getting serious about syria

  1. 413 Posts.
    William Kristol
    Weekly Standard, December 20, 2004

    "We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." George W. Bush, Address to Congress, September 20, 2001

    The story was in the December 2, 2004, London Daily Telegraph, on page 14, by Jack Fairweather, datelined Damascus. Its headline: "All aboard the terrorists' bus to Iraq. Mujahideen mosques are springing up all over Syria to arm militants and send them across the border to do battle with the hated Americans."

    Here are the highlights:

    “When not in Iraq, Abdullah cuts meat for a living. He is a Syrian cook at the Kingdom of God restaurant in Damascus, in a bustling suburb dominated by Iraqi exiles.

    For the past year, Abdullah has also been on the payroll of Iraqi resistance forces fighting American troops… In April, the 23-year-old boarded a convoy of American GMCs in Aleppo, northern Syria, with 10 other fighters from the area. He had been recruited at a mosque 30 miles south of Aleppo, built last year by a local sheikh with business interests in Iraq and strong sympathies with the resistance. It is brazenly entitled the Mujahideen Mosque.

    Abdullah, originally from the Aleppo area, and the other fighters, were provided with Iraqi passports and weapons. Abdullah was given a bazooka to carry.

    They were told they would be relieving Syrian mujahideen already in Iraq, part of a regular ‘troop’ rotation, and would be expected to fight until they in turn were either killed or replaced. In return Abdullah's family would be paid $3,000 a month by the mosque--more than most American soldiers in Iraq and a fortune in Syria where average salaries are less than 10 pounds a week.

    To enter Iraq from Syria there are three border crossings. Abdullah's convoy took the most northerly, through Rabia, a dusty collection of concrete houses straddling the border, and with pictures of the former Syrian president Hafez Assad festooning the checkpoint. Al-Jabouri tribesmen man the border. Like the al-Dulaimy tribe that guards the southern entry points into Iraq, they are deeply hostile to the US presence and Abdullah's convoy was waved through without checks.

    The men were driven to a mosque in Mosul where, according to Abdullah, dozens of their fellow countrymen were staying. He would not disclose the name of the mosque, but one such building in Mosul is the Mahmud mosque, infamous for supporting the insurgency…

    For the next 80 days, Abdullah and his unit went almost every day to attack American bases with mortars, or to man mujahideen checkpoints. He took part in ambushes on US convoys. As a mine hit a patrolling Humvee, Abdullah fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the second vehicle. He was transferred to Fallujah for three months, conducting raids with his unit in the neighboring Sunni towns of Samara and Ramadi…

    US and Iraqi officials believe the Syrian government has turned a blind eye to those supporting terrorists in Iraq, seeing the insurgency as an outlet for religious extremists to let off steam… Iraqi exiles in Damascus say there may be as many as 80 ‘mujahideen mosques’ either in name or spirit supporting the resistance.

    Several prominent mosques in Damascus, including the large Bilal al-Hashemi mosque, have reputations as staging posts for Syrian fighters, suggesting a logistical and financial operation beyond the ability of any one tribal leader…

    It is likely that many recent arrivals have sufficient funds to finance Syrian mosques. As members of Saddam's regime some have been able to buy swaths of Damascene property which they rent out. Others live off their plundered Iraqi money...”

    By Bush Doctrine standards, Syria is a hostile regime. It is permitting and encouraging activities that are killing not just our Iraqi friends but also, and quite directly, American troops. So we have a real Syria problem.

    Of course we also have--the world also has--an Iran problem, and a Saudi problem, and lots of other problems. The Iran and Saudi problems may ultimately be more serious than the Syria problem. But the Syria problem is urgent: It is Bashar Assad's regime that seems to be doing more than any other, right now, to help Baathists and terrorists kill Americans in the central front of the war on terror.

    The deputy prime minister of Iraq, Barham Saleh, wants to address the problem. He said last week, clearly referring to Syria as well as Iran, that "there is evidence indicating that some groups in some neighboring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people, and such a thing is not acceptable to us."

    U.S. military intelligence officials agree: They have recently concluded, according to the Washington Post, "that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria, where they said former Saddam Hussein loyalists have found sanctuary and are channeling money and other support to those fighting the established government."

