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Getting serious about Syria


According to this story by New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl, the Bush administration is finally getting serious about stopping the flow of arms, funding and support to the insurgency from Iraqis based in Syria:

The Bush administration is considering imposing new sanctions on Syria to prod it to crack down on Iraqis there who are providing financial and logistical support to insurgents in Iraq, senior American counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

The Syrian government has not taken action against the network of Iraqis, the officials said, despite months of quiet protests from the United States. Among the steps being considered is a Treasury Department action that could essentially isolate the Syrian banking system.

The network includes former officials of Saddam Hussein's government, American officials have said, adding that intelligence gathered in recent months from informants, captives and intercepted communications suggested that the network's role in providing support to insurgents in Iraq was more extensive than previously suspected.

While the anti-American insurgency would continue to thrive even without help from Syria, the American officials say, Iraqis in Syria are playing a significant role in coordinating the flows of money, weapons and combatants inside Iraq.

Coordination of the insurgency is coming in large part from members of the former Baathist regime in Iraq, many of whom have found a welcome home in Bashar al Assad's Baathist Syria.

General George Casey noted last month that former Baathist leaders Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and Sebawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, among others, are running the insurgency "with impunity" from across the Syrian border.

On Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Syria's president to express the same concerns. "Syria has made some real improvements in recent months on border security," Armitage said. "We all need to do more, particularly on the question of foreign regime elements participating in activities in Iraq going back and forth from Syria."

Armitage dangled the carrot.

Now comes the stick.

UPDATE: In a comment below and in a new post, Rand Holman of The Daily Polemic argues that the stick isn't coming—at least not any time soon. Foggy Bottom is no more likely to mend its ways without a thorough thrashing than the CIA. The Assad government, moreover, is equally resistant to change, for reasons that Ferry Biedermann describes in Salon: "First of all, the regime survives by the grace of payoffs to clans and factions …. The money supposedly comes from Syria's involvement in Lebanon. Then there is the traditional role that Syria has played as a champion of Arab nationalism. It will not be easy for the government to let go of those ambitions and maintain its credibility domestically, among a public that has turned increasingly anti-Western after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And lastly there is a persistent feeling that the good old ways still work." Like father, like son, as they say. But I have the sense that Assad père had perhaps a bit more finesse than Assad fils.

Posted by Rodger on January 5, 2005 at 12:31 AM | Permalink


Rodger, please don't fall for that malarchy. I don't believe for a second that the stick is coming. The cowardly lion of appeasement and capitulation is winning this battle right now in State. (TrackBack to my post is already on your site).

And I understand that one of our columnists, Colonel David Hunt from Fox News, is writing about Syria as well and in the same tone I did.

Cannot wait to read it.

Posted by: Rand Holman | Jan 5, 2005 6:19:43 PM

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