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Rumsfeld warns Syria about aiding Iraq

Defense secretary cites 'hostile acts'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Rumsfeld warns against "neighboring countries or anyone else" helping Saddam Hussein.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a stern warning to Syria on Friday, saying military supplies, including night-vision goggles, were passing from that country into Iraq, posing a "direct threat" to coalition forces.

"We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing.

Rumsfeld also warned Iran -- a longtime enemy of Iraq -- about proxy forces moving into Iraq, where the United States and coalition forces are waging a war to topple the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The defense secretary cited the Badr Corps, a military force he said is trained and equipped by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Any such "proxies" would be viewed as a "potential threat" to coalition forces, Rumsfeld said.

"We will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions and will view Badr Corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful," he said. "Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants."

On Saturday, a senior member of an Iraqi opposition group based in Iran denied that his group's military wing operating in Iraq receives training in Iran, according to Iran's state-run news agency.

"All staff, weapons and entire training facilities of the Badr Corps are provided inside Iraq, and there is no link between them and the IRGC [Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]," Mohsen Hakim told Iran's IRIB news agency. (Full story)

Hakim is head of the Supreme Assembly of Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SAIRI], IRIB reported.

The United States, Rumsfeld said, does not want any interference in the military conflict unfolding in Iraq.

"We don't want the conflict prolonged," he said. "And we don't want neighboring countries, or anyone else for that matter, to be in there assisting the Iraqi forces."

A U.S. intelligence official told CNN that Syria is the favored route used by Iraq to smuggle in prohibited weapons materiel. Rumsfeld's warning to the Syrians "is no surprise," the official said. "They are the No. 1 proliferators."

Much of what is smuggled through Syria into Iraq is equipment manufactured in former Soviet bloc countries, he said.

In Damascus, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Rumsfeld's claim was "absolutely unfounded."

Syrian President Bashar Assad, quoted in a Lebanese newspaper Thursday, said he doubted the U.S.-led coalition would succeed in Iraq and even if it did, "there will be Arab popular resistance anyway and this has begun."

Asked if the United States was threatening military action against Syria, Rumsfeld replied, "I'm saying exactly what I said. It was carefully phrased."

Rumsfeld issued the warning as he and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined progress in the war in Iraq, now in its second week.

The two men refuted suggestions the war has been more complicated than anticipated, despite a widely quoted comment from the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

As quoted in The Washington Post, Wallace said, "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against."

Rumsfeld said he hadn't read the article and added, "I suppose everyone has their own view."

Myers said the war plan remained sound. "It's being executed. It's on track," he said.

Both men strongly refuted a suggestion that the United States was not reporting all U.S. casualty figures. "That's just terrible to think that. Even to suggest it is outrageous. Most certainly not. The facts are reported," Rumsfeld said.

"We're never going to hide those numbers," Myers said.

--National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.

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