US wary of Iran, Syria role in Iraq

Updated: 2006-11-21 08:40

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration cast a wary eye Monday on signs that Iran and Syria were taking a more active diplomatic role in Iraq, even as debate in the US centered on how many troops to keep in the war.

A Marine from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment on patrol in Husaybah, Iraq, November 3, 2006. [Reuters]
Just days after reports that US officials were discussing a broader role for Iran and Syria, Iraqi lawmakers said Iranian leaders had invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents for a weekend summit. A State Department official said that while strong relations between the three countries were encouraged, actions would speak louder than words.

In the past, said deputy spokesman Tom Casey, "while there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven't been backed up by actions."

He offered a similar assessment of Syria, saying the problem "is not what they say; the problem is what they do. ... What we would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq."

At the same time, there have been indications that a special US advisory commission is considering recommendations that could include a broader role in the region by Syria and Iran. The Iraq Study Group, led by Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is expected to issue its report soon.

One military official close to the group's discussions said that one option could combine encouraging talks with Iran and Syria with shifting the US military focus away from combat and toward training the Iraqi forces.

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