Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Syria and the US campaign to Subdue Western Iraq

US forces are moving to take the Sunni towns that sit along the Syrian border. They are backed by much stronger Iraqi forces than we have previously seen. Tel Afar is the first city to fall. It has been largely emptied of its inhabitants. Kurdish pesh merga forces are the main Iraqi troops being used to combat the Turkmen and Arab towns. Local inhabitants are vowing revenge and fleeing. Most of the Sunni fighters fled the city to find other safe havens. Many will undoubtedly took to towns in Syria for refuge as the campaign continues, just as new fighters and supporter will come across the Syrian border to help. It is in this context that Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi's foreign minister have both lashed out at Syria for not stopping the flow of men across the border. (See the quotes below.)

Abdullah Taa'i, writing for Syria Comment, described how the inhabitants of his town, Abu Kamal, and the Syrian border region more generally, sympathize with and support their fellow tribal members in Iraq. The Syrian government has only the most tenuous control over the Jazira region of north-eastern Syria, whether in the north where Kurdish tribes predominate or in the south were Arabs tribes preside. It will take a supreme effort by the Syrians to staunch the flow of fighters across the border. Few of the local inhabitants can be counted on to help or sympathize with the Syrian effort. Most will work to undermine it, whether by joining the many smugglers that operate along the border or by protecting and hiding those fighters that try to cross it. Abdullah believes that the US and Syria must work with the Arab tribal leaders of the region, not try to destroy them. This is not the policy that the US and Iraqi governments are pursuing. Their policy is to subdue the Sunnis with overwhelming force.


One key other factor that links to the initial point that I made with regard to security, is the role of external players, particularly Syria. People are coming out from Syria to Iraq. People are coming from other parts of the region to Syria, whether it's to Damascus or whether it's to Lattakia, whether it's to Aleppo, and then from there they come to Iraq to kill Iraqis. The vision of these people, the Zarqawi people, for Iraq is not a democratic, unified, self-reliant, successful Iraq, it's an Iraq that's very much what we saw in Afghanistan under the Taliban - an Islamic caliphate with a dark vision to take the region back; where women will not have the right to vote, where there will be no democracy, where there will be a center of international terror in a rich, powerful country. That's their vision. And Syria is allowing forces who advocate that, who want to prevent Iraq from succeeding, to come across.

Our patience is running out with Syria. They need to decide, are they going to be with a successful Iraq or are they going to be an obstacle to the success of Iraq? Iraq will succeed. Iraq will succeed. Syria has to decide what price it's willing to pay in making Iraq's success difficult. And time is running out for Damascus to decide on this issue.
U.S. troops sweep into empty insurgent haven in Iraq
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, September 11, 2005
The moment the Iraqi troops launched their attack just after 7 a.m. Saturday, the bullets began to fly. Gunfire echoed off centuries-old stone buildings in the insurgent-controlled neighborhood of Sarai: machine-gun bursts, booming tank rounds and an incessant crackle of AK-47s that lasted for most of an hour.

But the shooting spree was only going in one direction.

"So far, Iraqi army reporting no enemy contact," came the word over the radio, 45 minutes after the first shots were fired, to U.S. troops waiting to join the assault.

By the time the Americans entered Sarai -- in a rare supporting role to an Iraqi battalion comprising mostly the Kurdish pesh merga militiamen, who led the charge -- the labyrinthine warren of close-packed structures and streets too narrow for armored vehicles was eerily deserted.
Meanwhile the New York Times reports, September 12, 2005
Under Pressure, Rebels Abandon an Iraqi Stronghold
The American military said Tal Afar had held up to 500 insurgents, most operating out of Sarai, a 120-acre neighborhood of tightly packed homes on the eastern edge of the city. But after entering Sarai, troops found the neighborhood abandoned and discovered tunnels intended to allow insurgents to escape an assault that had been telegraphed months ahead of time.

The two tunnel complexes were "clearly designed for terrorists to escape from Sarai," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the senior American military spokesman in Iraq. "They had seen this coming over the last four months."

He said troops had captured some insurgents who had used the tunnels but were caught at checkpoints, some wearing wigs and dressed as women. "The rats know we're closing in on them," he said.

The commanding officer of the American regiment in Tal Afar, Col. H. R. McMaster, told The Associated Press that Sarai was nearly deserted by late Saturday. "The enemy decided to bail out," he said. A report late Sunday from an A.P. correspondent embedded with American troops described a "classic guerrilla retreat" with insurgents "melting into the countryside."

