners captured by U.S. forces inside Iraq, but the Pentagon and the Bush administration have said little about the national backgrounds of foreign fighters.
Asked about estimates that Saudis make up 40 percent of suicide bombers recruited to Iraq by the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saudi Arabia differs from other nations that may export fighters to Iraq because it is also fighting al-Qaida insurgents on its own territory.