U.S. Shuts Down Oil Pipeline From Iraq To Syria

The U.S. has shut down a key oil pipeline that was pumping as many as 200,000 gallons a day from Iraq into Syria.

The pipeline had operated under the Saddam Hussein regime in violation of United Nations sanctions. Syria traded food with Iraq and received oil at what were essentially bargain-basement prices.

"Whether it's the only one and whether that has completely stopped the flow of oil between Iraq and Syria, I cannot tell you," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We do not have perfect knowledge."

The move constitutes Washington's first concrete action against Iraq's western neighbor and could deal a significant blow to Syria's economy, which relies on cheap oil from its neighbor. It came a day after Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer all offered stern criticism of Syria. President Bush expressed similar sentiments over the weekend.

Specifically, the administration accuses Syria of harboring former members of the Iraqi regime, developing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terrorism. The administration used much of the same rhetoric and rationale for justifying the current military action in Iraq. But Powell played down the possibility of military strikes on Syria on Tuesday.

"Iraq was a unique case, where it wasn't just a matter of a dictator being there," he said. "There is no war plan to go and attack someone else, either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values."

At another point in the day, however, Powell appeared to leave the door open to military strikes, saying the U.S. has no war plans for Syria "right now."

For its part, Syria has denied the U.S. charges and said Israeli interests are driving Bush administration policy.

"Even the Israelis will pay the price for it in the future if they don't tell their friends in Washington to stop it," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said recently.

Al-Sharaa later said his government was willing to sign a treaty outlawing weapons of mass destruction. "The Syrian government is ready to sign a treaty under U.N. supervision to make the whole Middle East a zone free from all mass destruction weapons, nuclear, chemical and biological," he said during an interview for broadcast on Australian television.

Other nations in the Middle East have also come to the defense of Syria in recent days.

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami called on the United States on Wednesday to stop threatening Syria and said a U.S. military attack on Iraq's western neighbor was not likely. "Our advice to the Americans is to abandon such threats," Khatami said. "We reject U.S. threats and allegations about ourselves, and I think the same goes with Syria."

A six-nation coalition of states known as the Gulf Cooperation Council on Tuesday also criticized what it perceived as U.S. threats against Syria. "We reject the threats against Syria and we believe that the threats should stop," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani told reporters in Saudi Arabia. Qatar is one the United States' closest allies in the region and is currently home to U.S. Central Command military headquarters.

Other recent developments:

  • More than 70 representatives of various Iraqi ethnic and religious factions gathered in a tent outside Nasiriya Tuesday to discuss plans for a post-war Iraqi government. While no major decisions came out of the meeting, U.S. officials said it was a crucial first step on the path to establishing democracy inside the country.

  • In Nasiriya, thousand of Shiites protested the meeting, chanting, "No, No Saddam, No, No United States." Demonstrators said that Shiite religious leaders should play a prominent role in any new government. They also complained that the U.S. had no right to establish an interim government not run primarily by Iraqis.

  • U.S. Special Forces troops captured one of the world's most wanted terrorists on Tuesday. Fugitive Abu Abbas was the ringleader behind a 1985 hijacking by Palestinian militants of an Italian cruise ship. One passenger was executed during the attack. Abbas had been living in Baghdad since 2000. On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority demanded that the U.S. release Abbas. Meanwhile, the Italian government announced plans to extradite him back to Italy where he can be tried for his role in the Achille Lauro incident.

  • With the cessation of major hostilities in Iraq, the U.S. has begun to scale back its military presence in the Gulf region. Two aircraft carrier battle groups are already on their way home. Two divisions of ground forces that were to have deployed in their entirety to Iraq will now send only some of their units. The Pentagon says it is re-evaluating the exact size and type of force required to help with the reconstruction of Iraq. "What's the mix of forces you need?" Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked rhetorically during a briefing with reporters Tuesday. "Do you need heavy tanks or do you need more people engaged in peacekeeping types of activities?"

  • The U.S. has asked ally Bulgaria to provide troops for the post-war rebuilding effort in Iraq. A Bulgarian spokesperson said the country was planning to provide 150 chemical and biological weapons specialists but will now deploy 100 regular troops instead, at the United States' request.

  • A radio station thought to be backed by the CIA has been broadcasting a rap-style parody of Saddam Hussein to Iraq, according to the British Broadcasting Company. The song, set to Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" is in English and Arabic and features the following lyrics: "If you don't like me, I kill you. I am Saddam/ My days are finished and I will die — all I need is chili fries/ Bush wanna kick me, I don't know why and if I call him, he does me goodbye."

    Radio Tikrit has been part of the anti-Saddam psychological operation — or "psyops" — since mid-February. Its signal was picked up by BBC monitoring and is believed to be broadcast from a CIA transmitter in Kuwait.

  • The latest casualty count: 152 U.S. and British killed, four missing, 3,160 Iraqi troops killed, 13,800 captured, according to the Pentagon and British Ministry of Defense. The total number of Iraqi civilians killed is unknown.

    — Ethan Zindler

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