The assault has brought a new vigor to the administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who has been eager to demonstrate to Iraqis that officials are working to fight terrorism. The state-run Iraqiya television channel showed repeated images of what it said were Iraqi troops conducting house-to-house searches.

Mr. Dulaimi, the normally soft-spoken defense minister, lashed out in a news conference on Sunday and warned insurgents and those who harbor them that Iraqi forces would "cut their heads and cut out their tongues."

"We will not back down," he said.

Mr. Dulaimi emphasized how the failure in the past to garrison reasonable numbers of troops in cities after military assaults had hurt the war effort. "This will not happen again," he said. "After we clean the city we are not going to leave the city open for terrorists."

He said future offensives would follow the same pattern as in Tal Afar. Assaults are likely in Sinjar and Rabia, west of Tal Afar, he said, and south to the Euphrates, where insurgents hold sway in towns along the river leading west to Syria.

In recent days, tens of thousands of residents scrambled to leave Tal Afar as troops readied for the offensive. Ferdos al-Badi, an Iraqi Red Crescent official, said the camps included more than 2,000 families about three miles outside the city and as many as 2,500 families relocated to Mosul.
This looks like a classic "Hama rules" endgame for the Sunnis - "Hama rules" being the term Thomas Freedman coined to describe how Hafiz al-Asad subdued the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria by trashing their stronghold in the city of Hama. Iraq will be done on a much larger scale. The Kurds and Shiites will trash the Sunnis, letting them know that there is no escape for them. They must live under the heel of the Shiites or be killed. Unfortunately, the sectarian game in the Levant seems to remain zero-sum. Little possibility of deal-making and liberal coexistence seems to exist.

This sectarian endgame will exact a heavy price on Syria, which is being asked to assist in subduing Iraq's Sunna community. The US and Iraq want Syria to clamp down on the Eastern tribal regions of Syria, holding down its own Sunni population, while Iraqi and US forces wreck havoc in Western Iraq. The death rattles of Iraq's Sunni community will elicit cries of pain throughout Syria, but nowhere more than among the eastern tribes. Bashar al-Asad has sought to alleviate the sectarian imbalances in Syria over the last five years in an effort to repair the damage done by his father at Hama. The present campaign in Iraq will reopen those wounds.

Success in Iraq will depend on whether its Shiite community can stick together to defeat the Sunnis. The following September 11, 2005 New York Times article by Craig Smith explains why this may not happen.

The Man Who Would Set Shiite Against Shiite
In the last year, the so-called quietists of the clerical establishment banded together in a coalition blessed by Iraq's most influential ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, and used electoral politics to vault Iraq's Shiite faithful into a commanding position. Followers of Mr. Sadr worked alongside them, but now he is pushing a distinctly different brand of politics. Rather than an autonomous Shiite region in the south, he wants a far more centralized Iraq; rather than face down the Sunni-led insurrection, he suggests making common cause with resentful Sunnis against the American presence.

Those are not illogical positions for him. Two years ago, he was accused of murdering a rival Shiite cleric sympathetic to the American invasion. Twice his militia rose up against the Americans, and twice the Americans subdued it in battle, the last time crushing his forces in Najaf and forcing him into hiding in the summer of 2004.

But since giving up some of his heavy weapons late last year, Mr. Sadr has been back in view in Najaf, gradually rebuilding his strength. He says he is only seeking to hold Iraq together. "The role of the Mahdi Army is not to stoke sectarian violence but rather to reconcile Iraqis and correct the situation in which they live," he said during a brief encounter in the room one day in August, referring to his militia.

In fact, though, few people believe that Mr. Sadr and his army are focused on reconciliation.

Within days of his comments, clashes with a rival Shiite militia broke out, and tens of thousands of Mr. Sadr's followers took to streets across Iraq to protest official corruption and the loose federalism outlined in the draft constitution.

The unrest was a reminder that the longtime divisions among the Shiites were only covered over by the coalition that competed in the national elections last winter.

Now, many predict Mr. Sadr will break away before new elections in December. His main complaint is over the push for a largely autonomous Shiite region in southern Iraq. His supporters say that they accept a degree of decentralization, but that allowing autonomy would divide the country.

David L. Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "Losing Iraq," says that what Mr. Sadr really wants is a say in enforcing Islamic law through the central government's constitutional court - and that his supporters in Baghdad could be the key to voting down the draft constitution when it is put before voters in October. "He could be the swing vote," Mr. Phillips said.

