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US Lawmakers Upset Over Possible Syrian Support for Saddam Holdouts - 2003-04-10

U.S. lawmakers are upset about possible Syrian backing for holdout supporters of Saddam Hussein, and some want the administration to make their concern clear to Damascus.

Concern is evident in both houses of Congress against the background of recent statements by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, about a Syrian role in Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld has said there are indications top Iraqi Baath party officials have fled to Syria, and has also accused Syria of shipping military equipment to Iraq.

During a hearing Thursday of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd asked Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz about statements regarding Syria.

"The Syrians are behaving badly," he said. "They need to be reminded of that, and if they continue, then we need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists, or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq. It is very dubious behavior, and by calling attention to it, we hope that, in fact, that may be enough to get them to stop," he said.

For the moment, Mr. Wolfowitz said, the United States is keeping an eye on Syria, hoping its behavior will change. In response to another question, he said there are no plans that he knows of to send U.S. forces into Syria.

However, he had this to say about a Syrian role in post-Saddam Iraq. "The concern we're raising about Syria is that in recent days, the Syrians have been shipping killers into Iraq to try to kill Americans," he said. "We don't welcome that, [and] we have stopped it when we have found those people, so it is a problem. I think it is important that Iraq's neighbors not meddle with Iraq."

Meanwhile, a Democratic lawmaker in the House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, is re-introducing legislation called the "Syria Accountability Act."

The bill would allow President Bush to impose sanctions on Syria, if it does not end support for terrorist organizations. The legislation was introduced last year, but despite bipartisan support failed to come to a vote in the House.

Syria has been on the State Department's list of terrorist-supporting nations for many years.

However, after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Syria was said to have provided increased levels of support to the United States in the war on terrorism, prompting Secretary of State Colin Powell to say this indicated Damascus might be seeking to improve relations.