Fast-moving events, especially during wartime when information can be difficult to confirm, often generate startling claims or stories that garner immediate attention but then are pushed aside by other major developments. As the war in Iraq progresses, Outlook's Zeroing In will focus on some of these initial claims or stories, and what has happened since.
On Sunday, March 30, Iraqi Gen. Hazem Rawi said at a news conference that 4,000 volunteers from 23 Arab nations had come to Iraq to carry out suicide bombings or other attacks against the coalition forces.
WHAT U.S. AND IRAQI OFFICIALS
HAVE SAID SINCE THEN
Iraq: Other Iraqi leaders have expanded on Rawi's claim. On Monday, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri (shown at right) told reporters that 5,000 volunteers had come to aid Iraq. "Most of them want to train for martyrdom attacks," he said. The next day, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan put the figure at 6,000, "more than half of them martyrdom-seekers." On Friday, Iraq's information minister said attackers would mount "martyrdom operations in a very new, creative way."
United States: Pentagon and military officials haven't shed much light on the accuracy of the claim. On "Fox News Sunday," hours before the first of two suicide bomb attacks on U.S. forces last week, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked whether thousands of "volunteers and jihadists" were "flooding across the border." Rumsfeld hinted that the figure might be exaggerated, saying, "Well, I don't know about flooding across the borders."
The only specific comment from the U.S. Central Command came Tuesday, when Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks (at left) said: "I don't accept that there's an increasing number. I accept that there may be some increasing reports, but I don't know that it's an increasing number. We certainly know that there's an increasing willingness on the part of the regime to use more and more civilians."
WHAT THE MEDIA
From Arab countries: Based on reports from various Arab capitals, hundreds may be a more accurate number at this point. The Guardian reported from Beirut that 36 Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians left there for Iraq on Monday, and hundreds more have applied for visas. The Daily Star of Lebanon reported from Baghdad on Thursday that 150 Yemenis had arrived in Baghdad by bus. The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad announced that it had sent "several dozen 'martyrdom volunteers.' " Not everyone was being allowed to go, however: Agence France-Presse reported, citing unnamed sources, that Yemeni authorities had detained "dozens of volunteers" at the airport in Sanaa, Yemen's capital.
From Washington: Only a few news organizations have reported what U.S. intelligence analysts think about the Iraqi claim. On Tuesday, a Chicago Tribune story said that "there is no evidence supporting Iraqi claims that thousands of suicide bombers" had gone to Iraq. The story was based on interviews with unnamed intelligence officials, who said the war and the massive U.S. presence in Iraq would make it extremely difficult for large numbers of volunteers to reach Baghdad at this stage. The intelligence sources said there was no indication that Iraq had tried to recruit foreigners in the months before the war began.