WASHINGTON – A Syrian pipeline used by Al-Qaeda in Iraq to smuggle Islamic fighters into Iraq has been reactivated after a short lull, The Washington Post reported.
The newspaper said the revival of the transit route that officials had declared all but closed comes as the administration of President Barack Obama is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria.
On Wednesday, acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Obama's inauguration as president.
However later last week, the administration renewed sanctions against Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting Mideast terrorism and undermining Iraqi stability.
The Bush administration frequently criticized Syria for the transit of foreign fighters, suggesting that the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad was involved in the traffic, the report said.
"We do think that the knowledge of these networks exists at least within the Syrian intelligence community," the paper quoted an unnamed senior US military official as saying. "What level, if it's low or high up, we just don't have a good gauge on."
General David Petraeus, who heads the US Central Command, told Congress late last month that the Al-Qaeda in Iraq pipeline through Syria had been "reactivated."
The military is particularly concerned about the area around Mosul, in the northwest near the Syrian border, which officials have described as the last bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"There was a period ... where we were probably seeing less than half a dozen foreign fighters being pushed through the network," the official told The Post.
More recently, he said, the estimate has risen to 20 a month, and various intelligence sources have noted an increased "demand call" in Iraq for foreign fighters.
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