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Iraq, US boosting efforts to halt insurgents at border

ANKARA, Turkey -- Islamic militants volunteering to fight in Iraq or carrying cash to fuel the insurgency are using fake passports or bribes to sneak across the Syrian border into Iraq, according to the US-led coalition. Others bypass guard posts and simply drive across the poorly patrolled desert border.

Iraqi and US officials are boosting efforts to close the porous crossing points, calling it a key step in fighting the insurgency. But they have to protect 2,200 miles of frontier shared with six countries: Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

Iraq is training 15,000 border guards and hopes to have them in place within six weeks, said Ziad Cattan, deputy secretary general of the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Cattan refused to say how many guards are now on the border, commenting only that it was ''really not a lot."

US forces began Operation Phantom Linebacker in early August, sending Marines, soldiers, and Special Forces troops to beef up Iraqi border patrols, said Major Denise Varner, spokeswoman for coalition forces in Baghdad.

Also, Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has lobbied the leaders of Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to better patrol their borders and plans to visit Iran soon, said his spokesman, Georges Sada.

The problem is so serious that Iran has offered to host a conference on border security for Iraq's neighbors, although no clear date has been set.

Under Saddam Hussein, at least 50,000 paramilitary troops patrolled Iraq's borders, and local tribes were paid to monitor areas where they lived, said Amatzia Baram, an Iraq specialist at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

But the system collapsed with the fall of Hussein last year.

''The Americans cannot spare the soldiers and the equipment and the Iraqi border guards are not there," Baram said.

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