- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — The U.S.-led authority in Iraq said yesterday it would introduce a new border policy to try to keep out foreign insurgents, including closing all but three of the 19 official crossing points from Iran.

The number of border officials will be doubled and all visitors to Iraq will be given a temporary permit and have their details registered on a computer system.

U.S. officials say there is an increasing threat from foreign fighters in Iraq, who they believe are behind some of the major bombings of recent months.

When attacks on Shi’ites taking part in Ashura mourning ceremonies earlier this month killed more than 180 people, Iraqi religious leaders criticized Washington for not doing enough to police the borders and protect the country.

Yesterday, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, issued a statement saying measures to increase border security would be accelerated.

“Foreign terrorists are present in Iraq,” Mr. Bremer said. “The numbers are not known with precision, but recent attacks and their continuing presence underscores the importance of improving security at Iraq’s borders.”

There are 27 ports of entry along Iraq’s 2,270 miles of border, 19 of those along the 930-mile frontier with Iran, according to Dan Senor, Mr. Bremer’s spokesman. Within a week, only three Iraq-Iran crossings will remain open, Mr. Senor said, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr. Senor said neighboring countries must do more to stop the flow of “undesirables” across the borders and said an Iraqi delegation had gone to Tehran to discuss the problem. After Iran, the next priority would be the border with Syria.

“Our experience thus far is that border controls have been tight along some of the other borders — Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” Mr. Senor told reporters in Baghdad.

“We have recognized a lot of problems along the Iranian border, and problems along the Syria borders. But [the new policy] will apply to all of Iraq’s borders.”

The number of border personnel will be doubled within a year from the current 8,000. All visitors arriving in Iraq by land will need to present a passport, fill in an entry form, be issued a temporary entry permit and be entered into a computer system. Visa fees and requirements are still being finalized.

Special arrangements will be made for larger movements of people wanting to come to Iraq for religious ceremonies.

In other developments yesterday, a roadside bomb killed two American soldiers and wounded three others in Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, and U.S. forces responded by making several arrests and dispatching troops into the streets in a show of force.

The slain soldiers were the first casualties suffered by the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, which took over control of Tikrit yesterday.

In Baghdad, a bomb planted in a shop killed Haidar al-Qazwini, brother-in-law of a Shi’ite member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an aide to Mr. al-Jaafari said.

Also yesterday, the White House said it sent a senior official to Baghdad to help form an interim government — action that is needed before sovereignty can be transferred to the Iraqi people by June 30.

In Baghdad, Mr. Senor identified the official as Robert D. Blackwill of the National Security Council staff, who visits Iraq every four to six weeks.

Mr. Blackwill was sent in part to resolve problems some Shi’ite members of the Governing Council have with the interim constitution signed by the council last week, a senior administration official told the Associated Press. He also is charged with convincing the Governing Council to let the United Nations help set up elections, which are scheduled to be held before Dec. 31.

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