Wednesday, August 31, 2005

End of the Comment Section

Syria Comment no longer has a comment section. I have decided to eliminate it. A small handful of people have effectively "taken over this platform," as they trumpeted. They bullied and insulted anyone who disagreed with them, chasing off most commentators. It wasn't civil and it didn't promote anything constructive. It became a detriment to my effort to promote different views. A number of my regular contributors said they didn't want to have their articles posted, either because they didn't want to be insulted by the commentators or because they didn't want to be associated with them by sharing the same internet site.

I have tried to warn the commentators to be more civil several times if they wished to have the comment page continued, but to no avail.

Joshua Landis

Why Washington will NOT make a deal over Mehlis Report

Here is what one friend wrote to me based on Michael Young's recent commentary in the Daily Star here.

There have been suggestions in recent press analyses that Assad is out to cut a deal, any deal, to salvage his regime. In exchange for being declared innocent of the Hariri hit by Mehlis, the Syrians are said to be willing to do whatever the United States wants them to - in Iraq, Lebanon, on the Palestinian front, and on the Golan Heights. The buzz is that Assad's visit to New York for the annual General Assembly session is designed to reach such an arrangement with the Bush administration.
Many Lebanese are very excited about the prospect of nailing Syria for Hariri's murder by the use of international courts, the Mehlis report, and perhaps another UN resolution, which would sanction Syria further. Many have talked themselves into the notion that the Syrian regime is weak because of its withdrawal from Lebanon and America's presence in Iraq and can be toppled by further international pressure. I think this is wrong.

I cannot believe that Bashar is going to the US for a deal. He is going to New York and the UN because Washington will not talk to him and refuses to make a deal. That is my hunch. He is trying to break out of his isolation. If he had a deal, he would not have to go. With so many expectations now stirred up over the Mehlis report, it is probably too late for a deal. Chirac is on record saying that no deal will be made and the full truth needs to come out. The Washington hawks are more likely to be waiting for his arrival in New York with glee, so they can rip his eyes out. They will paint him as a murderer and not a reformer. If the Mehlis report turns out to be damning for Bashar, he may well cancel his visit to the UN and New York. Some in Washington are already guessing he will cancel.

Here is an earlier article by Michael Young, "What If Syria Is Guilty? ," (copied in full blow) in which he prays that Hizbullah is not connect to the Hariri's murder, but that Syria is and will be taken down. Young has long argued that true democracy will only be realizable in Lebanon, when Syria becomes democratic. Michael argues that Lebanon will always be a dependent state so long as the region is dominated by Arabism and authoritarianism. This belief is one reason why many in Lebanon argue it is so important to marshal the West to deal a lethal blow to the Syrian Baathist state.

Here is a letter that I wrote a friend in the States yesterday trying to explain why I think Lebanon will be doing itself a disservice by getting on board a US and UN frontal attack on Bashar al-Asad and the Syrian regime.

The big question here is the Mehlis report, which is likely to destroy his plans. Now that it is due to be published (mid-September is the new date) at the time of Bashar's arrival, he may decide to back out, but I haven't heard anything about that.

The arrests of the top Syrian intelligence guys in Beirut by Mehlis have got everyone buzzing. The Lebanese are frothing at the mouth to get Syria. I don't see how they can. If I were they, I would concentrate on hitting the people I could kill off - the Lebanese security apparatus that is compromised and perhaps even Lahoud. They could then carry out the last steps of the Cedar revolution that Syria frustrated. I would give Syria a pass with a wink and a nod, leaving that battle for another day, because it is a loser for Lebanon.

Lebanon is externalizing its problems again. It will play the poor victim when all of this turns sour on them and they get stuck in the middle of an American-Syrian battle. Their government will be torn apart over it and will miss the window of good will they have from the West to get something constructive done - get debt re-scheduled, push through economic reforms and begin to confront massive corruption and payola which has driven their debt to the moon. Once Lebanon has been used to squeeze Syria and has failed to build an effective central government it will be forgotten by the West because it will be useless. "America will be stuck with Lebanon and Iraq - and where will that get them?" That is what one smart Syrian businessman remarked to me the other day. He is well plugged in, lives in France much of the year

Syria cannot take revenge on America, but it can kick Lebanon, which it will do with glee. The national sentiment here is high when it comes to anti-Lebanonism and the regime has been playing it. The border closings were very popular. We will likely see more of them if the Mehlis report is bad. This is just what Syria asked Lebanon not to do - to be used as a US aircraft carrier to attack Syria. Lebanon will get lost in this battle. I understand the Lebanese desire for justice and to get back at the Syrians for their misdeeds, but I can't believe this is what Hariri would do, or want, if he were alive. He was Mr. Lebanon and would have thought about what he could accomplish for Lebanon.

It is brave of Asad to go to New York - maybe foolish now. He needs to do something because he has been really frozen out - even by the Europeans. Chirac is playing ball with Washington and Bashar is in deep isolation. He cannot get invited anywhere and no one will come see him. Several people I spoken with recently, complained about this, but get their back up when asked why they don't cooperate more. They think they are cooperating. They insist that Syria will do reform on its own. Import from the East, etc., scrape by.

If the headlines in all the US papers and TV chat will be that Bashar is a murderer and not "a reformer," as he hopes he can spin them, than his trip will be a humiliation.

Syria is now in a state of confusion. Many people are wondering if Bashar will announce a new government before he goes to New York. It is coming soon, whichever. In the meantime, no one knows where Syria is headed. Most of the people he is rumored to appoint are good. There will be more technocrats. The big questions are over who will be prime minister and how much power Dardari - the new deputy prime minister - will have. Dardari is the big hope now. He has many new plans in the works for investment laws, etc. But he doesn't have the power to make them work. They need to fire lots of people deep-down into the various ministries and hire new people, but they can't. The top pay allowed in the ministries is $300 dollars according to state law. No one good comes for that. It only breeds corruption. Most of the good people are hired as consultants through the UN. That is the only way around the salary cap here, and it is what Dardari is doing. But there is a limit to how many people he can bring on board that way. It is a mess.

But Syria will stumble through. There are many good people here and they are trying to make a go of it. They bitch and moan about government incompetence, but they are also optimistic. Perhaps they are crazy. I spoke to a young and smart guy from the Aleppine elite this morning. He came over wanting to chat Aleppo - during his Damascus visit. He said the young elite of Aleppo were making money and optimistic about the future. He also said they like Bashar. They don't like the amount of lying and cheating they must do to make things happen in their businesses, but they are making money and still take Bashar at his word. they think he is trying and headed in the right direction.

