Thursday, December 23, 2004

More signs of Syria turn up in Iraq

Nick Blanford has an interesting article in today's Christian Science Monitor. (December 23) Nevertheless, European diplomats remain cautious about US allegations. There have been a number that haven't panned out and they suggest that there is very thin evidence for the present round of accusations that Syria is ground zero for the Iraqi resistance.

*More signs of Syria turn up in Iraq*
By Nicholas Blanford | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

DAMASCUS, SYRIA – When US troops stormed the rebel-held city of Fallujah last month, they uncovered photos of senior Syrian officials that have further strained the already tense relations between Syria and Iraq, according to the Iraqi ambassador to Syria.
Several captured insurgents were found in possession of the photographs, confirmation, according to Iraqi officials, that some elements in the Syrian regime - perhaps acting independently - are involved in Iraq's bloody insurgency.

"Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wrote a letter to the Syrians saying he had the pictures but was not going to release them despite being under pressure from the Americans to do so," says Hassan Allawi, Iraq's newly appointed ambassador to Damascus.

The ambassador said that the photographs were found in the possession of Moayed Ahmed Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed. He is the leader of the Jaish Mohammed group, which is composed of former Baathist intelligence personnel. One picture showed Mr. Yasseen standing beside a senior Syrian official, the ambassador said. He would not identify on the record the Syrian officials in the photos.

US Marines in Fallujah released a report on Nov. 20 that revealed they had discovered a hand-held Global Positioning System receiver with waypoints originating in western Syria and the names of four Syrian foreign fighters contained in a ledger.

The evidence has triggered renewed charges from US and Iraqi officials that Syria is knowingly providing assistance to several former Iraqi Baathists who are believed to be running the insurgency from Damascus.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned Syria Wednesday that Washington was prepared to impose new sanctions if it failed to clamp down on fugitive Iraqi officials.

Last week, Gen. George W. Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said that the exiled Baathists had formed a group called the New Regional Command and were running the insurgency from Syria.

The Syrians, he said, "are not going after the big fish [or senior Baathists], ... the people that we're interested in."

Ambassador Allawi says that the "real danger" to the Syrian government is not pressure from the US and Iraq, but from the reformed Iraqi Baathist network in Syria.

"There is an Iraqi Baathist invasion of Syria. It's overwhelming," he says. "They stole gold and robbed banks and came here. They have enough funds to keep fighting for 30 years."

Nonetheless, it remains unclear to what extent some of the Iraqi Baathists are involved in the insurgency and what level of assistance is being provided by elements in the Syrian regime. "There is a high level of suspicion but not much evidence," a European diplomat in Damascus says.

The Syrian government rejects the US and Iraqi accusations, saying it is working to help stabilize its neighbor. Mehdi Dakhlallah, Syria's information minister, says it is impossible to monitor the activities of all Iraqis who have entered Syria since the war. "Syria has always been open to all Arabs, and if they have the correct documents, they can enter," he says. "But we can't read their minds about what they are going to do once they are here."

There are officially 250,000 to 300,000 Iraqis living in Syria, although the International Organization for Migration says the figure may be much higher. They include former Baathists, businessmen, Kurds, and Christians fleeing persecution.

Most of the wealthier Iraqi exiles have settled in the affluent Mezzeh district of Damascus. Driving expensive cars and dining in pricey restaurants, the new arrivals have sent property prices soaring.

Complicating matters for the Syrian authorities is the suspicion that some former officers in the Iraqi intelligence services entered Syria using fake passports.

Most Sunni Iraqi exiles openly profess their support for the resistance in Iraq.

Ahmad Dulaimi's membership in the Baath Party cost him his job teaching at Baghdad University, a victim of the de-Baathification program of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority. Originally from Fallujah, he moved to Damascus last year and earns a small living writing for Al-Moharer, a pro-Baathist website which advocates armed resistance in Iraq.

"Everyone supports the resistance here, Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians," he says. "Resistance is the only weapon to free Iraq and free our prisoners."

Among those mentioned by the exiles as leaders of the reorganized Iraqi Baath party are Sabawi Ibrahim, a half-brother of Saddam Hussein who once headed the Iraqi intelligence service; Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, secretary-general of the Iraqi Baath party regional command; and Fawzi al-Rawi, a businessman. The US is offering $1 million rewards for information leading to the arrests of the first two men.

Many Iraqi exiles say that Syria is being unfairly singled out for criticism when there are many more Iraqi Baathists, including senior figures, living in Jordan.

"We are very surprised that everyone accuses Damascus, when most of the senior Baathists are in Amman," says Mohammed Said, the representative in Damascus of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party.

