- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

U.S. officials are investigating reports that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad is playing a major role in fomenting the terrorist insurgency in Iraq. The reports say that Iraqi weapons, including small arms and bombs stolen from weapons depots scattered across Iraq, are being smuggled into Syria. They are then used to arm insurgents training at camps set up by officials who served in former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. The weapons are often turned into homemade bombs, which have killed and maimed hundreds of coalition soldiers and Iraqis.

The Bush administration publicly acknowledges that Syria is playing a large role in supporting the Iraqi terrorists who are targeting Americans. In announcing earlier this month his decision to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, President Bush noted that insurgents “bent on sowing terror continue to cross into Iraq from Syria.”

When it comes to supporting terrorism, this is just one part of Syria’s malevolent role. Mr. Assad’s government has collaborated with the terrorist network run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is responsible for coordinating many of the suicide bombings and other attacks directed at coalition forces and Iraqi civilians over the past year.

In January, coalition forces captured an al Qaeda operative carrying a compact disc with a message from Zarqawi outlining a plan to step up attacks in an effort to foment Shi’ite-Sunni discord in Iraq. According to Zarqawi’s message, it was essential that this occur right away, in order to undercut the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi transitional government. Two such attacks took place March 2, when Zarqawi operatives killed approximately 185 Shi’ite worshippers in bombings in Baghdad and Karbala.

Zarqawi operatives based in Syria were behind the plot to stage a chemical weapons attack in Amman that was stopped by Jordanian security forces last month. While in Syria, Zarqawi planned the October 2002 murder of Lawrence Foley, an American diplomat in Amman. Italian prosecutors recently reported that “Syria has functioned as a hub for an al Qaeda network” linked to Zarqawi. Moreover, intercepted telephone conversations “paint a detailed picture of overseers in Syria co-ordinating the movement of recruits and money between Europe and Ansar al-Islam training camps in northern Iraq.” Italian investigators provided the names of Zarqawi lieutenants in Damascus and Aleppo who helped European jihadists reach Iraq.

In sum, a mounting body of evidence links the Assad regime with the Zarqawi network and terrorist activities in Iraq. It is difficult to believe that Syria will be allowed to continue this behavior indefinitely without a much more forceful response from the United States.

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