It is the poor that are getting whacked here. New liberalization laws mean the rich are making out well and getting many new opportunities - as in Sadat's Egypt, but the little guy gets nothing. They are un-educated and useless. The small salaries are buying less. Bashar will keep the lid on it for the next several years successfully though. That is my hunch - even if America throws its worst at him. The Iraq mess plays to his strengths - Arabism, go slow, be careful, America wants to harm you, sacrifice, trust me for I am your only protection from civil war and rampant sectarian chaos and Islamism. He has won the local propaganda war by being the anti-Bush and for having opposed Iraq from the beginning. Syrians even like his willingness to bend and wiggle when pressured by the States. All the same they are very confused and worried about the future. Many people miss Hafiz al-Asad for his decisiveness and control. The more unstable the environment around Syria becomes, the more they have nostalgia for big daddy. Older people especially worry that Bashar doesn't have the courage or guile to make the hard decisions.

Anyway, that is the word from Sham.
Meanwhile, Michael Doran of the National Security Council (He recently replaced Eliot Abrams), met with Farid Ghadry yesterday. Ghadry is preparing a "government in exile." Here is his news release. This suggests that Washington is not interested in a deal with Syria. The line that many are taking in Washington is that Bashar is Arafat. He is too weak and indecisive to deliver anything, so Washington should not make a deal with him. They should try to replace him.

RPS Meets with the National Security Council
Washington DC, August 31, 2005/RPS/ -- Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria, met with the Director of Policy Mr. Michael Doran at NSC yesterday. The meeting took place about two weeks before Baschar al-Assad arrives New York for the UN World Summit and the day most of the pro-Syrian Lebanese ex-intelligence officers were detained for questioning in Lebanon.

The discussions centered around the Human Rights situation in Syria and specifically the release of Riad Seif from prison as well as all the other prisoners of conscience languishing in Syrian jails under abhorring and inhumane conditions. It also discussed the importance of pressuring the Assad regime to allow the Atassi Forum, a pro-democracy group, to conduct business free from intimidation and harassment.

RPS also discussed the anticipated Syrian National Conference to take place soon in Europe that would unite all the opposition political parties and figures. The Syrian Democratic Coalition, made of nine political parties and organizations, also intend to develop a Transitional Parliament (in exile) that would be instrumental in transitioning Syria peacefully from a dictatorship to a democracy after the fall of the regime. Syrians will rely on this body to help move away from a Bremer-type situation as well to conduct business in accordance with Syrian customs. The purpose is to cushion for the fall of Assad by uniting all the influential organizations be it political. economic, or social to avoid the mistakes taking place in Iraq today.

Additionally, RPS is working on a 200-page project to be provided to the Europeans and the American administration on the "After Assad" era that would encompass support for a peaceful transition. Syria is a special country with its culture and customs. Any effort not to take into account that culture will be met with failure if planning is not done today.
Reuters reports (Washington DC, August 30, 2005) that
The Lebanese police arrested three former top pro-Syrian security officials and a pro-Syrian former member of parliament on Tuesday, a security source said.

The source said Jamil al-Sayyed, former chief of the General Security Directorate, Ali Hajj, ex-head of police, and Raymond Azar, ex-head of military intelligence, were arrested in raids at their homes at dawn by police.

It was not immediately clear why the arrests were made but the three men had been blamed by some Lebanese politicians of having a role in the February 14 killing of ex-prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Former MP Nassir Qandil was also arrested, the source said.
President Chirac insists on full implementation of UN resolutions
“French President Jacques Chirac confirmed that the UN resolutions regarding Lebanon must be fully implemented. He called upon Syria to take the opportunity to rebuild good relations with Lebanon, and to start a development process the whole world is waiting for,” An Nahar, a Lebanese opposition newspaper, reported on August 30. Chirac spoke during a conference for French ambassadors in which he did not mention the international investigation of Hariri’s assassination when talking about Lebanon. “Chirac said that the mobilization of people (in Lebanon) with international support was able to overcome a long Syrian military presence. The Lebanese people finally were able to express themselves freely. Chirac added that UN resolutions 1559,1595, and 1614 should be fully implemented,” An Nahar reported.

On the other hand, President Chirac talked about the importance of solving the Middle East conflict, because it is a destabilizing factor for the whole region. He encouraged both the Israelis and Palestinians to continue the efforts to implement the ‘Road Map’ plan. Chirac added that the international community will continue supporting reforms in the Middle East. - An Nahar, Lebanon
"Mehlis informed Lebanese officials of political assassination list"
Al Seyassah, an independent Kuwaiti newspaper, reported on August 30 that: “The journalist and Lebanese member of Parliament Gibran Tueini revealed yesterday that the International Investigation Committee [investigating the assassination of previous Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] informed the Lebanese security forces of a list of Lebanese who are in danger of getting killed.”

Tueini said in an interview with Al-Sharq radio station: “There is a direct threat to some Lebanese politicians, and I am one of them.” He confirmed that he had personally received a report from Lebanese security officials, showing that the International Investigation Committee had given them information stressing that there is a list of politicians who may be assassinated. Tueni’s name is on that list. Tueni’s statement came after Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt and the previous Secretary-General to the Lebanese Communist Party George Hawi - who was assassinated on June 21 - had both spoken of such a "black list." - Al Seyassah, Kuwait
Jumblatt joins Hariri and Geagea in Paris, fearing assassination
Al Quds Al Arabi, a Palestinian-owned independent, pan-Arab newspaper, reported on August 30 that: “The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, made remarks yesterday which reflect the danger of the upcoming stage, during which the final report of the international investigation of the martyr Rafik Hariri’s death will be announced.” Sfeir said that Lebanon has always lived in danger, and that the danger increases or decreases, but this time the danger is big.

The danger Sfeir is talking about is not too far from him, because his name is on a list of figures in Lebanon who have been threatened with assassination. Many of those endangered have fled Lebanon to ensure their safety. One of those endangered is MP Saad Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri, who has been in Paris for over a month. He was joined by the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who traveled to Paris yesterday on a private jet. He left after having been stranded in his home for over a month and a half. Jumblatt did not deny that he was threatened with assassination but said that it is about fate; the fates starting with Kamal Jumblat (his father and a notable political figure) through to Renee Mouawad (President), and Rafik Hariri and Hassan Khaled (highest Sunni figure).

Syria has been accused by some of assassinating all these figures. On the other hand, the leader of the Lebanese Forces militia Samir Geagea, who was just released after spending 11 years in jail, is also in Paris, under the excuse of having medical examinations and therapy. His stay was scheduled for only one month, but sources said that he will return end of September when the results of the investigation are publicized.

