News On Iran & Its Neighbours Iraq Bush dispatches envoys to Arab capitals as part of...

Bush dispatches envoys to Arab capitals as part of Iraq plan

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New York Times: President Bush directed Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad, to stop in Saudi Arabia on their way back to Iraq from Washington to encourage the Saudis to increase their overall support for Iraq, Mr. Bush said Thursday. The New York Times

By ERIC SCHMITT
Published: April 11, 2008

President Bush directed Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad, to stop in Saudi Arabia on their way back to Iraq from Washington to encourage the Saudis to increase their overall support for Iraq, Mr. Bush said Thursday.

The president also said he had ordered senior American diplomats to the Middle East to meet leaders of Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and urge them to reopen their embassies in Baghdad, as Bahrain did recently. Mr. Bush said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would attend a conference later this month in Kuwait for neighboring states and another in Stockholm for nations helping Iraq rebuild its economy.

“A stable, successful, independent Iraq is in the strategic interests of Arab nations,” Mr. Bush said at the White House. “And all who want peace in the Middle East should support a stable, democratic Iraq.”

Coming at the end of a week that featured the Congressional testimony of General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker defending the administration’s Iraq policy, the renewed diplomatic effort is intended to build on a quiet campaign that has been under way for months.

Several top American diplomats, military officers and intelligence officials have visited more than a dozen Middle East countries in an effort to cut the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, General Petraeus said Thursday.

The general said that the entreaties were part of a multipronged effort to choke off what he described as the stream of money, weapons and foreign fighters who serve as suicide bombers for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s.

At a news conference here, General Petraeus cited trips to the region by Dell L. Dailey, a retired three-star Army general who is the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, as well as his own travels to Iraq’s neighbors to “get at the networks, the countries in which they operate and the sources of some of these foreign fighters.”

General Petraeus did not name the countries he visited, but The Associated Press reported that since September he had visited Jordan, Kuwait Bahrain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. “There’s no one silver bullet, as you well know, that can be shot that stops the flow of foreign fighters,” General Petraeus said. “Rather, it takes a host of different efforts.” Foreign fighters make up a small minority of the overall number of insurgents in Iraq, American officials say.

In an interview on Thursday, General Dailey said that he had traveled to some dozen countries to press for tighter controls. Between November and February, he visited Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt.

General Dailey said that cracking down on the flow of foreign fighters would reduce the most dangerous attacks against allied forces in Iraq, since the vast majority of suicide bombers were foreigners. But he said he also underscored to the officials he met in each country that the militants posed a serious threat if they left Iraq and returned home.

“Now the country has the problem of a well-trained, combat-seasoned, twisted individual probably ready to do some damage in the source country,” he said.

General Dailey said he made the visits based on data from documents and computers discovered last September, when American forces raided an insurgent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. The most significant discovery in the trove was a collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns, dates of birth, aliases and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006.

General Dailey said that in each country he visited with a team of specialists from the Defense, Treasury, Justice and Homeland Security departments, he presented the data on foreign fighters from that nation. He said virtually all the countries he visited were receptive to using the data to help identify militants and stem their flight to Iraq.

Syria, through which American officials say most foreign fighters enter Iraq, was contacted through low-level diplomatic channels about two months ago to help crack down on the passage through its borders and tighten its visa procedures. General Dailey said. Asked about the Syrian response, he said, “The jury is still out.”

Combined with the military operations, including the raid on the Sinjar cell, the diplomatic campaign seems to have had an effect, American officials said.

Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters on March 16 that the number of foreign fighters being brought into Iraq had fallen to about 40 or 50 a month, from a peak of 120 a month in mid-2007.

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