BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces seized 200 explosive belts along the Syrian
border Wednesday, a police spokesman said, reinforcing Baghdad's claims that its
western neighbor isn't doing enough to stop the flow of fighters and weapons to
al-Qaida in Iraq.
An Iraqi woman smokes a cigarette during a distribution of
humanitarian aid to around 500 Shiite families displaced by sectarian
violence in Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq
Wednesday, July 11, 2007. [AP]
The belts were found during a search
of a truck that had crossed into Iraq from Syria at the Waleed border station,
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.
"When the truck was searched, 200 explosives belts were found in it," the
general said. He said the driver was detained but he would not give his name or
Iraqi and US authorities have long complained that Syria is not doing enough
to stem the flow of weapons, ammunition and foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria
insists it is trying to stop the flow but that it is impossible to seal off the
long desert border.
But US military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters that 60 to
80 foreign fighters enter Iraq "in any given month" - 70 percent of them through
Syria. He said up to 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out
by "foreign-born al-Qaida terrorists."
Bergner did not offer detailed evidence to support the claim.
However, he cited the July 1 suicide attack that collapsed part of a major
bridge across the Euphrates River north of Ramadi. A second bomber was supposed
to have attacked the bridge but backed out and was captured, Bergner said.
The surviving attacker told interrogators he had been recruited by al-Qaida
in his home country, flown to Syria and smuggled across the border to Ramadi,
where he stayed for about 10 days before the attack.
Bergner would not give the would-be attacker's nationality, but other
military officials said he was a Saudi. They spoke on condition of anonymity
because they were not supposed to release the information.
Bergner said the US command expected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters "to lash out
and stage spectacular attacks to reassert themselves" after US troops' gains in
their stronghold of Baqouba, located northeast of Baghdad.
A number of private security analysts have questioned the US military's
emphasis on al-Qaida in Iraq, saying it is one of many Sunni and Shiite groups
threatening Iraq's stability. Some have suggested that the emphasis on al-Qaida
is to link the fight in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US at a
time when the American public is turning against the conflict.
But Bergner insisted al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies were the main focus
because they were the "main accelerant in sectarian violence and the greatest
source of these spectacular" suicide attacks "that are killing Iraqis in such
US officials maintain that violence in Anbar province, long the focal point
of the Sunni insurgency, dropped by 50 percent after local Sunni tribes joined
US and Iraqi forces in fighting al-Qaida last year.
That has led to a series of reprisal attacks by al-Qaida, a Sunni terror
group, against Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere who have abandoned the insurgency.
On Wednesday, insurgents drove to a house in the Anbar town of Karmah, locked
the occupants inside, and blew up the house, Iraqi police and US military
officials said. Eleven people were killed.
The house was owned by a member of the Provincial Security Forces organized
to protect towns and villages against extremists, the US military said.
Early Wednesday, US and Iraqi forces drove out dozens of insurgents who had
attacked and seized control of a remote village northeast of Baghdad. Residents
of Sherween had telephoned Iraqi officials a day earlier pleading for help,
saying armed villagers were trying to defend themselves against the attackers.
The US-Iraqi forces killed 20 militants and captured 20 others in the battle
overnight, the US military said.
Lt. Col. Fred Johnson said the attackers had fled Baqouba, focus of the US
offensive north of the capital, and had attacked Sherween 35 miles to the
northeast in an attempt to "raise the morale" of their fighters.
In the city of Samarra - a region 60 miles north of Baghdad that has seen
frequent insurgent attacks - US troops uncovered 12 bodies this week, according
to Iraqi police and AP Television News footage of the bodies. The bodies were
partially decomposed, and it was not known who killed them or when.
Also Wednesday, a US soldier died of an unspecified "non-battle related
cause," the US military said without elaborating.