Also on the list of those who are threatened is Nabih Berri, the Lebanese House Speaker, who has only attended three parliamentary sessions this year since his re-election. He has also taken to staying inside his house. In addition to that, journalists are also under threat, such as Gibran Tueni, the chief editor of An Nahar daily newspaper, whose reporter Samir Kassir was a victim of a car bomb attack which led to his death. - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom
Bilal El-Amine of MWU has a good article on how Syria struck back after UN resolution 1559 to reestablish its influence in Lebanon. He also gives a good overview of Aoun's role and how it is likely to evolve.

Here is Michael Young's full article.

What If Syria Is Guilty?
By Michael Young Published 08/30/2005

BEIRUT -- Late last week, Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on behalf of the UN Security Council, released a preliminary report on his inquiry, scheduled to be completed by mid-September. The Western media have given relatively little attention to the investigation; however, if Syria is found guilty, as many observers are beginning to foresee, this could lead to the destabilization of Syria's regime, if not to its actual downfall.

The preliminary report did not address the substance of what Mehlis and his team had found, though it did offer details allowing for some educated guesses. For example, the prosecutor, while admitting that further interviews of witnesses might extend the three-month deadline of his report (renewable for one additional three-month period), nevertheless mentioned that he expected his work to be completed on time. This may indicate, as sources close to the Hariri camp have maintained, that Mehlis has already completed the bulk of his inquiry, implying he has found a guilty party or parties. Nor have there been signs of faltering, since Mehlis underlined that the second month of the investigation had been a good one, with the team receiving particularly useful information.

Mehlis also highlighted the fact that Syria had refused to cooperate with the investigative team, which had asked to speak to five Syrians - four intelligence officials who had held posts in Lebanon, and, the London-based daily Al-Hayat alleged last week, President Bashar Assad himself. Initially, the Syrians, citing constitutional clauses, had refused to allow oral interrogations, and asked Mehlis to submit his questions via the Syrian Foreign Ministry, so they could be answered in writing. When the UN rejected this, and after warnings were directed at Syria last week, even from friendly countries such as Russia, Assad backtracked, telling the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, in an interview published on Monday, that he would allow Mehlis to speak to Syrian officials after all.

If Assad is the "fifth man", then this would be particularly revealing. A previous UN report on the assassination, authored by the Irish deputy police commissioner, Peter Fitzgerald, specifically mentioned that the Syrian president had threatened Hariri in a meeting they held last August, when Syria effectively bullied the prime minister into endorsing an unconstitutional extension of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's mandate. By raising this incident with Assad (and it is difficult to see how it would not come up in an interview), Mehlis would show he is not to be intimidated by wherever his investigation might lead.

While one must await the final report, the latest rumors in Beirut suggest that senior Syrian officials, including members of the Assad family, will be implicated in Hariri's death. Maybe, maybe not; however the accusation has received an echo from reliable sources, as well as from press reports, noting that Assad all but admitted to Syrian involvement (while exonerating himself personally) in a meeting he held last March in Riyadh with then-Crown Prince Abdullah, now king of Saudi Arabia.

What many Lebanese fear is that Mehlis might also implicate Hizbullah. There is nothing implying the party played a role in the Hariri assassination (though press reports mentioned that the UN team had asked for detailed maps of areas around the Palestinian camps in Beirut's southern suburbs, where Hizbullah holds sway). Some analysts hint the finger pointing may be manipulation, perhaps by the fearful Lahoud camp, to derail full disclosure in the inquiry, since involvement of the Shiite Hizbullah in the death of a Sunni politician raises the prospect of communal conflict. But few are especially sanguine. Last March, a senior Lebanese politician told me, "I do not discount Hizbullah's involvement in the assassination," though he offered no evidence.

Yet another rumor difficult to corroborate, published without attribution in internet and press reports, is that a Syrian intelligence officer who sought political asylum in France has been providing detailed information on the assassination to French intelligence, including names. One Arabic internet site,, identified him as Maj. Zuheir S. (his full last name was unspecified). Reference in the article to the intelligence service to which he belonged was unclear, but he apparently headed the office of the former Military Intelligence chief, Gen. Hassan Khalil. Again, however, the story should be treated with caution until Mehlis publishes his findings.

Amid all the rumors, one conclusion seems increasingly likely: Lebanese officials will be blamed for at least trying to cover up the crime. In an interview with France's Le Figaro in July, Mehlis described the head of the Presidential Guard, Mustapha Hamdan, as "a suspect." Few believe that Hamdan - in reality Lahoud, his superior and patron - was responsible for ordering the assassination. However, there have been numerous indications that the presidential palace sought to cover up the blast site soon after Hariri's murder. The Fitzgerald report specifically mentioned that evidence had been tampered with, concluding: "[T]he manner in which this element of the investigation was carried out displays, at least gross negligence, possibly accompanied by criminal actions..."

According to UN Security Council Resolution 1595, which established the Mehlis commission, it is Lebanon's judiciary that must prosecute those deemed responsible. In his preliminary report, however, the German investigator wrote that many witnesses were afraid of having their testimony handed over to the Lebanese authorities. It is ever more obvious that Lebanon's courts, given the country's political divisions and weaknesses, do not have the means to bring anyone to justice; nor its security agencies the wherewithal to protect witnesses, particularly if Syrian involvement is confirmed. This has led to growing speculation, buttressed by statements from Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad al-Siniora, that a special international tribunal might become necessary to act against the guilty. This would deeply alarm the Syrian regime (again, if Mehlis does find a Syrian connection), as it means Syria would become even more of an international pariah than it already is. That Assad could politically survive such pressure is doubtful.

In the coming weeks, we will know whether the Mehlis inquiry produces the "earthquake" that many have predicted it will. For the moment, the Lebanese are holding their breath fearing the Syrian backlash, but also hoping that Hizbullah is innocent, so that Sunni-Shiite tension can be averted. Everyone is anxiously aware that the truth may be painful.

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon and a contributing editor at Reason magazine in the United States.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bashar al-Asad, place and date not given entitled "Bashar al-Asad Interview in German news magazine Der Spiegel

The following is the text of an interview with Bashar al-Asad, place and date not given entitled "Bashar al-Asad: 'I cannot afford any mistakes'" published by German news magazine Der Spiegel website on 29 August 2005; subheadings inserted editorially:

I was asked to take this interview down by Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC (trading as Factiva) on March 31, 2006 because of copyright infringement.

Here is one quote from Bashar when asked why Syria was not experiencing a Democratic opening like Egypt:

[Bashar al-Asad] The Arab states are developing at different speeds and under different historical conditions. For example, Egypt has not experienced as many coups as Syria. Furthermore, Cairo has made peace with Israel whereas we are in a state of non-war but also non-peace. In addition, we just began the development a couple years ago and there are inevitably widely differing expectations. The main thing is that we are conducting a dialogue in Syria.