Mr. Said and other Iraqis interviewed say they believe that the Syrian government does not facilitate the activities of the Iraqi Baathists, instead blaming individual Syrian Baathists who share an ideological affinity with their Iraqi counterparts. Syria's regime is a separate branch of the Baath party that ruled Mr. Hussein's Iraq.

The Syrian regime is no longer the monolithic entity it was under the leadership of former President Hafez al-Assad. President Assad, who died in 2000 and was replaced by his son Bashar, kept a firm grip on the regime. But since 2000, new power centers have emerged, a mix of old regime figures, the intelligence services, and powerful business interests.

"I think the Syrian leadership does not know all the details of what's going on," says Mr. Allawi, the Iraqi ambassador. "The problem in Syria is that there are so many security branches that one doesn't know what the other is doing."

It is a problem that seems to be recognized by the Syrian government. Interior minister Ghazi Kenaan is reportedly trying to reform the intelligence services and bring them under a centralized command.

On the same topic; the following interview with Under-Secretary of State, Armitage is interesting:
Interview With Pan-Arab Print Reporters
Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 21, 2004

QUESTION: Sir, on Syria and the U.S., yesterday the President said that
we have a, you know, a whole range of options --


QUESTION: -- to do with Syria from the diplomatic to economic and
even into the military action. I mean, are you on a collision course with Syria because of differences with Iraq and because of differences with 1559,
Resolution 1559 on Lebanon? I mean, you gave them at least a list of demands and --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, let's separate them out.

First, on UN Security Council Resolution 1559, this is the will of
the entire Security Council, and so not a collision course with the United
States. We're simply asking that Lebanon be left to Lebanese and that Lebanese themselves are able to determine their future free of foreign influence now. So that's not a collision course with the United States, it's a collision course with the international community.

The question of Iraq, we have made certain presentations to the Government of Syria, and they have done some of the things that they've asked. We trust that they'll do a lot more. Syria has to come to the conclusion that their
neighbor will be a free and democratic Iraq. And I think it will be much more -
- much better for Syria's future if that neighbor, the one had fond remembrances of a friendly relationship Syria than someone who has a grudging relationship because Syria has not done what is necessary to do to support the people of Iraq.

To the extent there's a collision course, it's with Iraq.

QUESTION: Just to follow up.


QUESTION: The Syrians say that they have cooperated little bit with
the United States, especially on the issue of --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I just said they have.

QUESTION: Yeah, on financial accounts --


QUESTION: And borders. Right. And also, but I remember I was told that when Secretary Burns and Mr. (inaudible) were there in September, I think, the Syrians were given certain names --


QUESTION: Including the name of a former Baathi leader, who is, according to the American side, is in charge of financing the insurgency in Iraq. When you give them information like that that is specific, what do they say and did they promise you, I mean, this has been a few months ago, right?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: There were no promises. They took the information and said they'd look into it. It's not one individual, there were
several former Baathists who, apparently, are allowed to range fairly freely in Syria, and we believe are responsible for some of the funding -- not all of the funding, but some of the funding that funds insurgent activities in Iraq. And we expect them to close those spigots down.

QUESTION: Sir, on --

QUESTION: Let me follow up on this.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We've got plenty of time.


QUESTION: On this issue --


QUESTION: Now, I have it from a solid Syrian source that you actually submitted six names. You wanted six names, two of whom are wanted by the Syrians for bombings and so on in Damascus, you know, some years back. I mean, I, as you know, the Syrian regime and the Iraq regime were not good
friends. And the other four are apparently -- there are no solid evidence against them. Could you --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I won't speak specifically to how
many names. You've got your own source and you generally have good sources.

The fact of the matter is, we have to be convinced, and I think more importantly, that the Government of Iraq, the people of Iraq have to be convinced, that Syria is doing all she can to stop the activities which harm Iraq.

It's hard for me to believe, knowing the nature of the Syrian regime that they can't come up with some information on people.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Who are involved in anti-Iraqi people activities. So we look for even greater efforts from the Syrians.

QUESTION: And do you --

QUESTION: And just -- okay.


QUESTION: Follow up.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.


QUESTION: Do you expect that Syrian-American relations will continue to sort of be chilly for, you know, the --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I would hope not. But the answer to that
is in Damascus as far as I'm concerned.I would hope for a much better day
with Syria, but it's all up to Mr. Assad and his colleagues.

QUESTION: May I just follow up on that.


