Rumsfeld said shipments of military equipment, including night-vision goggles, have crossed into Iraq from neighboring Syria. Although he did not directly accuse the Syrian government of providing the fighting tools, he did say the government controls the border with Iraq and would be held responsible for the continuation of such shipments.
“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 said.
When asked whether the U.S. would retaliate with military force, Rumsfeld would say only that the shipments “vastly complicates” the operation in Iraq.
A spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the accusation was “absolutely unfounded” and called the comments “irresponsible.”
The defense secretary also had harsh words for Iraqi exiles living in Iran who have formed a guerilla fighting group known as the Badr Brigades, that Rumsfeld said have crossed Iraq’s eastern border. According to the defense secretary, the Badr Brigades are equipped and directed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Iran, which fought a bloody war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988, has endorsed the idea of ousting Saddam Hussein from power, but its religious leaders and president have denounced the current U.S.-led intervention.
Rumsfeld said “hundreds” of Badr fighters are in the inside Iraq, and warned the Iranian government against backing them or any other proxy militants.
He said non-coalition military personnel inside Iraqi territory would be treated as combatants, saying “the entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of [U.S. commander] Gen. [Tommy] Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces.”
Asked whether there had been any contact between U.S. and Badr Corps fighters, Rumsfeld replied, “No, not yet.”
The Badr Brigades have carried out numerous attacks against Saddam Hussein over the years and were a key part of the mass uprising of Shiites after the Gulf War in 1991.