Rumsfeld warns Syria, Iran against involvement in Iraq war
March 29, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Syria is sending weapons over the Iraqi border to replenish Saddam Hussein’s forces, while hundreds of Iraqis funded and trained by Iran are preparing to get involved in the war against the regime, according to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In a Friday afternoon press briefing at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld warned Syria and Iran to stay out of the fight, or suffer unspecified consequences.
“We have seen military supplies and equipment moving across the border” from Syria, Rumsfeld said. He said equipment included items like night vision goggles.
“To the extent that continues, we will consider it a hostile act and hold the government of Syria responsible,” Rumsfeld said.
Meanwhile, Rumsfeld said, the “hundreds” of anti-Saddam Iraqis who have been funded and trained by the government of Iran may be moving back into Iraq, eager to get involved in the fight now under way.
If the Iran-sponsored forces pick up weapons and enter the fray, they will be treated as the enemy by U.S. forces, Rumsfeld said.
But even though the Iraqis supported by Iran do not appear to want to harm U.S. troops, their very presence on the battlefield makes the U.S. task more confusing, Rumsfeld said.
“To the extent that military supplies or people move into Iraq it vastly complicates our situation,” Rumsfeld said. “We would prefer [the war] not be made more difficult.
“To the extent [these Iraqis] interfere with [U.S. Central Commander] Gen. [Tommy] Franks’ activities, they will have to be considered combatants,” Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said that to date there have been no signs the Iranian-supported troops plan to attack U.S. forces once Saddam is defeated.
“I’m sure they have been hostile to the regime of Saddam Hussein,” Rumsfeld said. “How they would behave with a different regime is unclear.”
Rumsfeld declined to say whether U.S. military action is possible if Syria and Iran do not comply with directives to stay out of the war.
“I’m saying exactly what I said,” he said. “What I said was carefully phrased.”
Both Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, continued to insist that the Iraqi campaign is on track and moving swiftly forward.
U.S. military action has resulted in Saddam’s regime losing control of “35 to 40 percent of Iraqi territory,” Myers said, although he warned that “there will continue to be sporadic and even serious” fighting in those regions.
Myers also claimed that U.S. forces “have air supremacy over 95 percent of Iraq,” everywhere except Baghdad and just north of that city.
In the eight days since the war began, “we have made solid progress,” Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said he had no comment about remarks made Thursday by the Army’s senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace of V Corps, who told The New York Times and The Washington Post that guerrilla attacks by paramilitary Iraqi forces and strains on the U.S. military’s logistics lines of supply are dragging out the ground war.
“The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against,” the papers quoted Wallace as saying during a visit to the 101st Airborne Division headquarters in central Iraq.
“I suppose everyone can have their own view,” Rumsfeld said, noting that he “had not read the article” which quoted Wallace and therefore could not comment specifically on the general’s statements.