Many analysts who follow Mr. Sadr's evolving role say that he still envisions a Shiite theocracy over all of the country. "He sees himself as the Khomeini of Iraq," said Amatzia Baram, an expert on Iraqi Shiite politics who is at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Mr. Sadr's followers play down that goal but don't deny it. "Religion is higher than everything," said an aide, Sahib al-Ameri, at Mr. Sadr's home on a recent Saturday. "The most important thing is the dominance of religion."
Washington will want to fix this problem quickly. New links seem to be emerging between the violence in Iraq and terrorism in the rest of the world.

Terrorist had plans for London attacks
By Pam Hess, UPI (via Washington Times), September 7, 2005

A terrorist captured near the Syrian border last month had a computer "thumb drive" that contained planning information about the July 7 suicide bombings in London, according to a U.S. military officer.

Col. Robert Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, said that the man was captured north of Qaim in western Iraq and that authorities had connected him to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

It is the first evidence of a link between the London bombs and terrorists in Iraq, but fits with other evidence of a growing presence in Iraq by al Qaeda, which has taken responsibility for the British attacks....


At 9/13/2005 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Local Syrian said...

Congratulations on the new comment section

At 9/13/2005 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

I think a lot of news are being reported about Mehlis "visit". Also, about Ghazaleh's suicide attempt. Any reaction in Syria?

At 9/13/2005 01:24:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9/13/2005 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Thank you Josh for putting back the comment section!

First, I don't think that you can compare Hama to Iraq. Hama was a deliberate attempt to kill as much people as possible and terrorize the population. On the other hand, civilian casualties in Iraq are unfortunate but unintentional (at least when it comes to the coalition troops).

Moqtada el-Sadr must be crushed. He has close ties to the Hezbollah and like them, opposes federalism. If you want to build a democracy in Iraq, federalism is the only solution. The Sunnis will be the first to lose from a centralized state. Unlike SCIRI and other Islamist political parties, Sadr opposes an Islamic democracy. He’s against the principle of popular sovereignty; he wants to destroy democracy in Iraq and put the mollahs in charge of the country. He will fail to seize power because he lacks the constituency to carry his plans.

At the time being, an American strike against Syria will be unproductive. There’s too much instability in the region. But if it happens, the strike will coincide with the publication of Mehlis' report.

At 9/14/2005 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Did anybody else hear that Assef Shawkat has arrived in Paris with his WIFE and kids? check out the below links, could it be that they are just on vacation? I would be quiet shocked if he is defecting, its porbably just gossib spreading by Al-Nahar.



At 9/14/2005 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Several news agencies mentioned it but I am waiting for someone in France to confirm it! If he was involved in Harriri's killing, I doubt he will defect but if he is not, I will not be surprised if he defects. Probably he is working on a deal!

At 9/14/2005 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Hi Tarek yes I heard about that. I don't understand what's he's wife and kids are doing there if it's true. I don't see Bushra running away from her brother especially since Shawkat and Bashar are said to have excellent relations. But you never know in these kind of families.

At 9/14/2005 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said...

I live in Damascus. There are rumours that Maher is mad at Shawkat. Maher and Rifaat may be trying to take over.

At 9/14/2005 01:52:00 PM, Blogger One Disobedient Mofo said...

Thank you Josh and Moderator for getting the comment section up and running again.

SyriaComment alone was the reason behind creating about 20 new Syrian bloggs including my own Movement.

The Asif Shawkat situation, Late Harriri's recording pen, Rustom Ghazale's suicide attempt are all reported on questionable sources, that reported many weired stories before. Debka.net reported once that Bashar is under house arrest in Aleppo.

After all, it is very interesting to see what is happening now, the Civil Disobedience Movement is watching closely.

Syria Forever.

At 9/14/2005 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...


The Fear Grows in Damascus
By David Ignatius
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; Page A31

Notable by his absence from this week's gathering of the U.N. General Assembly is Syria's president, Bashar Assad. The Syrian leader had hoped to attend, and he was even said to be weighing television interviews for himself and his stylish, British-born wife. His decision to stay home indicates the disarray in Damascus these days.

"Fear has changed camps," says one senior official involved in Syria policy. "In Damascus, fear is now in the camp of power, the camp of Bashar." That represents a stunning change after several decades in which the Baathist regime maintained control at home and in Lebanon through raw physical intimidation.

The tourniquet that is tightening inexorably around the Assad regime is the U.N. investigation into the murder last February of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. That probe, headed by a relentless German prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, has already turned up enough evidence to arrest four security chiefs of the old Syrian-backed regime in Beirut for possible complicity in Hariri's death. Mehlis was in Damascus this week seeking testimony from top Syrian officials.

Analysts believe that Assad canceled his New York trip for two reasons: U.S. officials couldn't guarantee his entourage immunity from arrest if Mehlis and the Lebanese government issued a warrant, and, more important, he feared the risk of turmoil in Damascus if he were to leave now.

