- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday told Syria and Iran that providing military supplies to Iraq or interfering with allied operations will be viewed as "hostile acts."

"We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

"These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

Asked whether the comments meant the United States was prepared to take military action against Syria to stop the shipments, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I'm saying exactly what I'm saying. It was carefully phrased."

A U.S. official said military goods regularly have been smuggled across what was described as the "porous" Syria-Iraq border in trucks for years. "But with our forces in the country, [the smuggling] is militarily significant," the official said. "It's a whole different ballgame."

The shipments have included night-vision devices, military vehicles and aircraft spare parts, and small-arms ammunition, the official said.

In Damascus, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthaine Shaban told Britain's Channel 4 television by telephone that Mr. Rumsfeld's statement was "unfounded and irresponsible," the Associated Press reported.

"It is an absolutely unfounded, irresponsible statement, just like his statements that brought his country and the allied countries into a terrible war, unnecessary war on Iraq," she said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has described the military action as "clear occupation and a flagrant aggression against a United Nations member state." Syria is the only Arab country on the U.N. Security Council.

The defense secretary's comments come amid earlier intelligence reports that Russia provided night-vision goggles to Iraq, along with global positioning system navigational jammers and anti-tank missiles.

A U.S. official said Syria does not manufacture night-vision equipment and gets most of its military equipment from Russia. It could not be learned whether the devices smuggled into Iraq from Syria were made in Russia.

Mr. Rumsfeld also warned military forces, intelligence agents and other guerrillas backed by neighboring Iran that they will be viewed as enemy forces if they are operating outside the control of Central Command commander Gen. Tommy Franks.

"The entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of General Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The Iranian-backed forces include several hundred guerrillas of what is called the Badr corps, now in southern Iraq and areas near the Iran-Iraq border.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Badr corps is the military wing of the Supreme Council on Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

"The Badr corps is trained, equipped and directed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and we will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions and will view Badr corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful," Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting that "armed Badr corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants."

"To the extent they interfere with General Franks' activities, they would have to be considered combatants, and therefore, we're suggesting they not interfere," he said.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps have been linked by U.S. intelligence to Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

U.S. intelligence officials also have said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been connected in the past to the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Badr guerrillas are Iraqis who have been hostile to the Iraqi government.

"They have been housed in Iran, they've been funded by Iran, they've been armed by Iran, and sponsored by Iran, and they report up through the Revolutionary Guard," he said.

The forces may not be hostile once Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is ousted.

"But the issue is not that," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It seems to me the issue is that General Franks and the coalition countries are busy. They've got a complicated task. We would prefer it not be made more difficult by any of the neighbors."

The Iranian-backed forces so far have not been hostile to U.S. and British forces, he said.

U.S. and British forces in southern Iraq are fighting up to 25,000 Iraqi guerrillas, known as the Fedayeen Saddam, scattered around the country who are under the control of members of Saddam's family, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld would not say whether the shipments of military equipment through Syria were sponsored by the Syrian government.

"It's an intelligence issue. They control their border, and we're hopeful that that type of thing doesn't happen," he said.

Asked why he was making a public statement about the Syrian military equipment transfers rather than using diplomatic channels, Mr. Rumsfeld said he felt it was important to say why the Syrian backing is a problem.

"The message is that General Franks has forces in that country," he said. "Some are losing their lives, coalition forces are. We don't like having our forces lose their lives. We don't want the conflict prolonged. And we don't want neighboring countries, or anyone else for that matter, to be in there assisting the Iraqi forces.

"And specifically with respect to Syria, I pointed out that we have seen military supplies and materials and equipment crossing the border, and we'd like it to stop," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"And to the extent it keeps on, we have to consider it a hostile act."

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