Friday, June 04, 2004

Two Views: Is Syria Supporting Iraqi Resistance?

I have received two emails: one on the subject of Syria's role in Iraq; the other on the "wedding party" bombing. The first is from Robert Lindsey, an independent journalist. His longer article on the Iraqi Resistance is available in two parts: one and two. I am copying the part on Syria packaged for me by Robert Lindsey, who writes:

I did the research for a piece on Jihadunspun called "An Insiders Look at the Iraqi Resistance". The article has been taken down but you can still find it on Google. My piece was praised by Ahmed Hashim, one of the US' top experts on the Iraqi rebels. That does not make me correct, but I have done my homework.

Re: your piece on Iraqi weapons going to Syria, I must object to some of these stringent denials. The following is from the most recent iteration of my work-in-progress on the Iraqi resistance (58 pages so far). I will send you the entire document if you wish to look it over. Here is the section on Syria:

Syria: Although US propaganda has made much of the Syrian connection to the Iraqi insurgency, there does appear to be some truth there. Various Iraqi guerrilla groups have claimed that they get assistance, in one way or another, from Syria. A Muhammad's Army cadre claimed in Summer 2003 that they get money from Syria. Whether the cadre meant the Syrian state or non-state actors in Syria is not known. The Martyr Khattab Brigade (the armed wing of a larger group called Mujahedin of the Victorious Sect) of foreign fighters claimed in Summer 2003 (at the time headquartered in Fallujah) to have a training camp in Syria. A unnamed cell in Baghdad claimed in November 2003 that Syrian intelligence operates in Iraq, but was unclear on their exact role.

Another unnamed group in Baghdad said in Fall 2003 that they got weapons from Syria via cross-border smuggling. They did not specify whether the weapons came from the state or non-state actors, only that they came across the border. Apparently, fighters and weapons are still able to cross various borders, including the Syrian border, into Iraq to help the insurgency. For a long time, in my opinion, the Syrians were not only doing little to stop the cross-border traffic in fighters and money into Iraq, most of which was being run by local Bedouin tribesmen whose territory spans Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but they were possibly even helping these Bedouins run the traffic. More recently, as of about August 2003 or so, the official support from the Syrian regime seems to have been dramatically reduced or even ended, but the Syrian hands-off attitude seems to me to be little-changed.

The official Syrian security presence at the border has been beefed up and makes some cursory efforts at stopping traffic, but reports indicate that they are easily bribed into looking the other way. The Syrian state does not seem to be actively involved in the cross-traffic anymore, but they do not appear to be doing much to stop it either. There seems to be a "look the other way" attitude in place instead. Syrian intelligence appears to be in Iraq in large numbers, but no one can figure out what they are up to there. Fighters, weapons and money come from Syria, but the available evidence to me suggests that it is unknown non-Syrian state actors (possibly the local Bedouin tribes and the insurgent groups themselves), not Syrian state actors, who are running the weapons and men across.

In 1-04, reports of unknown reliability indicated that much of Syria's northeast border area with Iraq had become something of an open-air arms market, with the Syrian state once again simply displaying a see-no-evil mindset. The arms traffic was supposedly going across the Ninewa Province border with few difficulties. In addition guerrillas, pro-Coalition Kurdish forces in northern Iraq such as the PUK were amongst the customers (in fact, they were supposedly the largest customers). As of 2-04, guerillas in Baghdad continued to report significant quantities of weaponry being smuggled over the Syrian border and into Baghdad.

There have been numerous reports of Syrian fighters fighting in Iraq long after the fall of Baghdad. They seem to be especially notable around the Fallujah-Amiriyah-Ramadi region and over by the Qaim-Husaybah border region. Guerillas in the Qaim area reported in late 2003 that there were a significant number of Syrians fighting in the insurgency there. In December 2003, a Syrian woman was arrested in Basra with bomb parts as part of a conspiracy to bomb the port there.