What an invigorating spectacle, to watch as the rule of law squeezes the arrogant men who treated Lebanon as their private fief. Some of them are in jail; others are trying to cut deals; still others are said to have defected to other countries. Credit goes to Lebanon's new government, which was tough and united in making the surprise arrests, at dawn on Aug. 30, of the security chiefs. Rumors are spinning in Beirut and Damascus about which members of the Assad regime are ratting out their friends. A Paris-based newsletter, Intelligence Online, wrote that a Syrian intelligence colonel had defected to France with information about the Slovakian-made explosives that allegedly killed Hariri. Another online newsletter, DEBKAfile, identified the intelligence defector with a different first name and said he "supplied his French intelligence interrogators with the names of colleagues directly complicit in the assassination."

The rumor mill is also churning with speculation about whether any of the Lebanese security chiefs might be cooperating with prosecutors. One of the four, Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, is known to have recorded many of his important meetings. There's also speculation that Hariri himself may have recorded a meeting with Assad just before his death, in which the Syrian leader is said to have threatened Hariri with dire consequences if he didn't change his anti-Damascus stance. Among Syria-watchers, there's a guessing game now about which generals and politicians may be ready to jump ship. "You sense the disarray in Syria these days," says Emile Hokayem, a Lebanese-born analyst with the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington. Many analysts think Assad would probably give up one of his intelligence chiefs if that were the price of his own political survival.

The Bush administration is debating whether to try to accelerate this unraveling with an explicit policy of regime change. President Bush is said to have expressed frustration with the conventional wisdom -- that the only alternative to Assad and his Alawite clan is rule by Sunni fundamentalists from the Muslim Brotherhood -- and asked his aides to explore alternatives. Soon after, a top Middle East expert on the National Security Council staff met for the first time with Farid Ghadry, head of a Syrian opposition group in exile. Ghadry told me he plans to convene by year's end a parliament in exile that would include all strands of the Syrian opposition, including those in the Muslim Brotherhood who are ready to embrace democracy. He said he has also quietly signaled Alawite tribal leaders that their sect could maintain control of the military during a political transition, avoiding the bloodbath the Alawites fear.

The administration would make a mistake, in my view, if it moved openly now to topple Assad. The mess in Iraq is a potent warning about the dangers of kicking over hornets' nests. And what's the rush? Right now events are taking their course. A U.N. prosecutor is on the road to Damascus, following the trail of evidence. The scoundrels are running for cover. The Assad regime appears to be caught in a trap of its own making, and every day the balance of fear will tip a little farther.

At 9/14/2005 03:58:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Ghassan, Please dont post whole articles, just the link. lets have a fresh start on this comment in a proper way.

At 9/14/2005 05:34:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

A major and startling discovery on Mars, Scientists now have evidence that the planet Mars is far away, you can not reach it by mopeds and it is in fact round, a quite a surprise for decades the World’s top scientist thought it is cubical shaped…………. In another major news and comments of interest about Syria is today published in the popular magazine Discovery Journal. The Journal reporting that Syria is safe, secure, Democratic and have a stable political system, social harmony and impressive economic growth. Syria is a country that are rare in the Middle East and are run by a very popular British Educated Doctor and his Intelligent fashionable British wife. Syria discovered to have boarders with Iraq.

American Baathist.

At 9/14/2005 07:15:00 PM, Blogger Local Syrian said...

Dear Josh,
Could you please spare us the sarcasm of this Syrian republican guy? I mean you gave us this new comment section so we don't suffer anymore from this type of comment.

Thank you

At 9/14/2005 08:17:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said...

It is scary for Syria these days.

قد تكون من صنع النظام لكسب تعاطف أبناء الطائفة
منشورات مجهولة في المدن السورية تنذر العلويين بدنو ساعة الحساب

قالت مصادر حزبية " بعثية " في دمشق ان سكان الكثير من التجمعات السكانية التي يشكل قاطنوها اغلبية تنحدر من الطائفة العلوية, او يقطن فيها مواطنون يتحدرون من هذه الطائفة, استفاقوا الاثنين الماضي على وجود منشورات مغفلة التوقيع تنذرهم بدنو " ساعة الحساب " و " قرب اجل النظام الطائفي الذي يحكمون باسمه ".