What Can America Salvage in Iraq? By Ray Close and others

The following commentary was sent to me by Ray Close. From the 1950s through the 1980s, Ray Close worked for the CIA in the Middle East. As a young man in 1957, he and his brother flew Ibrahim al-Hussayni, President Shishakli's former head of police, from Rome to Damascus to help organize Operation Straggle, an abortive coup attempt against the top Syrian officers guiding Syrian politics. It was meant to keep Syria from "going communist," but had the reverse effect. A day after the conspiracy was nipped in the bud by Syrian intelligence, Syria's "conservative" Chief of Staff, General Nizam al-Din, resigned and was replaced by `Afif al-Bizri, who the New York Times described as a "ranking Communist." This was not true, but Bizri did help engineer Syria's unification with Egypt several months later. By trying to isolate and destabilize Syria, the US was partly responsible for de-legitimizing Syria's remaining pro-Western politicians and driving the country toward the East Block, Nasser, and socialism.

Syria was already headed in this direction, but it is quite possible that without the failed British-Iraqi coup attempt at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956, followed by the US plot in 1957, Khalid al-Azm would have become president of Syria in 1958 and not Nasser. Azm was one of the greatest Syrian politicians of the early independence era. He hoped to steer Syria on a neutral course balancing between the USSR and the West on the international stage and between Iraq and Egypt in the local Arab arena. He was against unification with Egypt.

Anyway, Ray Close is a long-time student of Middle Eastern affairs. He is highly critical of the US role in the region and of his own participation in that role during the 1950s. He was one of the most outspoken American opponents of the United State's invasion of Iraq.

Here is Ray Close's commentary:

The article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "How to Win in Iraq", by Andrew Krepinevich, is a "must" read. But it is even more important to study the following commentary about that article, written by the highly respected conservative columnist David Brooks, found today on the op-ed page of the Sunday New York Times (28 August 2005). Brooks summarizes the main points of the Krepinevich thesis very accurately and succinctly, and adds his own personal agreement that the present U.S. strategy for "winning" the Iraq war that has been pursued from the beginning by Bush, Rumsfeld & Company, is fundamentally flawed, and must be completely revised.

Point taken. If "winning" the war is still a rational and reasonable objective, then the Krepinevich method should indeed be employed, and I commend David Brooks for his persuasive advocacy of that point of view. But please note a critically important point: David Brooks fails to acknowledge the all-important caveat contained in the last paragraph of the Krepinevich essay.

I have appended that last paragraph for all of you to read at the end of the David Brooks op-ed piece. After thinking about what Brooks has to say, read Krepinevich's final summation, and then ask yourself if his new formula for "How to Win in Iraq" is a strategy to which you yourself would subscribe if the decision were yours today. And finally, after doing that, please take a few minutes to formulate in your own mind an explanation of exactly what you understood were our reasons for launching a war of choice against Iraq in the first place. Exactly what were our goals and expectations then? Are any of them still realistic today?

Ray Close

New York Times -- op ed page -- Sunday, 28 August 2005
Winning in Iraq

Andrew Krepinevich is a careful, scholarly man. A graduate of West Point and a retired lieutenant colonel, his book, "The Army and Vietnam," is a classic on how to fight counterinsurgency warfare.

Over the past year or so he's been asking his friends and former colleagues in the military a few simple questions: Which of the several known strategies for fighting insurgents are you guys employing in Iraq? What metrics are you using to measure your progress?

The answers have been disturbing. There is no clear strategy. There are no clear metrics. Krepinevich has now published an essay in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," in which he proposes a strategy. The article is already a phenomenon among the people running this war, generating discussion in the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the American Embassy in Baghdad and the office of the vice president.

Krepinevich's proposal is hardly new. He's merely describing a classic counterinsurgency strategy, which was used, among other places, in Malaya by the British in the 1950's. The same approach was pushed by Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt in a Washington Post essay back on Oct. 26, 2003; by Kenneth Pollack in Senate testimony this July 18; and by dozens of midlevel Army and Marine Corps officers in Iraq.

Krepinevich calls the approach the oil-spot strategy. The core insight is that you can't win a war like this by going off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents. There are always more enemy fighters waiting. You end up going back to the same towns again and again, because the insurgents just pop up after you've left and kill anybody who helped you. You alienate civilians, who are the key to success, with your heavy-handed raids.

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.
Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

If you ask U.S. officials why they haven't adopted this strategy, they say they have. But if that were true the road to the airport in Baghdad wouldn't be a death trap. It would be within the primary oil spot.

The fact is, the U.S. didn't adopt this blindingly obvious strategy because it violates some of the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military should operate in the 21st century.
First, it requires a heavy troop presence, not a light, lean force. Second, it doesn't play to our strengths, which are technological superiority, mobility and firepower. It acknowledges that while we go with our strengths, the insurgents exploit our weakness: the lack of usable intelligence.
Third, it means we have to think in the long term. For fear of straining the armed forces, the military brass have conducted this campaign with one eye looking longingly at the exits. A lot of the military planning has extended only as far as the next supposed tipping point: the transfer of sovereignty, the election, and so on. We've been rotating successful commanders back to Washington after short stints, which is like pulling Grant back home before the battle of Vicksburg. The oil-spot strategy would force us to acknowledge that this will be a long, gradual war.

But the strategy has one virtue. It might work.

Today, public opinion is turning against the war not because people have given up on the goal of advancing freedom, but because they are not sure this war is winnable. Why should we sacrifice more American lives to a lost cause?

If President Bush is going to rebuild support for the war, he's going to have to explain specifically how it can be won, and for that he needs a strategy.

It's not hard to find. It's right there in Andy Krepinevich's essay, and in the annals of history. [End of David Brooks column]

Last paragraph of Krepinevich article in Foreign Affairs:

"Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls. But this is the price that the United States must pay if it is to achieve its worthy goals in Iraq. Are the American people and American soldiers willing to pay that price? Only by presenting them with a clear strategy for victory and a full understanding of the sacrifices required can the administration find out. And if Americans are not up to the task, Washington should accept that it must settle for a much more modest goal: leveraging its waning influence to outmaneuver the Iranians and the Syrians in creating an ally out of Iraq’s next despot.”

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Local Elections of 2007 by Ibrahim Hamidi

(This story by Ibrahim Hamidi originally appeared in "Syria Today" in this month's issue.)

2007 has the potential to be a great year of progress for Syria with the promise of free-list local elections ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. It also has the potential for Crisis. Here, al-Hayat Damascus bureau chief Ibrahim Hamidi looks ahead to a make or break year.

