The American General who commands all U.S. forces in the Middle East says he can not confirm a statement by one of his subordinates that the recent increase in violence in Iraq resulted from a meeting of leading insurgents in Syria. But the general, John Abizaid, says Syria should do more to ensure that insurgents do not use the country as a logistical base.
On Wednesday in Iraq, a senior U.S. military official said there was a secret meeting in Syria about a month ago of top commanders working under Iraq's al-Qaida leader Abu Musab Zarqawi. The official, who requested anonymity from reporters who spoke to him, said the terrorist leader himself might have been at the meeting, and that it resulted in the recent intense wave of bombings that has killed hundreds of people, mostly Iraqis, during the last three weeks.
Speaking later in Washington, General Abizaid said he could not confirm that, but he did say Syria is not doing enough to prevent terrorists from using its territory to plan and support operations in Iraq.
"Clearly, we do know that there are activities that are taking place in Syria, not with the collusion of the Syrian government, but are activities that are insurgent-inspired that are taking place over there,” he explained. “It's very important that the Syrian government do everything within its power to keep violence from migrating, or being planned in Syria, into Iraq."
General Abizaid spoke after a classified discussion with members of the U.S. Congress about military operations in his area of responsibility, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. He accused Abu Musab Zarqawi of perverting the meaning of Islam to try to justify the killing of innocent Iraqi men, women and children.
General Abizaid's boss, the top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, called Zarqawi a "criminal" who will go to "any lengths" to try to spark a civil war in Iraq.
"A lot of Iraqi men, women and children have died because this violent extremist is trying to convince others to do it. Talk about a guy that just has absolutely no moral foundation. It's an outrage," said Mr. Myers.
General Myers said recent public opinion polls in Iraq indicate that the Iraqi people understand what the Zarqawi group is trying to do, and do not support it.
The U.S. military has just completed a major operation in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, which it says significantly damaged the insurgents' ability to launch attacks.