T Nation

And Then There's Syria...

I’ve pointed out before the problems with Iran supplying terrorists at one of Iraq’s borders – this WSJ editorial addresses the problem of Syria doing the same at another of Iraq’s borders. I think we definitely need to address those external problems as part of the effort to complete the Iraq action.

Wall Street Journal Editorial
Serious About Syria?
December 15, 2004; Page A20

In the fall of 1998, the Turkish army mobilized for war against Syria. For years, the Kurdish PKK had trained in Syria and used it as a base from which to wage a terrorist campaign in neighboring Turkey, at a cost of some 35,000 lives. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan lived more or less openly in Damascus. Years of Turkish diplomatic pressure on Syria to close the camps and expel Ocalan had been unavailing. Finally, the Turks made it plain to then Syrian dictator Hafez Assad that he faced a choice between expelling the PKK for good and having his country invaded. Assad capitulated. Within a year, Ocalan was in jail and the PKK had ceased its attacks.

We recall this history on news that Syria is abetting the insurgency in Iraq. Actually, it’s not news – the U.S. has been at least partly aware of Damascus’s role since April 2003, when GIs began finding Syrian visas in the passports of killed or captured fedayeen. But the matter is getting some fresh attention, thanks in part to explicit warnings given this month to President Bush by Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

It helps to understand the full scope of Syrian malfeasance. So far, the U.S. has accused Syria only of allowing foreign fighters to transit to Iraq. But a report in the Washington Post notes that a global positioning signal receiver found in a Fallujah bomb factory “contained waypoints originating in Western Syria.”

Fedayeen interviewed by Western media say they received training in light weapons, explosives and hit-and-run operations at camps in Syria. These camps are likely financed by the $2.5 billion Saddam Hussein is believed to have stashed in Syrian banks before the war. In April, Jordanian intelligence captured an al Qaeda cell as it planned a chemical-weapons attack in Amman. That cell, too, was apparently trained in Syria.

Syria supplements its tactical support for Iraqi terrorists with overt political support. “Syria’s interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq,” said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa in early 2003. “The resistance of the Iraqis is extremely important. It is a heroic resistance to the U.S.-British occupation of their country.”

In an interview in the Lebanese paper Al-Safir, Syrian President Bashar Assad was no less explicit when he offered Lebanon circa 1983 as an example of how the U.S. was to be fought in Iraq: “Lebanon was under Israeli occupation, up to its capital, but we did not consider that a disaster. Why? Because it was very clear there are ways to resist. The problem is not the occupation, but how people deal with it. … [In Iraq] the solution is resistance.”

In the case of Lebanon, that resistance took the form of hostage taking and Hezbollah truck bombs aimed at U.S. Marine barracks. Syria continues openly to support Hezbollah. It also gives sanctuary to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other anti-Israel terrorist groups. When Colin Powell suggested their Damascus headquarters be shut down on a visit there in 2003, Mr. Assad contemptuously replied they were only press offices.

Asked about Syrian behavior, U.S. officials tend to say things like “Syria needs to do a lot more” to stop terrorist infiltration, as if Syria is doing anything at all. In testimony late last year to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Cofer Black listed Syria’s extensive links to terror groups, then told the panel he “remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior.”

It hasn’t. In May, President Bush ordered sanctions on Syria under Congress’s Syria Accountability Act of 2003. But U.S. trade with Syria was already minimal, so the sanctions had little effect, and even that was offset by a trade deal the EU reached with Damascus the same month.

Much of the problem here is that the Syrians don’t take U.S. threats seriously. “Congressional delegations continue to come,” Mr. Assad said earlier this year, “and there are negative declarations and positive declarations. But to date, nothing is clear.” The speculation in the Arab media is that U.S. sanctions were deliberately toothless – a sop, as one Lebanese columnist put it, to “the Jewish lobby and a few hard-liners in the U.S. administration.” Mr. Assad’s calculation is that the U.S. is too tied down in Iraq to entertain any action against Syria.

Maybe. But the fact remains that Syria is providing material support to terrorist groups killing American soldiers in Iraq while openly calling on Iraqis to join the “resistance.” So far, the Bush Administration has responded with mixed political signals and weak gestures. That’s not something that impresses the Assad family, as the Turks found out. But as the Turks found out as well, there are ways to get the message across to this regime.


Look, if these things can be determined to be fact, and this is direct regime support of terrorist activities I’d be in favor of Syria having its ass stomped.

Regardless of whether or not I felt going into Iraq was justified based on claims of supporting terrorism or the existence of WMD’s, I’d consider direct support of the so-called resistance an act of war.

While I’d like it if effective ways to address the issue, without risking the lives of those in the armed forces, could be found, I’d find it hard to complain about direct action when faced with active Syrian support of action against US troops in Iraq. Maybe bombing facilities involved would be a relatively low risk option that would deliver a wakeup call?

The only hurdle I do have to get over is a lingering distrust of our own intelligence… we’ve been sure before.

Ultra-liberal my ass!

vroom, y0u 4r3 7h3 u|7r4 |1b3r4|

Sorry, but does this really come as much of a surprise? Iran and Syria, much more so than Iraq, have been recognized as terrorist sponsoring states for many many years now.