The year 2007 will, no doubt, be a turning point in Syrian political history; a year that is expected to mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, with parliamentary elections, local administration elections and presidential elections all taking place simultaneously.

If the discussions currently circulating among Syria’s political elite following the recommendations of June’s Ba’ath Party Conference do indeed come true, the year 2007 will witness Syria’s soft landing from a politically-authoritarian, economically-centralized regime to a pluralist regime embracing market forces.

However, internal frustrations, hesitant decisions and a poor awareness of the country’s socio-economic problems could equally turn that year into a catastrophe, threatening Syria’s stability. So how could 2007 turn out on a positive curve?
The 10th Ba’ath Party Conference came out with many political recommendations including the “revision” of the emergency law - in place since the early 1960s - the elimination of extraordinary courts - also established during the 1960s - and passing new legislations for political parties and local administration elections. Moreover, there was a recommendation to reconsider the Syrian Constitution “to match the above recommendations”.

Looking to the full half of the glass, this means that the year 2007 will mark the end of a reign, started with the Ba’athists assumtion of power in 1963. The circles of pro-regime reformists say the coming years will witness preparations for a “bloodless coup” including the issuance of a law allowing new political parties to take part in the local elections of 2007.

One of those optimists, the Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hilal Atrash, told me that a political decision has already been taken to prepare for a new local administration law that will allow the more than 15,000 members of the municipal councils to be freely elected. This would mark an end to the previous system of nominations and closed lists that are controlled by the Ba’ath Party and its partners in the National Progressive Front, the parliamentary alliance of parties authorised by the Ba’ath.

Atrash said the decision coincided with other major steps towards “decentralization” and the delegation of more powers to local authorities in order to establish “good governance” based on “procedure facilitation” and “red tape reduction”.
Handling open list elections will mean that 2007 will, for the first time since the Ba’ath assumed power, allow Syrians to elect more than 15,000 local council representatives. Local governors will still appointed by virtue of presidential decrees.

Syria has 14 governorates, 107 towns and 2480 villages. The population of these units elect 15029 representatives for the respective councils.

Optimists also look at the local administration elections as a warm up exercise for the parliamentary elections, to elect 250 MPs, and for the presidential election.
Seven years will have passed since the inauguration of President Bashar a-Assad who told foreign reporters that Syria will have democratic elections.

The current changes will include reconsidering Article 8 of the Constitution of 1972, which states that the Ba’ath Party is “ruler of state and society”. However, contrary to these rosy expectations, there are some distressing ideas that 2007 could be the trigger for an internal crisis. How?

Some observers think that the Ba’ath Conference recommendations were developed on the principle of “constructive ambiguity”; while they look like a good foundation for reform they may actually be as good for hardliners. The recommendation talked about separating “the Party from the power”, but at the same time they stated that prime minister as well as parliament speaker should be Ba’athists; this is a contradiction. They talked about a new parties law while stressing “security and stability”, which can be a good pretext for more inflexibility and regression; another contradiction.

Pessimists think the coming years will witness wide-scale regression in terms of refocusing on security issues and not developing any major political or economic reforms. They say there will be only some cosmetic reform, such as establishing unpopular parties and annexing them to the NPF as was the case with the Syrian Social National Party, or even refraining from ratifying the Association Agreement with the EU to avoid any serious commitment towards reform.

What is more worrying in fact is the fact the year 2007 will more likely witness a number of negative developments: the further deterioration in oil production, currently at 470,000 barrel a day, and even the possible end of oil exports; unemployment will reach 20% of the workforce, with more than 380,000 newcomers entering the labour market every year.

Four other factors loom large and foreboding on the horizon. The first is the rising Islamic tide in secular Syria and the increase in radical groups, some of whom have already resorted to violence. Close beside that is the fact that 80% of the unemployed are between 18 and 25 years’ old and the fact that the selective opening of the economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer, with Syria now home to 5.3 million citizens within the poverty zone and 2.2 million of them “can not get the basic needs”, according to UNDP report released lately.

Meanwhile the middle class, often perceived as the guarantor of stability, is increasingly melting away. There is also the negative impact on patriotism, with the country recently witnessing several sectarian/ethnic clashes due to a variety of political, economic and regional reasons triggered by the changes in Iraq, where the political structure has shifted towards sectarianism after the Iraqi regime failure to build a civil state.

Nonetheless, observers cannot draw a clear picture of Syria’s future; every day there are contradicting indications. Today we can say there is optimism as regards the scope of the problems and the appropriateness of the decisions made; tomorrow we face the opposite. The only thing to do is wait and see what the future holds.

Miraculous Crying Madonna of Aleppo.

Elyse Semerdjian, an American professor of Middle East History now visiting Syria, just sent me this note about the miraculous crying Madonna of Chaldean church in Aleppo.

I was dropped off in Aleppo by the taxi driver a few blocks away from Aunt Elyse, but I know this neighborhood, I stop in to say hi to a semi-crippled store owner named Artance....she got polio when she was small and walks with crutches, but owns a nice toy shop and works very hard. While I was in his shop, she told me about a miracle that occurred yesterday.

A woman was in the Chaldean church praying at 2 am. There is a statue to the virgin Mary there outside the church, she prayed in front of it, and as the original story goes, the statue began to move its lips speaking a language no one understood. Then it began to cry. Immediately the police came to secure the place (whatever that means...they certainly did not help crowd control inside the gates of the church). I was very interested in seeing this, so I went to my aunt's house and took her to the church. You would not believe the crowd, hundreds of people....all there to see the miracle. People were recording it on their cell phones and sending it around the city so many seen it without even going to the church! High tech miracles! So, we went, but between the crowd and the hefty women it was rough, like a game of rugby to get through that crowd. I got close, but didn't get close enough to see. We got fed up and left, I was upset that the police were only posing outside the church, but did nothing for crowd control. I swear that a Who Concert in 1979 was probably safer that this crowd of buxom women who were pushing, shoving, pinching to get to the statue yesterday.

There were women along the side, singing songs, and making the zaghlouta...that trilling sound we often make at weddings and festivals . It was pretty exciting. Then I was listening to stories in the crowd....the stories were that the statue was speaking a strange language which was Aramaic, so, it was added that it was Aramaic "the language of Jesus", but my original story did not have that detail. It was interesting to see it evolve.

I am going to try to go tonight, hoping the crowd will die down to see it for myself.

Jordan, Canada, Mehlis, and Business

Sami Moubayed has written an excellent overview of radical Islam in Jordan and Zarqawi's place in it all. Here is a bit of it.

