Mowaffak al Rubaie, the national security advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, told ABC News Thursday that Syria is continuing to harbor and support Islamist militants responsible for killing both Iraqis and Americans.
Al Rubaie, who is in the United States for official meetings in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, said Iraqi officials had presented a detailed intelligence dossier to the Syrian government of insurgent activity on Syrian territory. The information included exact locations of terrorist training camps in Syria and the names, addresses and photographs of insurgent leaders living in Syria.
The Syrians have taken no action on the camps, and on the matter of the insurgents, the response is, "He's not in Syria," according to al Rubaie.
"Just like Ocalan," said al Rubaie, referring to the Kurdish militant Abdullah Ocalan, who staged attacks from bases in Syria against Turkey for 18 years until he was finally expelled in 1998 after Turkey massed troops on the border and threatened to go to war. "But we don't have the Turkish Army," added al Rubaie.
Iraq does have the U.S. Army, however, which is keenly aware that Syria has been the conduit for foreign militants for the past four years.
In a briefing on April 26, the Commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq General David Petraeus stated, "Eighty to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners," brought into Iraq by a "network that typically brings them in through Syria." Most of the foreign fighters are Arab youths who are recruited in countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and who then fly to the airport in Damascus where they link up with operatives to cross the border into Iraq.
So far this year there have been more than 200 suicide attacks and car bombs that have killed more than 2,500 Iraqis. The majority of such attacks, which have often targeted soft civilian targets such as crowded marketplaces, are directed by al Qaeda in Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, and have undermined the recent U.S. surge of forces in Baghdad.
Gen. Petraeus said the Syrians had to do more to "crack down" on the trafficking of militants into Iraq but stopped short of saying that Syrians were supporting the insurgents.
Wary of widening the war, the U.S. has been reluctant to threaten Syria with military force and has had limited diplomatic contacts with Syrian regime. "The United States should engage Syria," said al Rubaie.
In the first high-level contact with the Syrian government in more than two years, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem last week in Egypt and later told ABC News she talked to him about "the need to stop the flow of those foreign fighters, the biggest source...of suicide bombers."
In interviews and public statements, Syrian officials, including President Bashar al Assad, have insisted they are doing their best to stop the flow of insurgents across the border.
The Syrian Embassy in Washington today had no comment on the charge by al Rubaie that Syria had failed to act on specific intelligence provided by the Iraqi government.
On other matters, al Rubaie said he had productive meetings with members of Congress in Washington, but he was concerned some members held "entrenched" views dictated more by domestic U.S. politics than by the "reality on the ground in Iraq."
On security, al Rubaie said that there had been "spectacular" progress against insurgents in al Anbar province and "good" progress in reducing sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Regarding the lack of political progress in passing legislation to reconcile the various Iraqi factions and the prospect that the Iraqi Council of Representatives is planning to take a two-month vacation this summer, al Rubaie insisted progress was being made and that the government had convinced the Council to cancel their July vacation. "We're working on August," he added.
Al Rubaie said a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be disastrous and would cede victory to the terrorists. "Iraq is the central front in a global ideological fight" against extremism, he said, indicating that a loss in Iraq would be a major strategic defeat for Iraq and the West.