ونقلت مراسلة موقع »الحقيقة« الالكتروني السوري المعارض في دمشق رشا ارناؤوط عن المصدر الحزبي " البعثي " فان ما لفت انتباه الاجهزة الامنية التي علمت بالامر هو ان توزيع المنشورات كان في وقت واحد وفي اكثر من محافظة. الامر الذي يدفع الى الاستنتاج ان هذا العمل لا يمكن ان يكون من صنيع شخص واحد او عدد محدود من الاشخاص, وانما من صنع تنظيم.

وذكر المصدر ان عملية التوزيع تمت بطريقة القذف من فوق اسوار المنازل او من خلال وضعها في العلب البريدية الخاصة او دفعها داخل شقوق في الابواب او وضعها تحت ماسحات زجاج السيارات التي صودف وقوفها في هذه المناطق.

وقد سجلت الاجهزة الامنية حصول هذا الامر في بعض منازل "حي ال¯ 86" في دمشق, و "دف الشوك" و "القابون" و "عش الورور" و "برزة البلد" و " مساكن برزة " و " حي موقف الاتوماتيك " في ضاحية المعضمية.

أما في محافظة طرطوس الساحلية فلوحظ ان التوزيع شمل " حي المحطة " الواقع بالقرب من سكة الحديد, وفي " حي القصور " بمدينة بانياس التابعة لهذه المحافظة, أما في مدينة حمص فقد شمل التوزيع كلا من حي " بستان اللوز " وحي " الانشاءات " و " النزهة ". ولم تتوفر معلومات حول ما اذا كانت المدن الرئيسية الاخرى ( حلب, اللاذقية, حماه ) قد شهدت توزيعا مشابها.

وعلم ان الاجهزة الامنية, وفور تبلغها بالامر, بادرت الى جمع ما امكن من هذا المنشورات التي تبين انها " نسخة واحدة, مطبوعة على جهاز كمبيوتر وتخلو من اسم اي جهة تتبنى العمل ".

وكان من اللافت ان المنشور الذي حصلت " الحقيقة " على نسخة منه تضمن نص فتوى الامام " ابن تيمية " الذي يكفر العلويين, ونصوصا قرآنية واحاديث نبوية قال كاتبو المنشور انها تأمر باقامة الحد على الكفار والمشركين !

يشار الى ان هذه هي المرة الاولى التي تشهد فيها سورية عملا من هذا النوع منذ ربع قرن حين شهدت مواجهات مسلحة بين تنظيم " الطليعة الاسلامية المقاتلة " والنظام السوري. ومن المعلوم ان بعض هذه الاعمال كان من صنع اجهزة المخابرات و /أو " سرايا الدفاع " بهدف ارهاب المواطنين المنحدرين من الطائفة العلوية وتوليد دوافع داخلية في انفسهم ترغمهم على دعم النظام في مواجهته مع الحركة الاسلامية المذكورة.

ولم تستبعد مصادر سياسية تحدثت اليها " الحقيقة " ان يكون توزيع هذا المنشور الان من صنيع الاجهزة الامنية, لاسيما وان النظام يعاني من حالة عزلة وحصار داخلي وخارجي لم يسبق لها مثيل منذ ازمة الثمانينات الماضية.

كما لم تستبعد هذه المصادر تكرار هذا العمل واتساعه في المستقبل القريب خصوصا اذا ما جاء تقرير المحقق الدولي ديتليف ميليس في غير صالح النظام, او تضمن اتهامات واضحة للنظام السوري بالمسؤولية عن جريمة اغتيال رفيق الحريري. وذهب مصدر اخر الى المطالبة بالتروي قبل اتهام الاجهزة الامنية باعمال من هذا القبيل, زاعما ان " المجتمع السوري, وبشكل خاص بعد سقوط النظام العراقي وتحول سورية الى معبر للجماعات الاسلامية صوب العراق, اصبح مرتعا لمجموعات اصولية جديدة ولدت على هامش الحركات الاسلامية التقليدية. وان هذه المجموعات تعتقد بان ايام النظام السوري أصبحت معدودة نتيجة للتطورات الاقليمية, وعليها بالتالي ان تستعد للانتقام ممن ترى فيهم كفارا اغتصبوا السلطة منذ عام 1963 تحت واجهة حزب البعث " !

Is this true?

At 9/14/2005 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said...

the regime seems to be breathing its last breaths. Why not release the prisonners, and gain some popularity? are the men of the regime that stupid?

May be they live and die in hatred. hafez assad was dying and he knew that, and yet he did not release any prisonner.

Because I love the regime, I am advising it to do the right thing, so at least it will not be remembered with absolutely nothing good what so ever!

At 9/14/2005 11:28:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

According to debka, the Israeli al-siyassa, Rifaat el Assad might be behind the defection of the Intelligence officer



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