Until the end of 2003 there were three major Salafi jihadi outfits in Iraq: Ansar al-Islam in the north, Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna (operating between Mosul and Baghdad) and Zarqawi's network, Jamaa al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Zarqawi's crucial and deadly business expansion in 2003-2004 happened because more than 200 Jordanian jihadis - mostly from Zarqa and al-Salt and some of them members of traditional Jordanian clans - joined him in the Sunni triangle and proclaimed him their emir.

The key cleric legitimizing their operations was also a Jordanian - Omar Yussef Joumoua, also known as Abu Anas al-Shami. This led to the now-notorious move of Zarqawi pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda in October 2004, when Zarqawi's network adopted its current denomination, al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers (Tanzim al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidayn), and Osama bin Laden recognized Zarqawi as the jihadi-in-chief in Iraq in a December 2004 audiotape.

The strategy of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers is not Jordanian, though: it is dictated by the Saudi branch of al-Qaeda. The strategy is spelled out in a series of documents supervised by Sheikh Yussef al-Ayeeri. The most strategic of these documents is called "Iraq al-jihad, awal wa akhtar" (The jihad in Iraq, hopes and dangers). It's all there: centralized resistance in Sunni Arab cities and villages; close collaboration with Saddam Hussein's former Mukhabarat (intelligence) officers; attacks against other members of the coalition to isolate the Americans and the new Iraqi defense forces; keeping an atmosphere of chaos at all costs; and, crucially, disrupting by all means the flow of oil. Another point of the document is now becoming clear: the setting up of jihadi networks in the Shi'ite south capable of protecting Sunni minorities in case of civil war - a de facto situation considering the escalation of sectarian killings.
Another interesting article on the recent Aqaba attack is Lee Smith in Monday's Weekly Standard, entitled, "Jordan's Baathist Boom; The economy is humming, thanks to Iraqi cash." He says Syrian businessmen are helping to finance Jordan's boom as well.
Indeed, some of the cash coming in is a direct result of Syria's forced withdrawal from Lebanon. "Lots of Syrian money came after it left Beirut," says Braizat. "The Syrians are investing to escape Bashar [al-Assad's] regime."

So, what does it mean that Syria's merchant class is putting money into the coffers of the country's long-time regional rival? "If the private sector in Syria is connected to the private sector here," Braizat argues, "then this is cementing its relationship with the government here, and they don't see the [Syrian] regime surviving."
The Canadian papers are producing some interesting stories on the role of the Canadian Secret Service in sending Canadian Syrians to Damascus to be investigated. Everyone has hear of the Arar case, which has been causing an uproar in Canada. It now seems that the Canadian Secret Service didn't want to have him brought home to Canada. But the more interesting story is about Abdullah Almalki, who tells his story of being tortured at the suggestion of the Canadian governemnt for the first time. "The federal government was complicit in an international anti-terrorist operation that ultimately resulted in Canadian citizens being tortured in Syria to elicit ..."

UN's first report accused Syria of hindering Hariri investigations
The United Nations has accused Syria of delaying the work of the international investigation committee that is investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. The accusation came in the light of Syrian refusal to provide the committee with needed documents or to let the committee interrogate certain Syrian officers,” An Nahar, a Lebanese opposition newspaper, wrote on August 26. The United States termed the Syrian refusal to cooperate with the International Committee “unacceptable.”

“The United Nations’ statement called upon Syria, without mentioning the country by name, to cooperate completely with the investigation,” An Nahar reported. Diplomats who took part in the Security Council meeting said that the report of the Committee shows that the Syrian government, unlike the Lebanese, did not cooperate. They expressed their hope that the Syrian government will cooperate like the Lebanese government in the coming few weeks. “The investigation should be finished by September 16, and the committee did not ask for any extensions, although the UN decision give the committee the ability to ask for a three-month extension,” An Nahar added.

“US sources said if the committee reaches the conclusion that Syrian officials are involved in the assassination of Hariri, the international community will move against Syria through the Security Council,” An Nahar reported. Reports say that France has mentioned Syria by name in the first draft of the Security Council report regarding the investigation, but some countries like Russia and Algeria refused to name Syria in the report. “The International Investigation Committee will meet with Syrian officials in Geneva in order to discuss future cooperation,” An Nahar concluded. - An Nahar, Lebanon
Kuwait has important investments in Syria -- official
DAMASCUS, Aug 26 (KUNA) -- Kuwait, in a variety of sectors, has important investments in Syria, said Friday a source from the Syria Cabinet's Investment Authority.

In a press statement, the source added that Kuwait United Investment Company (KUIC), established by a Kuwaiti-Syrian committee, played a great role in establishing a variety of projects in Syria through a capital of USD 200 million.

He added that investments are not limited to KUIC, as there are other firms and individuals establishing a number of projects.

While Turkey has 12 projects in Syria, both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia come second with seven projects in industry, transportation and agrigulture.

Through ownership or partnership with foreigners or Arabs, he explained that 27 projects were established since Syria has issued its 10th investment law in 1991, adding that 12 of these ventures were established by Arab investors.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Bolton Bashes Syria on Mehlis Report

I just wrote about the politics of the Mehlis report in my last post - but Bolton's most recent intervention to give the "American translation" of a recent UN statement indicates that the fight is on. America seems determined to take this fight to Damascus.

Bolton's behavior cannot please Condoleezza Rice, his boss, who is proving to be a good diplomat. But Bolton is Bush's private appointee now that he failed to get Senate confirmation and was given a recess appointed by the President.

Syria Thwarting U.N. Inquiry, Bolton Says
WARREN HOGE in the New York Times.
Published: August 26, 2005

The work of a United Nations team investigating the February car bomb assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is being obstructed by Syria, Ambassador John R. Bolton said after a closed door briefing of the Security Council.

Many Lebanese hold Syria responsible for the killing, but the council, responding to objections from Algeria and Russia, refrained from naming Syria in a statement urging the cooperation of all neighboring countries. Citing his disappointment at that outcome, Mr. Bolton said, "That's why I came out here to give you the American translation."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Opposition Meeting Planned for Paris Collapses

The Opposition meeting that was supposed to take place in Paris this September is falling apart. Riad al-Turk's Syrian Social Democratic Party and the People's Party of Aleppo both said they would not attend because the time was not right for assembling a "Syrian national Assembly." The Muslim Brothers then officially said they would not be attending as well. Other main opposition groups have also dropped out, leaving some Kurdish parties and Anwar al-Bunni to go alone.

In August the "Gathering for Syria" issued invitations to the national assembly in order to discuss "peaceful democratic change in Syria."

Also the Grand Mufti of Damascus announced that he is opposed to the creation of religious parties because it separates the religious from the non-religious, which is something that will be decided in the hereafter.

Here are the articles from today's Akbar al-Sharq.

