Iraqi security forces seized 200 explosive belts along the Syrian border Wednesday, a police spokesman said, reinforcing Baghdad's claims that its western neighbor isn't doing enough to stop the flow of fighters and weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq.
The belts were found during a search of a truck that had crossed into Iraq from Syria at the Waleed border station, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.
"When the truck was searched, 200 explosives belts were found in it," the general said. He said the driver was detained but would not give his name or nationality.
Iraqi and U.S. authorities have long complained that Syria is not doing enough to stem the flow of weapons, ammunition and foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria insists it is trying to stop the flow but that it is impossible to seal off the long desert border.
But U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters that 60 to 80 foreign fighters enter Iraq "in any given month" — 70 percent of them through Syria. He said up to 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by "foreign-born al-Qaida terrorists."
Bergner did not offer detailed evidence to support the claim.
However, he cited the July 1 suicide attack that collapsed part of a major bridge across the Euphrates River north of Ramadi. A second bomber was supposed to have attacked the bridge but backed out and was captured, Bergner said.
The surviving attacker told interrogators he had been recruited by al-Qaida in his home country, flown to Syria and smuggled across the border to Ramadi, where he stayed for about 10 days before the attack.
Bergner would not give the would-be attacker's nationality, but other military officials said he was a Saudi. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.
Al-Qaida regrouping anticipated
Bergner said the U.S. command expected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters "to lash out and stage spectacular attacks to reassert themselves" after U.S. troops' gains in their stronghold of Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad.
A number of private security analysts have questioned the U.S. military's emphasis on al-Qaida in Iraq, saying it is one of many Sunni and Shiite groups threatening Iraq's stability. Some have suggested that the emphasis on al-Qaida is to link the fight in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. at a time when the American public is turning against the conflict.
But Bergner insisted al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies were the main focus because they were the "main accelerant in sectarian violence and the greatest source of these spectacular" suicide attacks "that are killing Iraqis in such large numbers."
U.S. officials maintain that violence in Anbar province, long the focal point of the Sunni insurgency, dropped by 50 percent after local Sunni tribes joined U.S. and Iraqi forces in fighting al-Qaida last year.
That has led to a series of reprisal attacks by al-Qaida, a Sunni terror group, against Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere who have abandoned the insurgency.
On Wednesday, insurgents drove to a house in the Anbar town of Karmah, locked the occupants inside, and blew up the house, Iraqi police and U.S. military officials said. Eleven people were killed.
The house was owned by a member of the Provincial Security Forces organized to protect towns and villages against extremists, the U.S. military said.
Early Wednesday, U.S. and Iraqi forces drove out dozens of insurgents who had attacked and seized control of a remote village northeast of Baghdad. Residents of Sherween had telephoned Iraqi officials a day earlier pleading for help, saying armed villagers were trying to defend themselves against the attackers.
The U.S.-Iraqi forces killed 20 militants and captured 20 others in the battle overnight, the U.S. military said.
Lt. Col. Fred Johnson said the attackers had fled Baqouba, focus of the U.S. offensive north of the capital, and had attacked Sherween 35 miles to the northeast in an attempt to "raise the morale" of their fighters.
Another U.S. death reported
In the city of Samarra — a region 60 miles north of Baghdad that has seen frequent insurgent attacks — U.S. troops uncovered 12 bodies this week, according to Iraqi police and AP Television News footage of the bodies. The bodies were partially decomposed, and it was not known who killed them or when.
Also Wednesday, a U.S. soldier died of an unspecified "non-battle related cause," the U.S. military said without elaborating.
A German woman who was kidnapped in Iraq was freed after 155 days in captivity, but her son is still being held. Hannelore Krause, 62, told Al-Arabiya television that her adult son, Sinan, would be killed if German troops do not leave Afghanistan.
"They kidnapped me and my son and we are German citizens," she said, speaking in German with Arabic voice-over. "I call on the Germans to leave Afghanistan and that the Germany army withdraw from Afghanistan. If they don't respond to this demand, my son will be slaughtered."
The mother and son, who disappeared Feb. 6, were shown twice in videos released by an insurgent group calling itself "Arrows of Righteousness." The group threatened to kill the hostages if Germany did not begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan within 10 days.
Connection to U.K. terror plot?
An Anglican priest who may have received a cryptic warning of recent failed car bombings in London and Glasgow has fled Iraq after threats against his life, an associate said.
Canon Andrew White, a British national who ran Iraq's only Anglican church, left Tuesday and returned to Britain, the associate said on condition of anonymity, saying the British Foreign Office had asked that it be the only source of information on the case.
The associate refused to elaborate on the threats. But the British Broadcasting Corp. Web site said pamphlets dropped in Shiite areas of Baghdad branded the vicar as "no more than a spy."
White had been working to secure the release of five British hostages who were seized at the Iraqi Finance Ministry on May 29 by gunmen wearing police uniforms.
White told The Associated Press that while in Amman, Jordan, in April, he had met a man identified by religious leaders as an al-Qaida leader. The man told him "Those who cure you will kill you."
White said in retrospect that may have been a warning of last month's failed plot to blow up car bombs in London and Scotland. Nearly all the suspects worked in medical professions.