U.S. officials are reacting cautiously to a videotape of interviews with purported insurgents in Iraq. On the tape, which aired on a U.S.-funded Iraqi television network, some of the men claim to have been trained by Syria to carry out attacks in Iraq.
In the tape, a harsh-sounding off-screen interrogator questions men who al-Iraqiyah television says were recently arrested. Over two days, the U.S.-funded Iraqi network aired interviews with Egyptians, Sudanese, and Iraqis who claimed to have received terror training in Syria. One asserted that he is a lieutenant in Syrian intelligence.
Then, a clip superimposes pictures of the men over the horrifically familiar video of a hostage kneeling in front his captors as he is about to be beheaded.
But the authenticity of the alleged insurgents confessions cannot be independently verified. Syria emphatically denies allegations that it is funding or training Iraqi insurgents.
Asked about the video and its politically sensitive allegations of Syrian involvement, U.S. officials are treating it with caution, saying that the claims cannot be confirmed or denied.
"We're looking into the news reports that depicted Syrian, or alleged Syrian insurgents on Iraqi TV. We're looking into it. We don't have any information that can either confirm, deny or attest in any form or fashion to the truth or validity of the news story," he said.
The Bush administration has accused Syria of sheltering former members of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Anthony Cordesman, a security and Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the statements in the video do jibe closely with U.S. allegations about Syria and Iraq. "It's been very clear that senior U.S. officials believe that Syria is at least tolerating a significant Iraqi Baathist structure inside Syria that is providing money, technical support, and direction to the insurgency," he said.
But, he says, some Iraqi statements about Syria have been found to be exaggerated. And confessions in the Middle East, he adds, are not always reliable because of the conditions under which they are sometimes obtained. "Confessions in the Middle East often are not terribly reliable. People are often put under intense pressure. They are made to say things which even if they have a core of truth are far more extreme than the actual case," he said.
Syria is already under considerable international pressure over Lebanon, where it keeps a 15,000 man troop force. Angry Lebanese blame Syria for the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and have increased calls for Syrian troops to pull out. Syria has strongly denied it had anything to do with the bomb attack that killed Mr. Hariri.