الأحزاب السورية الرئيسية لن تشارك في مؤتمر باريس المقرر عقده في أيلول

لندن - أخبار الشرق

أعلنت أحزاب المعارضة الرئيسية في سورية عدم مشاركتها في مؤتمر باريس الذي دعا إليه بشكل أساسي "التجمع من أجل سورية"، والمقرر عقده أواخر أيلول/ سبتمبر القادم. وقد اعتذرت جماعة الإخوان المسلمين "رسمياً" عن عدم المشاركة، فيما أكد الناطق باسم التجمع الوطني الديمقراطي في سورية (خمسة أحزاب معارضة) حسن عبد العظيم أن أحزاب التجمع لن تشارك في المؤتمر أيضاً. وكانت هذه القوى قد تلقت دعوة رسمية من المنظمين للمؤتمر.

وكانت خمسة أحزاب سياسية معارضة قد أصدرت بياناً في 17 آب/ أغسطس الجاري، دعت فيه إلى عقد "مؤتمر وطني سوري" بين 26 و28 أيلول/ سبتمبر في باريس، للتوصل إلى "ميثاق" من أجل "التغيير الوطني الديمقراطي السلمي" في سورية. وذكر البيان أن الدعوة مفتوحة أمام "كل الاطراف الوطنية، أياً كان توجهها الفكري أو العقائدي"، لكنه استثنى من الدعوة "حزب البعث الحاكم" في سورية، و"رفعت الأسد" عم الرئيس السوري بشار الاسد، وأحزاب الجبهة الوطنية التقدمية.

ورداً على سؤال حول ما إذا كانت جماعة الإخوان المسلمين المعارضة المحظورة في سورية، والتي تطالب بعقد "مؤتمر وطني شامل"، مدعوة لحضور المؤتمر، قال الناطق باسم "التجمع من أجل سورية" فهد المصري: "إنهم على رأس المدعوين"، حسب ما نقلت عنه وكالة فرانس برس.

لكن الإخوان المسلمين، وبعد تلقيهم دعوة "رسمية" للمشاركة في المؤتمر، اعتذروا "رسمياً" عن عدم المشاركة، وفق مصدر في المكتب السياسي لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين.

ورغم تأكيد المصدر الإخواني في تصريح خاص لأخبار الشرق؛ إيمان جماعته "بأهمية عقد المؤتمر الوطني الشامل الذي سبق أن طالبنا به" ومع تأكيده أن الجماعة "تقدر الجهود والمبادرة في هذا المجال، وتحترم الجهات الممثلة في لجنة الإعداد والتنظيم للمؤتمر"، إلا أنه عبر عن الاعتقاد بأن "هناك شروطاً لا بد من توافرها لتحقيق الأهداف المرجوّة" من مثل هذه المؤتمرات. ومن بين هذه الشروط "الحوار والتشاور والتنسيق مع كافة القوى الوطنية قبل توجيه الدعوة إلى المؤتمر"، و"تشكيل لجنة تحضيرية تمثل كافة القوى الوطنية، تكون مهمتها اختيار الزمان والمكان المناسبين لعقد المؤتمر، وتوجيه الدعوات للمشاركين والمراقبين، وإعداد الأوراق والمشاريع التي ستعرض على المؤتمرين، وكذلك إقرار الترتيبات المالية والإعلامية للمؤتمر" حسب المصدر في المكتب السياسي لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين.

وأوضح المصدر الإخواني أن اعتذار الجماعة عن عدم المشاركة "ينطلق من الحرص على نجاح المؤتمر الوطني الشامل الذي دعونا (الإخوان) إليه مع كافة فصائل المعارضة السورية"، لكنه أكد في الوقت ذاته أن الإخوان المسلمين ما زالوا "يلحون على ضرورة عقده" (المؤتمر الوطني الشامل)، مبدياً ترحيبه ودعمه "لكلّ جهد يجمع بين مختلف القوى الوطنية، ولكلّ خطوة لتوحيد جهود هذه القوى على طريق التحرّر من الاستبداد" حسب تعبيره.

من جهته؛ أعلن حسن عبد العظيم أن أحزاب "التجمع الوطني الديمقراطي في سورية" الخمسة قررت عدم المشاركة في المؤتمر، مشيراً إلى أنه تلقى دعوة عبر الهاتف من الناطق باسم "التجمع من أجل سورية" فهد المصري. وذكر عبد العظيم أن "التجمع الوطني الديمقراطي" تلقى مشروعاً سياسياً يتضمن مجموعة من المقترحات والأفكار، من بينها أن يكون التجمع الوطني هو الجهة الداعية إلى عقد المؤتمر الوطني.

لكن عبد العظيم أعلن أن أحزاب التجمع (وأبرزها الاتحاد الاشتراكي العربي الديمقراطي وحزب الشعب الديمقراطي السوري) التي اجتمعت مؤخراً في دمشق، أجمعت على عدم المشاركة في مؤتمر باريس؛ "لأن الوقت ليس مناسباً لعقد مثل هذا المؤتمر"، حسب ما نقل عبد العظيم عن مسؤولي الأحزاب الخمسة في التجمع الوطني الديمقراطي.

ويشار إلى أن الأحزاب الداعية للمؤتمر هي "التجمع من أجل سورية"، و"الحزب الديمقراطي الكردستاني في سورية"، و"حزب الحداثة والديمقراطية"، و"حزب النهضة الوطني الديمقراطي في سورية"، و"تيار المستقبل الكردي في سورية". بينما يشارك المحامي أنور البني رئيس "المركز السوري للدراسات والاستشارات القانونية" بصفة مراقب.

ويهدف المؤتمر، حسب منظميه، إلى "الانتقال بسورية إلى دولة القانون"، مع الإشارة بشكل خاص إلى أهمية الوصول إلى قضاء مستقل وإلى انتخابات حرة، اضافة إلى ضرورة "احترام حقوق الأقليات القومية والدينية".

وقالت لجنة الإعداد والتنظيم للمؤتمر في بيان: إن المؤتمر سيناقش "سبل وآفاق وطرق التغيير الوطني الديمقراطي بطريقة سلمية وتدريجية وفق جدول زمني يقترحه المؤتمر"، مع "المحافظة على الثوابت الوطنية ووحدة المجتمع السوري ورفض التفريط بالأساسيات للوطن، ورفض أي محاولات للغزو العسكري الخارجي، ورفض فرض أي تغييرات في سورية بشكل عسكري سواء من الداخل أو الخارج".