Most recently, an AP reporter encountered a force of hardline Syrian jihadis in the Jolan District of Fallujah after the US withdrawal. They were extremely hardline Sunni Islamists reminiscent of the most hardline Syrian Muslim Brotherhood elements. In late 2003, guerillas reported that Syrian students in Baghdad seemed to have suspiciously large amounts of cash on them, and that a number of these students, along with other foreign students similarly awash with suspicious cash, were supporting the insurgency financially. No one seemed to know where the Syrian students' cash came from, or that of the other foreign students, for that matter.

Contrary to your assertion, I believe ~200 Syrians have been arrested so far on charges of insurgency in Iraq. Clearly, Syrians and other foreign fighters are fighting in Iraq. I estimate the size of this group as no more than 3-5% of the total insurgency. Clearly, men and weapons come over the Jordanian, Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi and Iranian borders into Iraq. At the moment, there is little to implicate the Syrian state other than that they do not seem to be doing a lot to stop the traffic. I would argue, why should they? It is really the US problem. Do we attack Mexico for the illegals and drugs coming across that border? Policing the Iraq-Syria border for unwanted traffic is the responsibility of the US.

When I asked Robert if there was proof of Syrian government involvement, he added informally:

Well clearly they were in on it before and during the war; that is obvious. What happened after the fall of Baghdad? Well, admittedly most of the info I could get was out of Israeli and US intel (it's full of disinfo and but also full of a lot of factual stuff - they're as often right as wrong - but I can kind of sort it out often). From that, and from just scuttlebutt in general, I got that the running of foreign fighters was taken over or handed over to the local Bedouin tribes in the region. The scuttlebutt was that though the Bedouins were doing the dirty, the Syrian gov was giving them a helping hand.

Even Israeli intel was claiming that as of August or so, it looks like the US came down real hard on the Syrians about this, and the Syrians really cleaned up their act. My personal opinion is that official government help kinda dried up or went underground around then. There is still some weird stuff going on - why do Syrian students in Baghdad have so much cash, etc.?

You're asking for proof? Is there any proof of any of this? Nope! When do you ever get "proof" of this stuff?

At the moment, I think the Syrian government role is limited to looking the other way at the border, and there may be some open-air arms markets at the border - I am not sure about that one. Supposedly, most of the foreign fighters now come in through Jordan and Kuwait these days. I don't feel there is much evidence for active assistance since August 2003 or so. My personal opinion is that hardly any of the governments in that region want the US Army in Iraq breathing down their neck and implicitly threatening them.

Do you want to talk about OTHER governments in the region? Actually, after August 2003 you could make a worse case for the Jordanian government's involvement than the Syrians. And since September 2003, I do believe that the Iranian government has been giving $$$ to the Sunni resistance. They also funded all the Shia factions, including Sadr. But at the moment, Sadr seems out of favor. On the other hand, there are some very hardline factions inside the Iranian state (Revolutionary Guards, Al Quds Army, etc.) who in my personal opinion are indeed helping Sadr in various ways. Important to note the Iranian state is not monolithic.

