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thedrifter
12-03-07, 08:57 AM
Odierno: Fewer foreign fighters entering Iraq
The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Dec 2, 2007 15:23:49 EST

BAGHDAD — The U.S. second-in-command in Iraq said Sunday there has been a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in foreign fighters entering Iraq, and he credited Syria with taking steps to limit the flow.

The Americans and Iraqi officials have demanded that Syria do more to stop foreign fighters from crossing its borders to fight in Iraq, where they threaten U.S. forces as well as Iraqi civilians.

Damascus says it has taken all necessary measures but that it is impossible to fully control the sprawling desert along the porous 354-mile border. Syrian authorities say they have increased the number of outposts to one every 400 yards in some zones along the frontier.

“We have seen a reduction in the amount of foreign fighters entering Iraq,” Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno told CNN in an interview. “It’s probably been about a 25 to 30 percent reduction that we’ve seen.”

He gave Syria credit for taking steps to limit the flow.

“We think they can do a bit more but we’re pleased with the fact that they are taking some additional responsibility with their own internal security measures,” he said. “There’s still too many coming across and we would like to see them eliminated completely and we’ll continue to ask them to do that.”

Odierno’s statement was the latest indication that the U.S. is softening its diplomatic hard line against an Arab state that has played a role in past peace efforts in the Middle East. Better U.S.-Syrian ties also could dilute Iran’s influence in the region.

The commander reiterated that the military has seen a “small reduction” in the number of attacks using explosively formed penetrators, armor-piercing roadside bombs that the U.S. says come from Iran. Tehran denies it is fomenting violence in Iraq, saying it is trying to help stabilize its fellow, predominantly Shiite neighbor.

But Odierno told CNN he was in a “wait-and-see mode” as U.S. troops continue to find caches of rockets, mortars and other munitions believed to be Iranian.

“We’ve seen some decline in activity. I hope that from our perspective that in fact they have stopped supplying some of these extremist groups. That would be very good,” he said. “I’m not ready to say they have but we have seen a slight reduction.”

He also said the U.S. was holding 10 to 15 Iranians, but he could not say how many were accused of links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force, which the military accuses of supporting the militants.

Ellie