This is the first visual confirmation of any kind of the Iraqi claims that 4,000 Arab volunteers had come from across the Arab world, ready to follow in the footsteps of an Iraqi officer who killed four US soldiers in a homicide attack in southern Iraq and fight against coalition troops.
The Islamic Jihad terrorist movement has also announced that it has sent a first batch of homicide bombers to Baghdad to fight “the invaders,” but no confirmation of that claim has of yet emerged. A bus blown up by coalition air fighters early last week was said to be carrying “irregular volunteers” from both Syria and Jordan.
Despite the televised pictures and after a day of fueling this particular flame with his own set of accusations, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now playing down the reports. Asked on Fox News Sunday: “are significant number of people and significant military equipment coming from Syria into Baghdad?” Rumsfeld answered coyly “Not to my knowledge. Not in terms of people, which is what you asked me about. Now you've added equipment, and the answer is, yes, we have seen equipment come from Syria. Night vision goggles, among other things. And we cautioned against that.”
Fox News: “And has Syria changed its behavior since your caution the other day?”
RUMSFELD: “I think that was just yesterday...”
SNOW: “Two days.”
RUMSFELD: “... or the day before. No, I haven't seen any change in behavior. I haven't seen anything good or bad. My guess is that they'll be more careful.”
Syria, an “honored member” of the United Nations Security Council while Israel is barred from that forum, remains on the U.S. State Department list of countries that sponsor terror but was conspicuously missing from U.S. President George W Bush's "axis of evil," which includes Iran, Iraq and North Korea among others.
Confirmation of the existence of Syrian and Palestinian “volunteers” is likely to further embitter ties between Washington and Damascus. Syria has moved to ridicule the charges, out of fear, like Iran, that it is a potential future target for the coalition in Washington's "war on terrorism."