| A Jordanian protester during an anti-US rally in Amman. (Reuters)
Washington, March 29: Into its second week, the war in Iraq is suddenly threatening to spill over into other countries in the region.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday accused Syria and Iran of hostile acts by helping Iraq and said the US would hold both Damascus and Tehran to account for their actions against US-led forces inside Iraq.
The first Iraqi missile, meanwhile, crashed into a shopping complex in Kuwait awakening people in the emirate to the realisation that they were in reality in a war zone. Kuwait’s air raid sirens suddenly became more than just warnings for its people.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia too said missiles had fallen on its territory. But these were said to be US Tomahawk cruise missiles gone astray and the Americans agreed to suspend using the kingdom’s air space for these missiles in transit to Iraq.
But by far, what worried those in Washington following the conflict in Iraq was a nightmare that somehow, even peripherally, Syria and Iran could be drawn into the war, making it a regional conflict.
Rumsfeld said at his daily briefing at the Pentagon that “we have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles. These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces.
“We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments”.
Rumsfeld has come to be known here as America’s “diplomatic weapon of mass destruction” for his loose tongue and often ill-considered comments which have sparked diplomatic crises for Washington with Europe, among others.
Yesterday, he accused Iran of aiding the entry of proxy forces into Iraq in order to fight the US-led forces. It “will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces”, he said.
“This includes the Badr Corps... trained, equipped and directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and we will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions... Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants”, Rumsfeld asserted.
Rumsfeld was then asked if he was threatening military action against Syria. He replied: “There is no question but that to the extent military supplies or equipment or people move across borders between Iraq and Syria that it vastly complicates our situation”.
When the question was repeated, the defence secretary left it to reporters to read between his words: “I am saying exactly what I said. It was carefully phrased”.
Syria dismissed the allegations and a statement from its foreign ministry said: “What Donald Rumsfeld said about the transportation of equipment from Syria to Iraq is an attempt to cover up what his forces have been committing against civilians in Iraq”.
Syria’s top religious leader, Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro called for suicide attacks against US forces, a call which may have been responsible for a suicide bomber driving a taxi into a checkpoint in south-central Iraq killing four American soldiers today.
Syria’s President Bashar Assad too added his voice to the rising rhetoric when said: “America wants to remodel the (West Asia) region to its own liking”.
Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, who is credited with having envisioned and planned the blueprint of the attack on Iraq for the Republicans as early as 1997 admitted yesterday that “I don’t think we anticipated so many people who would pretend to surrender and then shoot. I don’t think we anticipated such a level of execution squads inside Basra”.
He is the highest Bush administration official yet to speak on the lines of some US military commanders in Iraq who have said this week that there have been surprises for the Americans on the ground.
In his weekly address, President George W Bush prepared the Americans to face more casualties when he said: “We are now fighting the most desperate units of the dictator’s army. The fighting is fierce and we do not know its duration, yet we know the outcome of this battle: The Iraqi regime will be disarmed and removed from power”.