The coalition commander in Iraq has for the first time had something good to say about Syrian government actions to stop foreign insurgents from getting into Iraq. But at the same time the general expressed only concern about Iran's efforts to influence events in Iraq, both before and after Thursday's election.
Reporters frequently ask U.S. officials and military officers about Syria's failure to stop foreign insurgents from entering Iraq across the long land border between the two countries. The answers have been invariably critical of Syria's government for saying it does not support the insurgents, but not doing anything to stop them.
This time, speaking from Iraq via satellite on Friday, General George Casey gave a different answer.
"The Syrians appear to be taking some action to pick up foreign fighters and suicide bombers coming through Syria," said General Casey.
General Casey indicated that the new Syrian effort has not been extensive, but has had some impact.
"We have indications of a few, not a major change in their operating style, but we have indications of a few measures that may, in fact, have helped limit some of the suicide bombers and foreign fighters coming through Syria," he said. "We'd clearly like to see more of that."
At the same time, General Casey said Iran, is continuing to add to Iraq's problems.
"The intelligence we get tells us that they invested fairly heavily in supporting political parties in the south," explained General Casey. "And I believe that they will continue to attempt to influence the formation of this government over the coming weeks, to get a government that they believe is supportive of their interests. That is worrisome and it is a challenge for us."
U.S. officials have repeatedly called on both Iran and Syria to be supportive of Iraq's fledgling democracy. General Casey indicated Syria might be starting to respond, but Iran is not.