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More on the Syria connection


There's some excellent news analysis on Syria—and its ties to the Iraqi insurgency—floating around the Web right now. This information should prove helpful in the coming weeks, as the U.S. begins to shift its strategy in Iraq.


A lot of the key people [in the Iraqi insurgency], especially the money guys [are] operating across the border in Syria. These men can go no where else. Not Iran, because these men have much Shia blood on their hands. Even the most rabidly anti-American Iranian Islamic zealots would not want to be associated with one of Saddam’s butchers. North Korea? Possibly. But first you have to get there, and then you have to realize that North Korea is a bit of hell on earth itself, and on the brink of collapse. How about Somalia? Only if you are into the “Mad Max” lifestyle, and American commandoes are just next door. Any other country presents the risk of an international arrest warrant, and a local government eager to enforce it. So Saddam’s old cronies sit in Syria, paying off the Syrian Baath Party with stolen Iraqi oil money, and profuse apologies for past feuding and misunderstandings over which nations Baath Party was the senior one.

American threats at Syria have produced few results. Syria officially denies that these Iraqis are in Syria, even though many are seen there from time to time, slipping out of their hiding places to run an errand, or just get a momentary change of scenery. Syria has made a show of “closing the border” recently. But what they have actually done is to be more discreet in getting Baath money, weapons and al Qaeda volunteers across the border into Iraq.

This article in the Chicago Tribune:

A large, Sunni-dominated region between Baghdad and the Syrian and Jordanian borders, Anbar province is home to the insurgent stronghold cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. It is also home to foreign fighters and guerrilla sympathizers who came to Iraq from or through Syria. Their numbers, whether in the scores or the hundreds, are a matter of frequent debate in Iraq and Washington.

The U.S. military has been trying to stop infiltrators for 20 months. But holes keep opening in the net. Last month Marines arrested several members of the Iraqi Border Patrol on corruption charges and disbanded their unit of 183 men ….

Most Syrians entering Iraq illegally do it only to make money, Curtin said. They smuggle goods or buy cheap gasoline to resell in Syria.

But insurgents also are coming across, the Marines said. They probably spend a short time in safe houses near the border before joining guerrillas in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad or--increasingly, according to Iraqi officials--in the northern city of Mosul.

"It's really hard for us to measure—we don't know how really good it is going or really how bad it's going," Curtin said. "They are very creative about the way they smuggle."

The insurgents are creative, Iraqi officials say, because they are experienced, skilled and well-funded by their paymasters in Damascus.

"There are tens of thousands of high-ranking Baathists in Damascus," said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser. "There are people from the former Iraqi intelligence agencies, from the special forces and Republican Guards."

The two names Iraqi officials mention most often are Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sabaawi al-Hassan, a half brother of Saddam Hussein. Officials say the two men move easily between Iraq and Syria.

"These people are very active in raising funds, in providing logistical help to the terrorists in Iraq, in planning and in command and control and leadership," al-Rubaie said. "Can anyone believe that the Syrian intelligence service does not know about this? . . . They are meticulous.

"The Syrians are turning a blind eye to these activities."

A Western official in Baghdad said some Iraqi and U.S. authorities believe the Syrian government, or at least a branch of the Syrian government, is directly involved in aiding the insurgency.

(But read the whole thing.)

This article from the AP:

An Iraqi militant suspected of involvement in beheadings and other bloody attacks told Iraqi authorities that his group has links with Iran and Syria, according to a tape aired Friday by an Arabic TV station funded by the U.S. government.

Moayad Ahmed Yasseen, leader of Jaish Muhammad, which is Arabic for Muhammad's Army, was captured nearly two months ago in Fallujah, the former guerrilla stronghold west of Baghdad.

Alhurra television, which has its headquarters in Washington, said the tape of his purported confession was made Dec. 24 and provided to the station by Iraq's Ministry of Defense ….

On the tape, Yasseen, a colonel in Saddam Hussein's army, said two other former Iraqi military officers belonging to his group were sent "to Iran in April or May, where they met a number of Iranian intelligence officials." He said they also met with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He said Iranian officials provided money, weapons "and, as far as I know, even car bombs" for Jaish Muhammad.

Yasseen also said he got permission from Saddam—while the former dictator was in hiding after his ouster by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003—to cross into Syria and meet with a Syrian intelligence officer to ask for money and weapons. He didn't say if the request was met.

The U.S. military has said Jaish Muhammad appears to be an umbrella group for former Iraqi intelligence agents, army officers, security officials and members of Saddam's Baath Party.

The group is known to have cooperated with Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as well as other Saddam loyalists and al-Qaida supporters. Allawi has accused Jaish Muhammad of killing and beheading a number of Iraqis, Arabs and foreigners in Iraq.

And finally, this brief item from Geostrategy-Direct (subscription required), which illustrates why threats of economic sanctions against the Damascus regime will have little effect:

Don't expect economic sanctions to change the policies of Syria's regime. Iran has already prepared for the prospect of additional U.S. sanctions against Damascus and has begun a series of major projects in Syria.

For Iran, these projects are strategic. Teheran does not want to be left alone facing the United States. So, maintaining Syria as an ally in the fight against the United States is a key goal of Iran.

Iran has been constructing a factory capable of producing 1 million tons of cement and is also building a power plant in the port city of Banyas. In all, Iran is prepared to invest up to $3 billion in Syria.

Arab diplomatic sources said the power plant is a strategic option for Iran, since Teheran wants to use Banyas as a port should the United States block the Straits of Hormuz.

All in all, a snatch operation against Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, Sabaawi al-Hassan and a few more key commanders sounds like the quickest and most efficient way of getting at the problem—provided, of course, that John Kerry and Newsweek don't succeed in scuttling the plan before it ever gets off the ground.

Posted by Rodger on January 10, 2005 at 07:41 AM | Permalink


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