QUESTION: Why always, I mean, some people saying that also, why your position on Syria vis-à-vis Lebanon and Iraq seems identical and following
the, I mean, in the footstep of Israel? Regarding Syria or towards Syria.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Make sure I understand the question: That our
activities vis-à-vis Syria are the first steps on --



QUESTION: Mirror that. It's like the Israeli position.

QUESTION: Of Israel. Take the Israeli position most of the time.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, to the extent -- it reflects the Israeli position to the extent that, for instance, Hezbollah forces are funded through Damascus, and Hezbollah is a threat to the citizens of Israel. To that extent, it would reflect Israel's position.

I would also say it reflects the position of the Iraqi Government. Because on another border, our activities with Syria and our interests in Syria has been closing down that border, so I don't think that our activities vis-à-vis Syria are necessarily a function of any one government. We have different interests with Syria. We've got Iraqi interests. We've peace process interests. We've got Lebanon's interest.

I would long for the day where Syria would be a hopeful and participating member of the community, and the regional community. But as I say, that's not a decision that'll be reached here in Washington. It'll be reached in Damascus.

QUESTION: This included your action, the recent action against Al Manar TV channel?



DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We've designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization -- as a Hezbollah Foreign Terrorist Organization --

MR. ERELI: A terrorist organization.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: A terrorist organization.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Because of their activities spewing Hezbollah incitement, inciting to violence, and it reflects the fact that our view is that Al Manar is not being a good citizen.

QUESTION: I'm done with this issue. You want to continue on different?

QUESTION: Just a final one on Lebanon, on 1559.


QUESTION: The Lebanese were not very happy with 1559 as a government.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Some Lebanese were not very happy. Some
are thrilled.

QUESTION: Yeah, the government. No --


QUESTION: Probably most of them are thrilled. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you. (Laughter.) Put that on the

QUESTION: Well, I'm Lebanese although I'm asking my question as a
But the government was not thrilled by it, honestly. What's the state of play between the United States and the Lebanese Government on this issue because there is -- I've heard that when the issue of UNIFEL, the UN presence in south Lebanon is reviewed at the end of January, that the United States is going to raise the issue of 1559, too.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We may very well raise it, 1559. Syrian noncompliance with it is flaunting the will of the international community.
The government -- I've spoken before, the Government of Lebanon seems to have a distinctly "made in Damascus" flavor. And I don't know how that is particularly pleasing to the great majority of Lebanese citizens.

But as I say, and as 1559 points out, it should have the right to be free of foreign interference.

This was taken from:

I have arrived in Syria and should be able to post from here. Haven't gotten a connection to the apartment yet, but that will come with the fullness of time and a visit to the computer society with a few pictures. It is great to be back in Damascus. More on that later. The few "regular Syrians" I have spoken with during my short few days here all support the Iraqi resistance, regardless of their religion. Many have all kinds of notions about America's real objectives and operating procedures.


At 12/24/2004 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Regarding the leader of Mohammad's Army being found with pictures of himself posing in pictures with top Syrian officials, this strikes me as ludicrous. Why would these officials pose with the leader of a guerrilla group, and why would the leader of a guerrilla group carry around pictures of himself with top Syrian officials while roaming around inside Iraq? This presupposes a level of stupidity on the part of the Syrians and the guerrilla leader that I find hard to believe. I would also like to note that IMHO Mohammad's Army is not "composed of former Iraqi intelligence personnel", nor is it a "Saddam loyalist" group, 2 charges the US continually flings at this group. My research over many months indicates that MA is a Salafist Islamist group that was formed when former military officers met in Diyala Province after the war.

Originally, it was a Sunni tribal nationalist-Islamist group, but it has gotten more Islamist as time went on. Nor is MA linked to "numerous kidnappings and beheadings" as Allawi claimed in a statement. MA cadre usually state that the group is anti-Saddam, providing the standard nationalist line that Saddam sold out the country. Despite its recent movement towards Salafism, your average MA cadre is just a young man from the Sunni Triangle, often religious, and usually opposed to Saddam. Many are truck drivers, farmers, smugglers, university students, etc.

A number of them were persecuted by Saddam's regime. There are of course some former regime folks in the group, such as Baathists, or Saddam Fedayeen, or especially former Iraqi military. As far as who controls MA or provides their money, the cadre at the bottom have no idea, but some have speculated that the top-level of the group is in fact former regime elements (FRE). MA is not particularly anti-Shia, and they claim that Lebanese Hezbollah has been helping to arm them since the fall of Baghdad. Around a year ago, the MA started getting money and support for the Mahdi Army also. All in all, the MA is a highly eclectic group that is not easily pigeonholed. More on the group here:

At 12/25/2004 04:31:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Michael Young has an intersting take on the photo session!


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