So in a blinding flash of genius, we invade Iraq, disband the army and leave the borders with two terrorist sponsoring states wide open.

Then we feign indignation when insurgents cross the now wide open frontiers. Those two countries are legitimately more concerned with keeping US tanks from coming in than keeping mujahadin from crossing into Iraq. That part is kind of our problem.


More problematic is the EU – why are they rewarding Syria right now with trade pacts? This only goes to illustrate why sanctions don’t work. It also illustrates that the EU isn’t too interested in our success in Iraq.

Vroom pointed to our intelligence problems. We have had those. Yet as far as I know, the fact that Iran is openly encouraging the recruitment of terrorists to fight in Iraq, and that our troops have been subject to bombardment from within Syrian borders, is not disputed. Those two countries have serious reasons to want the concept of democracy in the middle east to collapse.

See: http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/12/wheels-still-in-spin-austin-bay.html

I’ve seen it argued that the only thing really respected in the middle east is military strength and the will to use it – I’m beginning to believe that. They seem to view offers to negotiate or offers of “carrots” as admissions of weakness (look at how Arafat handled the Israeli offer back during the Clinton administration – how else would one interpret the rejection of the best offer he had ever received?). I think involving the Turks, if we could do so, might be a good idea – they don’t apparently have much love to lose for the Syrians (see above), and if Syria is contained then Iran is more isolated and its activities would be subject to higher scrutiny.

Psst, due to all the heat I’m taking these days, I want to be clear that my main thrust is that such interference is an act of war and should be treated as such.

The fact I’d like to be sure before acting doesn’t negate that or equate to criticism.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Those two countries have serious reasons to want the concept of democracy in the middle east to collapse.[/quote]

I agree completely, that’s why the Bush administration’s “domino democracy” theory in the middle east was flawed from the outset - they didn’t seem to anticipate or adequately plan for the fierce resistance that Iraq’s neighbors would bring to the game, even though they had plenty of warning from their own State Department.

Instead they choose to listen to the “intelligence” sources who told them what they wanted to hear, and what we now know was pure fantasy.

Increasingly, it seems we are convinced that at least part of the insurgency – the ex-Baathist part – is headquartered in Syria. I don’t know that one particular response has been identified, but I do think some response is highly necessary:


Iraq says Syria is aiding guerrillas
GIs’ job: Plug porous border

By Aamer Madhani and Colin McMahon, Tribune staff reporters. Aamer Madhani reported from Walid and Colin McMahon from Baghdad
Published January 8, 2005

WALID, Iraq – In Baghdad, Damascus and Washington, the debate over whether Syria is sponsoring the Iraqi insurgency by allowing fighters and weapons to flow across its borders is complex and ongoing, with accusations, denials and diplomatic explanations.

Yet for the U.S. Marines stationed along the Iraq-Syria border in this patch of sand and tumbleweed called Walid, reality is even more complicated. Day after day, and despite a general ban on allowing Syrian men to enter Iraq, the Marines face a constant flow of people trying to cross the border, Syrians and those claiming to be Syrian, a steady stream of the inscrutable.

The Marines’ job is to stop them–an assignment not nearly so simple as it might seem–and to turn them away.

“You get a lot of them who insist they are going to visit their dying mothers in Iraq,” said Sgt. Steven Miller of suburban Kansas City, Mo. “Everyone seems to have a dying mother.”

No one can say definitively what these men really are up to, where they really come from and who might have sent them.

Iraqi officials allege, more angrily of late, that the Syrian government is enabling Iraq’s roiling insurgency. They say they have growing proof, from documents, informants and interrogations, that Iraqis operating openly in Syria are behind a flow of money, weapons, reinforcements and orders to the guerrillas.

American officials are more cautious. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage left a weekend visit to Damascus praising the Syrians for tightening their border with Iraq. But he also warned that the United States was displeased with what it sees as, at least, Syrian coddling of insurgents.

“He got some good-sounding words,” a senior U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said of Armitage’s talks. “But we want actions, not words.”

On Thursday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) arrived in Syria to discuss some of the same issues.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi issued a vague warning last week, though he did not mention Syria by name.

“Patience has limits,” Allawi said, “and it is beginning to run out.”

A senior Iraqi official suggested that one option was cutting off trade of certain goods between Iraq and Syria if the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad failed to respond. News reports also indicate that the Bush administration is considering new financial sanctions against Damascus.

The Syrians deny the charges, saying they have tightened the border and cracked down on radical Islamist groups. In addition, they say the Americans and Iraqis have failed to provide proof that would allow Syrian authorities to act. And they blame the insurgency on a botched American occupation for which Syria is being made a scapegoat.

All this is of no immediate concern to the Marines in Walid and the rest of Anbar province, which they have dubbed Iraq’s “Wild, Wild West.”

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.

It was bad enough that border agents were helping travelers get around customs for a small fee. They reportedly also were smuggling fighting-age males into Iraq.

