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Rumsfeld: Blame Syria, Iran For Ferocious Iraq Insurgency

WASHINGTON ( -- The United States said last week it has no plans to launch a military attack on Syria. But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday blamed Iran and Syria for the unexpected ferocity of the Iraq insurgency.

"We're not looking to end this [Syrian] behavior with another war," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 3. "It's not our policy to destabilize Syria. It shouldn't be their policy to destabilize Iraq, or Lebanon for that matter."

It was the highest level assertion by the Pentagon that the military did not intend to attack Damascus.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon has determined that Syria has been used as a base to finance and supply the insurgency war in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said Syria has been the source of at least 1,000 Islamic volunteers recruited by the former Saddam Hussein regime and Al Qaida.

"Syria has not been helpful," Rumsfeld said on Feb. 6. "There is no doubt that the Baathists are located in Syria, from Iraq."

"No one predicted the level of the insurgency as it is today," Rumsfeld said "Partly it's a function of money. Partly it's a function of what the Syrians and the Iranians are doing."

Rumsfeld said that Syrian behavior would help determine the future of U.S. deployment in Iraq. He said Syria continues to withhold millions of dollars in Iraqi assets from the former Saddam Hussein regime.

In his State of the Union address, President George Bush discussed Syrian assistance to the Iraqi insurgency. Bush also condemned Damascus for its support of groups deemed by the State Department as terrorists.

But Pentagon officials said this would not translate into a U.S. war against Syria, particularly in 2005. Officials said Syria, under pressure from Washington, has helped stop insurgency attacks from its territory on U.S. outposts along the western Iraqi border.

But Brig. Gen. Douglas Raaberg, deputy director of operations for U.S. Central Command, told a briefing in Qatar on Feb. 3 that Syria was continuing to allow insurgents to enter Iraq. He said Iran was also allowing insurgents to cross the eastern border with Iraq.

"We clearly see former regime elements and insurgents from Syria coming to Iraq and we have also told the Iranian government that we will not tolerate meddling in Iraq's affairs," Raaberg said. "The desert is vast.They don't just travel by the asphalt road."

Officials said the Pentagon has urged the Bush administration to approve a policy of hot pursuit of insurgents from Iraq into Syria. But they said the Pentagon has not proposed a fullscale war against Damascus.

Officials said the U.S. military would focus on force protection and the halt in the flow of insurgents along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

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