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Gates: Foreign Fighters Passing Through Syria to Target Iraqis


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says dozens of foreign fighters are moving into Iraq from Syria every month, mostly to conduct suicide attacks against Iraqi civilians. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates told the Pentagon's own television channel most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces are roadside bombs planted by people working with al-Qaida or Iraqi militants. He said foreign fighters have a different method, and usually a different target.

"Most of the foreign fighters, as I read the intelligence, many of the foreign fighters are, in fact, suicide bombers. And they come across the border from Syria, perhaps several dozen a month, and they are responsible for a lot of these attacks. These foreign fighters are coming into Iraq principally to kill Iraqis, not to kill coalition forces. There are clearly some that do [kill coalition forces], but by and large they're killing Iraqis," said Gates.

In Iraq Wednesday, suicide bombers struck in Baghdad and Kirkuk, killing four civilians. On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed more than 30 Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims on their way back to Baghdad from the holy city of Karbala.

U.S. officials have frequently called on Syria and Iran to stop fueling violence in Iraq, and officials from both countries participated in a meeting in Baghdad on Saturday designed to convince Iraq's neighbors to help ease the tension, rather than adding to it.

Secretary Gates told the Pentagon Channel Iran's role in the Iraqi violence involves providing material for high-powered roadside bombs, but he said it is not clear whether top Iranian officials are involved in the effort.

The secretary also said it is too early to fully evaluate the new Baghdad security plan, but he said his top priority is to improve the security situation in Iraq so U.S. troops can leave the country without leaving chaos behind.