Landis here: To place the post war months in context.
In April 2003, the Feith group had drawn up contingency plans for an invasion of Syria. Bush shelved it because he had enough on his plate. All the same, Syria was doubtlessly very scared. Under-Secretary of State Bolton had already tried to add Syria to the axis of evil and was spearheading the drive for regime change in Damascus. I am sure more than one faction in Syria was arguing that the only way to forestall US inspired regime-change was to stoke the Iraqi resistance. That has not been Bashar's modus operandi though. He has sought to deny America any excuse for interference, by shushing Hizballah, avoiding material assistance to the Palestinians, offering the US intelligence on al-Qaida, and repeatedly asking for US help with the Iraqi border. What Bashar has wanted is to get the US border commanders actively and openly working with Syrian officers on border management in order to diffuse the neoconservative bombs, restart "constructive engagement", and make friends with US defense department officials. The US has refused to play this game, save at the lowest level so that it can insist that Syria is a terrorist state. There were constant unsubstantiated accusations by DoD officials and intelligence "sources" that Syria was hiding top Ba`thists, concealing Iraq's chemical weapons, sending loads of night-goggles over the line, etc. in order to stop constructive engagement. Powel’s attempts to start dialog and rekindle engagement were slapped down by DoD at every turn. Undoubtedly, a number of pressure groups wanted to make sure that the economic sanctions required by the Syrian Accountability Act were imposed and that no rear-guard action by softies on Syria was successful. In the midst of the inter-departmental battle a lot of muck has been stirred up and it is hard to know whom to believe on intelligence. I have no means to criticize either of these two reports save to say that so much remains conjecture and caution about sources should be the rule in such a heated environment. As for the next report, it would be stronger if it took up the topic of the video-tape of the wedding that was reported on widely. The use of invective about "scum bags" and the like suggests.... Well, he's fighting a propaganda war as much as anything else. I guess the urge to squeeze in extra spin value is irresistable. But where do it stop?

The Second note is from LtCol Bill Mullen, USMC, which was forwarded to me by Ray Close, ex-CIA.

Subject: "Wedding Party" Details forwarded 06/01/04

Just reviewed a classified brief on the supposed wedding - no way it was. Here are some unclass details I can provide (brief had lots of pictures to back up the details): Weddings are traditionally held on Thursdays in Iraq to take advantage of Friday as a day of rest - raid took place on Tuesday night.

- Only permanent dwelling at the site held large stocks of food, bedding, medical supplies (lots of these - was the wedding going to be a cage match of some sort or were the caterers just bad cooks?), ammunition and weapons, as well as an apparent document forging set up. Meat was still frozen solid -not prepared for a wedding feast and there were no stocks of dishes, plates, etc.

- Contrary to media reports, no "Nuptial Tent" was found and a 1 KM area around the site was searched - any further away than that would be just too far for the catering staff to walk carrying all those huge platters of food - against union rules.

- No evidence of any means of support for the house (like sheep farming which is most common in that area). All evidence pointed to a smuggler way station - fit perfectly the description of several others found in the past. - "Wedding guests" (deceased of course) were almost all men of military
age, only a couple of women, no elders at all and only one child(wounded) noted. All dressed as city dwellers, not Bedouins who would hold a wedding at such a location. All of the deceased were sterilized, as in none had any form of ID on them at all. Only ID's found were in a nice neat stack inside the house - and then quite a few less of those than there were people at the site.

- Weapons were varied and included RPG's (they really suck when you fire them up in the air for celebration), there were also military binoculars (when they separate the men and women they have to look at each other with bino's I guess), and IED making material (party favors?).

- Lots of clothing prepackaged in pants and shirt sets (guerranimals for guerrillas).

- There were also no gifts, no decorations, no food set out or left over, and the good bit of money recovered was all in the pockets of the "guests" (maybe they were just cheap guests).

I strongly suspect that after their Foreign Fighter way station got whacked, they tried to set it up to look like what happened in Afghanistan when a wedding was actually hit due to celebratory firing being taken for ground fire by orbiting aircraft. I also would not put it past the scum bags to sweep a local village for appropriately aged "guests" to kill and display for the TV cameras. Our BDA assessment was made by people on the site just after the schwacking, and they took their time to count and exploit the site. This is just speculation on my part.

Bottom line assessment: Good hit - no wedding. These were foreign fighters that had just crossed into Iraq and got an early trip to paradise and the martyrdom hall of fame. Thought it was important to get this word out as much as possible as you won't see any of this on CNN.

Take care,

LtCol Bill Mullen, USMC
Executive Assistant
J-3, Deputy Director for Regional Operations
2D921, The Pentagon


At 8/17/2007 01:23:00 AM, Blogger Maldives Islands said...

Sources: Web Directory


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