Iraq bolsters security on Syrian border
Baghdad has begun to amass troops along the Syrian border amid reports that fighters from al Qaeda's Iraqi faction are looking to gain a foothold in Syria. Iraqi foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters on Thursday that armed "operational officers" from al Qaeda in Iraq appeared to be moving into Syria via established smuggling routes along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
"We have solid information and intelligence that members of al Qaeda terrorist networks have gone in the other direction, to Syria, to help, to liaise, to carry out terrorist attacks," Zebari said during a briefing in Baghdad. "Most of the suicide bombers, foreign fighters, elements of al Qaeda used to slip into Iraq from Syria. So they know the routes and the connections."
Al Qaeda fighters regularly passed through Syria on their way to Iraq to support the anti-American insurgency during the most violent years of the Iraq war. As a result, Baghdad has deployed hundreds of Iraqi national security forces to the country's 400-mile border with Syria, making it the most heavily guarded Iraqi frontier, according to Reuters.
The terror group's Iraqi cell has experienced a resurgence in the past few months, spurred on by the growing violence in Syria. Should al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) be able to establish a stable presence inside Syria, the current wave of violence inside Iraq could get much worse, Zebari warned.
"This is our main concern -- about the spillover, about extremist groups taking root in neighboring countries, to have a base," he said.
The Defense Department confirmed in May that elements of al Qaeda in Iraq were on the ground in Syria, but has no proof that members have infiltrated the ranks of Syrian rebel forces. The threat of Syrian rebel forces being co-opted by terror groups like al Qaeda has been the main crux of the Pentagon's argument against providing arms and military support to the rebellion.
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