posted on Apr, 19 2003 @ 07:29 PM
An effective excuse to go into Syria
At Least 7 Iraqi Leaders Believed to Be in Syria
By DOUGLAS JEHL
ASHINGTON, April 18 — The United States believes that at least seven senior Iraqi officials are now in Syria, including a figure who is No. 8 on the
American wanted list, defense officials said today.
The most senior Iraqi identified in American intelligence reports as being in Syria is Kamal Mustapha Abdullah al-Tikriti, secretary of the Republican
Guard and Special Republican Guard, the officials said.
In recent days, the State Department has relayed to Syria the names of Iraqi officials believed to be there, with a request that they be expelled,
administration officials said today. It was not clear whether Mr. Tikriti was on that list. A State Department official said tonight he had not heard
Mr. Tikriti was in Syria.
The American military has also stepped up its search efforts in parts of northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border where some senior Iraqi officials
are now suspected to be hiding.
For more than a week, administration officials including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have said that they believed some Iraqi officials or
their families escaped to Syria and perhaps beyond.
In their public statements, the officials have not been more specific about who they believed to be in Syria. But in a television interview broadcast
on Thursday night, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the United States had provided Syria with "some information concerning specific named
individuals that we would hope they will look into."
The only other Iraqis that administration officials said they believed were in Syria and cited by name were Farouk Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to
Tunisia and a former senior intelligence operative, and possibly President Saddam Hussein's first wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah.
The concerns about the flight of Iraqi officials have aggravated an already difficult relationship between the United States and Syria. Bush
administration officials have long expressed concern that Syria is developing chemical weapons and about its support for organizations the United
States considers terrorist, including Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Mr. Powell has said he plans to travel to Syria later this spring to discuss all those issues with its leader, President Bashar al-Assad.
The defense officials who identified Mr. Tikriti as the highest-ranking Iraqi believed to be in Syria spoke on condition of anonymity and would not
describe the basis for the intelligence reports. They said he was among seven or eight Iraqis on the American list who are believed to be in Syria.
United States forces in Iraq have detained several high-ranking Iraqi officials in recent days, and other Iraqis have surrendered to American troops.
But none have been ranked as high as Mr. Tikriti on the American list.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied having granted refuge to any Iraqi officials, and said it had closed its border to Iraqis. American
officials say those border posts have indeed been closed in recent days, a step they have characterized as positive, but they say it is possible that
Iraqi leaders may be finding other routes into Syria.
Of Iraq's six neighbors — the others are Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — Syria had by far the closest economic and political ties
with the Baghdad government, and it is regarded by intelligence officials as being the most likely escape route for fleeing Iraqi officials.
American forces in Iraq have now begun the process of sorting through Iraqi prisoners of war to determine who should remain in custody.
In the last two weeks, coalition forces have released 887 Iraqis detained during the war who have since been determined to be noncombatants, the
Pentagon said today.
"Our intention is not to hold prisoners indefinitely and to get these people processed as soon as possible," said Cmdr. Chris Isleib, a Pentagon
But nearly 7,000 Iraqi prisoners are still being held at camps in the southern city of Umm Qasr, where the United States is constructing what it has
named its Theater Internment Facility. An unknown number of additional prisoners are still at temporary holding units elsewhere or are with the
military units who captured them, the officials said.
Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war can be held until the end of hostilities, a condition the United States is not likely to declare for
weeks or even months. But noncombatants who did not engage in hostile acts during the war and were not part of a military force are to be released as
soon as their status is determined.
Among the prisoners held at Umm Qasr are a number of high-ranking Iraqi officers, according to defense officials. They are being interrogated as part
of the broader American effort to seek out other Iraqi officials who have evaded capture and to obtain information about Iraq's suspected caches of
In other military developments today, the Pentagon said it had recovered and identified the remains of an Air Force pilot missing since his F-15E
fighter jet went down in Iraq on April 7. The pilot was identified as Capt. Eric B. Das, 30, of Amarillo, Tex., and his status was changed from
missing to killed in action.
The search for the plane's weapons officer, who has not been publicly identified, is continuing. The confirmation of Captain Das's death brings to
128 the number of American military personnel killed in the war. Two Americans are still listed as missing — the second F-15 crew member and Army Sgt.
Edward J. Anguiano, 24, of Brownsville, Tex., missing since his convoy was ambushed on March 23 in Iraq.
No Americans are listed as prisoners of war from the current conflict.