BAGHDAD (AP)-[no link, off the wire]-Iraq's top al-Qaida terrorist, angered by a postelection lull in violence, ordered insurgents a month ago to intensify attacks and his lieutenants began plotting their deadly mission during a secret meeting in Syria, a top U.S. military official said Wednesday.
The Syrian meeting, possibly attended by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, has led to one of the bloodiest periods since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago. Nearly 500 people have been killed - including an Iraqi general mowed down in a driveby shooting Wednesday - since the country's new Shiite-dominated government was announced April 28.
[...] Syrian political analyst Imad Fawzi al-Shueibi, who is close to the Damascus government, dismissed the report as "part of an organized campaign against Syria."
"Syria has no interest in (helping) al-Zarqawi," al-Shueibi said. "If al-Zarqawi and his group win in Iraq, they will turn the region into a fundamentalist nightmare."
The U.S., at the highest leadership levels, repeatedly has demanded that Syria do more to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq across their porous 380-mile-long border.
"He (al-Zarqawi) allegedly was not happy with how the insurgency was going, the government was getting stronger and coalition forces not being defeated," the official said. "Some intelligence reports from captives showed that al-Zarqawi directed people to start using more vehicle-borne devices and (to) use them in everyday operations."
In response to al-Zarqawi's call, there had been 21 car bombings, mostly suicide attacks, in Baghdad during May, compared with 25 such attacks in all of 2004, the official said. Nearly 130 car bombs have exploded or been defused since late February, he said.
In one of the latest bombings, all that was found of the attacker was his foot taped to the car's accelerator, the official said, indicating he'd been forced to carry out the suicide mission.
In Washington, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said he couldn't confirm or deny reports that the meeting had occurred but noted that "insurgent-inspired" activities are "clearly" taking place in Syria - though without Syrian government collusion.
"It's very important that the Syrian government do everything within its power to keep violence from migrating or being planned in Syria into Iraq," Abizaid said on Capitol Hill. Asked if he thought Damascus was doing enough, he replied: "No, I do not think the Syrian government is doing enough."
During a recent weeklong offensive near the Syrian border, more than 1,000 U.S. forces killed 125 al-Zarqawi-linked insurgents, the military said. Nine U.S. Marines died in the campaign that targeted ancient smuggling routes crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border, believed to be now used for slipping foreign fighters and weapons into the country.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Syria on Monday for complicating efforts by Iraq's new government to quell violence and appealed to Syria's Arab neighbors to force Damascus to close its borders.