US 'inflated' foreign fighters' numbers
by
Thursday 18 November 2004 2:07 PM GMT


Iraqis made up the vast majority of Falluja's anti-US resistance

Washington has exaggerated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq in order to justify the recent assault on Falluja, an official Syrian daily said.


"The question of foreign fighters crossing Iraqi [borders] has been exaggerated, given that only 24 of the 1000 insurgents captured in Falluja are foreign," al-Thawra said on Thursday.

A massive US-led assault on Falluja began 10 days ago with the aim of wresting control of the city from alleged foreign fighters.

The US say the fighters are led by Jordanian-born fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other anti-US fighters.

Washington has repeatedly accused Syria and Iran of allowing
foreign fighters to cross their borders with Iraq to join the Falluja resistance.

Revised figures

However, of the more than 1000 men between the ages of 15 and 55 who were captured in intense fighting in Falluja last week, just 15 are confirmed foreign fighters, General George Casey, the top US ground commander in Iraq, said on Monday.


The US says it now controls more
than 90% of the ravaged town

The overwhelming majority of anti-US fighters, several senior commanders said, are drawn from tens of thousands of former government employees whose sympathies lie with Saddam Hussein, unemployed "criminals" who find work laying roadside bombs, and Iraqi "religious extremists".

Also on Monday, Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi acknowledged that anti-US fighters were largely made up of his countrymen.

But he continued to assert that foreign fighters had often been responsible for car bombings and other spectacular attacks that he said were designed to derail elections scheduled for January.

Falluja 'destruction'

For its part, the Syrian daily warned "the destruction of Falluja is a message sent to other Iraqi cities, threatening them with the same fate if they rebel against the [American] occupation and hinder plans made for the Americanisation of Iraq".

"The destruction of Falluja is a message sent to other Iraqi
cities, threatening them with the same fate if they rebel against the [American] occupation and hinder plans made for the Americanisation of Iraq"

Al-Thawra,
Syrian daily


The United States must "prove that al-Zarqawi is not a ghost who serves to cover the intentions of the American invasion, as with the question of weapons of mass destruction which was exaggerated in order to launch the Iraq war" in March 2003.

Washington slapped unilateral sanctions on Damascus in May, claiming it was supporting terrorism and seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, charges denied by Syria.

In September, Syria undertook to tighten its 600km border with Iraq, which was closed as part of a state of emergency declared in Iraq on 7 November.

The Syrian rebuke comes after US officials admitted only about 5% of fighters recently captured in Falluja were of foreign origin.