    What to do? We have tried sweet talk (on Secretary Powell's trip to Damascus in May 2003) and tough talk (on the visit three months ago by Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt). Talk has failed. Syria is a weak country with a weak regime. We now need to take action to punish and deter Assad's regime.

    It would be good, of course, if Secretary Rumsfeld had increased the size and strength of our army so that we now had more options. He didn't, and we must use the assets we have. Still, real options exist. We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities in Iraq; we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition… This hardly exhausts all the possible forms of pressure and coercion. But it's time to get serious about dealing with Syria as part of winning in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East.


    Richard Carlson, Barbara Newman and William Cowan
    Washington Times, December 6, 2004

    A factor complicating the coalition mission of bringing stability to Iraq is the covert role played by Syria in financing and supporting the present insurgency, and the ineffectual attempts by the United States to counter it or even publicly acknowledge it.

    A number of current and former U.S. intelligence officers experienced in counter-terrorism who were interviewed by the authors believe that Syria should have been long ago included on Washington's "axis of evil" list although it is still not. But the State Department, acknowledging recent publicly cooperative gestures from Syrian President Bashar Assad (a British-trained eye doctor who "inherited" the presidency and the leadership of the Ba'ath Party from his bloodthirsty deceased father, President Hafez Assad) considers Syria a "partner" in the war on terror. This, in spite of a documented list of Syrian perfidy against the United States that begins with the bombings of the American Embassy and the Marine compound in Beirut in 1983 that killed more than 240 young Marines and sailors. There was no punishment for those murders then or since, even though the bomb-making materials passed through Damascus on their way to Beirut, and Syrian intelligence assisted in the fabrication of the device and in the attacks' operational planning.

    The Syrians went on to shoot down two U.S. Navy jets in 1983, again without the slightest response on the part of the United States. By 1985, as Hezbollah began to morph from various radical elements in Lebanon into a full-fledged terrorist organization, Syria provided access for the movement of men, supplies and materials to move freely through Damascus on their way to and from terrorist centers and camps in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and Tehran. When Pan Am 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, the world soon focused on Libyan intelligence as the culprit. And it was. But the planning for the operation had been conducted in Damascus under the watchful eye of Syrian intelligence. When the Khobar Towers were bombed in Saudi Arabia in 1996, at a cost of 19 U.S. servicemen's lives, it was Syria which had been nurturing Hezbollah with cash and secret bases.

    Yet last year, after a meeting in Damascus with Mr. Assad, Secretary of State Colin Powell held a news conference in Washington to tell the American public he had received assurances that Syria would crack down on terrorists and evict the many terrorist organizations headquartered in Damascus. To date, no terrorist groups have left, and there are no visible signs that Syria has cracked down on anyone.

    In the earliest stages of the ground war in Iraq, U.S. forces engaged uniformed Syrians near Baghdad, killing more than 100 of them. Current intelligence reports on battlefield kills, captures and interrogations, show that hundreds of Syrians are fighting alongside insurgents in the Sunni Triangle. In October of this year, U.S. intelligence sources identified three relatives of Saddam Hussein, who had fled to Syria and were funneling millions of dollars to the Iraqi insurgents through middlemen and front companies.

    U.S. intelligence sources have told the authors that Syrian intelligence officials have identified targets for the insurgency, provided its members with logistical support and helped plan operations against coalition forces. Syrian intelligence officials have allegedly shown visitors a video of the beheading of two American soldiers who were captured in Iraq, possibly in fighting near the airport in the early days of the invasion. They were allegedly beheaded by Syrian fighters working with the Iraqi insurgents. The U.S. government disclaims any knowledge of this, but two sources who say they have seen the video described it in detail to one of the authors. In a meeting with Syrian intelligence officers in which the tape was supposedly shown, said the source, a Syrian official mocked the executions by saying “this is what we do to Americans.” President Bush's insistence on not compromising with terrorists has been endorsed by a majority of the citizens of the United States and by the leaders of our global allies. The president's goals in Iraq, and elsewhere in the region, will not be achieved until the Syrians are forced to halt all assistance to our enemies. To win the ground war in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism, we must stop more than two decades of Syrian complicity with terrorists. Failure at this point is not an option.

    (William Cowan is a retired U.S. Marine colonel and counterinsurgency and terrorism expert. Barbara Newman is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Richard Carlson ran the Voice of America during the last years of the Cold War and is vice chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.)

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