Iraq battles its leaking borders
Iraq's prime minister called on Syria and Iran Sunday to help check flow of weapons, fighters.
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US forces in Baqubah had to adjust their rules of engagement to avoid killing Iraqi civilians engaged in battling insurgents, says brigade commander Col. Dana Pittard.Skip to next paragraph
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Controlling the traffic of fighters and weapons, as well as smuggled goods, is difficult due to the rugged terrain along the eastern border with Iran, and the presence of close-knit tribes that straddle the western border with Syria, US and Iraqi officials say. "On the Iranian border, you're talking about miles and miles of mountainous terrain. There's no way you can seal off that kind of a border," Secretary Wolfowitz said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters Sunday that Iran wants only "stability and security in Iraq." All Iraq's neighbors fear a spillover of the violence and chaos that followed Saddam's fall.
"We haven't done any action that may smell of an act of interference in Iraq's internal affairs from the very beginning, and won't do so in the future either," Mr. Asefi said.
Along the Syrian border, tribes such as the Shamar, Al Jubouri, and Al Fawzil migrate back and forth from Iraq. Many of the Iraqi border guards are tribal members with family on either side of the border, and often turn a blind eye to such smuggling, according to US and Iraqi officials. No computer database currently exists for tracking the passage of people and goods across the border, they say.
Meanwhile, border guards driving two-wheel-drive vehicles are often outrun by people crossing illegally in four-wheel drive Land Cruisers. Also, a long dirt berm built by US military engineers to delineate the Syrian border is easily transversed in many places by vehicles like Toyota pickup trucks, they say.
Monday, the New York Times reported that relatives of Saddam Hussein, working from Syria and Jordan, were smuggling weapons, fighters, and money into Iraq.
Still, progress is continuing in the training and equipping of an Iraqi border force, which currently stands at about 18,000 men. In Nineveh Province, 19 of 26 border forts are now fully manned with 1,300 guards equipped with radios, weapons, and vehicles for patrols. The guards now regularly stop and jail undocumented transients, including 90 in the past month, US officials say. "When we first got here, it was unheard of for the border police to intercept anyone. Now they do frequently," says Colonel Rounds. He is working to add at least 600 more guards from a mixture of tribes and ethnic groups to the border.
US officials have suggested ways to strengthen controls further, such as a fence along the Syrian border or "nonforgeable" identity cards for Iraqis.
Border controls are vital because once inside Iraq, foreign fighters are finding sanctuary in cities such as Tall Afar, a diverse city of 227,000 people that has become both a way station and base for attacks on US and Iraqi forces. "It has links to the [border crossing at] Rabiah and rat lines from Syria, so its traditionally a way station between Syria and Baghdad," says Captain Beaty.
Moreover, current Tall Afar leaders have "no real intent of denying their town to criminals, terrorists, or any type of bad guy" says Rounds, indicating that provincial officials are prepared to replace them if they fail to act.