“They were corrupt and not doing their job,” said Capt. Chris Curtin, 33, executive officer of the Marines stationed in Walid as well as the nearby Jordanian entry point at Trebil. “It was . . . prevalent throughout the unit.”

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.

Security chief incredulous

“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.

Other officials believe Syria’s leadership is content to sit on the sidelines and watch the guerrillas pile up corpses and problems for the U.S. government. The more the American military struggles to stabilize Iraq, the Syrians may reason, the less likely the Bush administration will be to directly confront the Damascus regime or try to dictate changes in the Middle East.

Tied down fighting in Iraq, the thousands of U.S. troops deployed across Syria’s eastern border are not so unnerving.

As it is, patrolling the border area, vast and desolate and reminiscent of West Texas, is a relentless challenge for the Marines and a new group of Iraqi border agents.

Called the Desert Wolves and deployed less than a month ago, the Iraqi unit’s members are mostly men with experience in the Iraqi army during Hussein’s regime. They come from outside Anbar province, a move aimed at stemming corruption. And theirs will be larger than the previous group, with 250 agents in uniform now and 750 expected to join, said Col. Walter Miller, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

`A huge improvement’

The new Iraqi unit already has proved more effective, said 1st Lt. Bill Soucie, the Marine officer in charge of day-to-day operations in Walid.

“They aren’t going to play to any sort of tribal loyalty and give certain people favors,” Soucie said. “The fact that they want to do the job honestly is already a huge improvement.”

During a weekend visit, Col. Miller huddled with the Iraqis for a pep talk. Through an interpreter, he emphasized the importance of curbing the foreign element of the insurgency.

Most of the two dozen patrol officers fixed a puzzled look at him. And whenever Miller paused, an officer repeatedly tried to ask when the unit would get its first paycheck from Iraq’s Interior Ministry.

“The last thing you should be worried about now is money,” Miller finally said. “If you don’t do your job, all the money in the world won’t matter. . . . Because if you don’t do your job, you will lose your country to the insurgents.”


Armitage to Confront Syria on Iraq
Thursday, December 30, 2004

WASHINGTON ? The U.S. State Department’s second-ranking official is traveling to Syria (search) to talk with officials there about the infiltration of insurgents across the Syrian border into Iraq.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (search) also will visit Jordan and Turkey, which also border Iraq. Armitage left Washington on Thursday but details of his itinerary were not disclosed.

“We have felt that it’s very, very important for Syria to continue to take further action on the issues of infiltration of insurgents or support for insurgents in Iraq,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The administration believes Iraqis who served under ousted President Saddam Hussein (search) are using Syria as a base of operations for supporting the insurgency.

Syria has shrugged off complaints, saying it was being made a scapegoat for U.S. failure to stop the uprising in Iraq.

Measures to combat the insurgency are taking on increasing importance for both Iraq and the United States as the Jan. 30 national elections in Iraq rapidly approach. The insurgents are trying to disrupt the elections.

On Tuesday, the administration accused Syria of helping insurgents in Iraq by providing a haven to elements of the deposed Saddam regime. Boucher said Syria has taken some steps to curb support for insurgents in Iraq, but not enough.

In Jordan and Turkey, Armitage will discuss ways in which the two countries can contribute to a successful election in Iraq, Boucher said.

In Turkey, Armitage will raise U.S. concerns about truck traffic between Iraq and Turkey that provides supplies to the insurgency.

In Jordan, Armitage’s agenda will include ways to advance the Middle East peace process. The administration sees the Jan. 9 elections in the Palestinian territories as a possible opening for ending the long-running impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

There were headlines concerning a U.S. News story about the possibility of going after the bad guys within Syria with special ops – I think Iraqi special ops trained by U.S. personel. Anyone have thoughts on the best way to deal with Syria?

I do not consider myself a political person and my party views change as often as the wind blows but I consider myself legite to discuss this matter. I am a U.S. Marine, not just a Marine I am a grunt, we are the dirtiest of the dirty. I worked in close support of my sister company that for 7 months worked its ass off on the syrian border trying to keep the insurgent flow at a trickle, it seems like a fairly simple job until you add in the fact that you can not really communicate with most people, you don’t know if they are lying or not, your interpretors are crooked bastards and the IBP, (iraqi border police) will do anything for a couple dinar. Killing people in a foreign country is easy, but being a police officer, trying to tell wrong from right is amazingly difficult.

In from the border we were engaged in weekly firefights, some big and some small and more often then not, when the locals started talking it was of foreigners sneaking into town, threatening them into silence and then engaging us however they wanted. Our biggest push was trying to get the iraqi’s to defend themselves, unfortunately I rotated out of the country before we could tell if it was working in our area. Syrians are killing Americans, and in my world that is in act of war and should be treated as such,

Unfortunately there are buzzwords that people like to throw around, such as,…REGIME CHANGE!? I honestly don’t think that we can sustain a second regime rebuilding right now, so how we handle this next country should be carefully considered. The EU is very frustrating in there unusual dealings with these lovely little terrorist states, a great book to read on this subject is “Treachery” by Bill Gertz. It gives an interesting insight into our allies business alliances. But enough, I gotta hop off this soapbox and go to the gym.