وأوضح البيان أن هذا المؤتمر "مؤتمر مفتوح لا يقصي أحداً من العمل الوطني للتغيير الديمقراطي السلمي في سورية، وهو ملتقى لكل الأطراف الوطنية أياً كان توجهها الفكري أو العقائدي والإيديولوجي في محاولة وإرادة جادة لرسم مستقبل سورية بمشاركة الجميع دون أي استثناء"، معتبراً أن هذا المؤتمر "تمهيدي للمؤتمر الوطني الشامل الذي يعقد في مرحلة لاحقة في دمشق عندما تتمكن كل الأطراف من العمل انطلاقاً من داخل سورية". لكن المنظمين أشاروا إلى أن الدعوة لن توجه لحضور المؤتمر إلى "حزب البعث" الحاكم أو رفعت الأسد أو من يمثلهم، "نظراً لتاريخهم الأسود في القمع والإقصاء والقتل والتعذيب" حسب تعبير البيان.

وأوضح بيان المنظمين أن عقد المؤتمر خارج سورية يأتي نظراً "لاستحالة عقدها في الداخل في الظروف الحالية" مؤكدين في الوقت ذاته أن المؤتمر "غير تابع أو مدفوع لمصالح قوى خارجية أو أجنبية، ولا يمول من دول أو حكومات، بل بتمويل ذاتي سوري".

وسيتم في نهاية أعمال المؤتمر التوقيع على "ميثاق الوفاق الوطني للتغيير الديمقراطي" في سورية، والذي سيشمل "كافة النقاط والمحاور المشتركة بين كل الأطراف المشاركة المتفق عليها بالغالبية خلال المؤتمر حول آليات وسبل التغيير الديمقراطي". وسيكون هناك في نهاية المؤتمر أيضاً مؤتمر صحفي "حتى يتمكن أبناء سورية في الداخل من المتابعة عبر وسائل الإعلام" حسب المنظمين للمؤتمر.

* مفتي سورية يرفض قيام أحزاب إسلامية لأن فرز الناس متدينين وغير متدينين "يخص السماء" .. ويدعو البطريرك صفير "الأب الروحي" للسوريين لزيارة سورية

Monday, August 22, 2005

News Round Up

US-Syrian Damascus workshop in the pipeline, as Assad prepares for UN trip
Ibrahim Hamidi reports in al-Hayat: Translated by

“Communications [are continuing] between US and Syrian researchers [who intend to] organize a workshop next fall in Damascus in order to discuss US-Syrian relations. The workshop might be attended by US Congressmen and neo-conservatives in the framework of what is known as the ‘second track’ that is parallel to the 'official,' frozen track between Damascus and Washington,” Al Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper, reported from Damascus on August 22.

Syrian researchers close to the regime are already paying visits to research centers in Washington to prepare for this workshop. “The workshop will be held by The Center of Research and Strategic Studies from Damascus University in collaboration with Stanley Foundation in the United States,” Al Hayat added.

Meanwhile, sources close to Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed he will visit New York between September 14-17 to attend the United Nations meeting. “Assad will be the first Syrian President to attend such a meeting since the independence of Syria. Assad will give a speech that will include ‘the new policies of Damascus vis-a-vis other countries,’” Al Hayat added. Syria has already started a diplomatic mission to arrange a series of meetings for President Assad with world leaders who will attend the UN meeting.

“Syria has already activated its role on the Syrian-Iraqi borders by arresting 5,300 suspects who tried to cross the borders to fight against the United States. Syria said it has sent a list of 1,300 suspects to the United States - 85 percent of whom are Saudi Arabian - who Syria says tried to cross the borders to Iraq,” Al Hayat reported.

The paper said it is not clear if this series of events augurs for resuming security cooperation between the United States and Syria, but Syrian-American relations analysts are confirming the importance of Syria in fostering peace for the United States in Iraq. “Washington should choose between stability in Iraq and upheaval in Syria. Both cannot be had at the same time,” Al Hayat concluded. - Al Hayat, United Kingdom
Bush, Chirac, and Sharon refuse to meet with Assad in New York
Al Seyassah, an independent Kuwaiti newspaper, reported on August 23 that: “Two Arab leaders failed during the past few days to convince the US administration to bring together US President George W. Bush or one of his head aides or ministers with the Syrian President Bashar Assad during the next international summit at the United Nations headquarters on September 14.” Gulf diplomatic sources in Washington told Al Seyassah yesterday that: “Arab mediators of the highest political stature met with US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The mediators failed to convince Bush to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The French diplomatic envoy to Washington also confirmed that French President Jacques Chirac is not prepared to meet with the Syrian President either.

“Qatari diplomatic sources in the American capital pointed out that both Syria and Israel refused a suggestion by one of the Gulf countries to have ‘good' relations between the two countries, with the possibility of bringing together Assad and the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon either secretly or publicly in New York.” According to Al Seyassah’s sources, Israel did not accept the proposal to better relations. Israel told the Gulf mediators that as long as Syria cannot be brought closer to the United States and France, it would be almost out of the question to have an Israeli-Syrian summit, adding that the time for such an effort would be after reaching a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian 'problem.'" - Al Seyassah, Kuwait

Tony Badran brings my attention to an al-Balad article. He writes:

This report includes the element that I noted you left out, which is the Mehlis report. It says that the high profile trip to NY is a race against time so to speak, the last attempt at a contact, with ANY official, before the report comes out (which, as I said to you, is rumored to point a finger at ....
"Several members" of "terrorist group" reported dead in clash with Syria
Al Jazeera TV reported on August 22 that Syrian security troops have clashed with a group they described as a terrorist group affiliated with the Jund al-Sham Organization in the Madaya area near the Lebanese border. The clash resulted in the deaths of several members of the group, while the surviving members were arrested. Al Jazeera learned that the group consisted of Syrians, Iraqis and Saudis who were planning to carry out "terrorist" actions in Syria and Lebanon. - Al Jazeera, Qatar

Syrian officer said to be key source for investigators in Hariri probe
Translated by
Reports close to Rafik Hariri’s political movement say that the key source of information being used by the International Investigation Committee investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is a Syrian intelligence officer who used to work in the office of the Syrian military intelligence chief,” Elaph, a pan-Arab electronic newspaper, reported on August 20.

This intelligence officer is said to have escaped to a large Arab country with the means to protect the officer from Syrian military intelligence. “The most important information this intelligence officer presented to the investigation committee was the nature of the explosives and the issue of the fundamentalist group who claimed responsibility for assassinating Rafik Hariri,” Elaph added. “The Syrian intelligence officer confirms that Syria is involved in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” Elaph reported. Regarding the nature of the explosives, the officer confirmed C4 explosives were used, which are only manufactured in the United States, Israel, and some NATO members.

However, the officer confirmed that Syria was able to buy RDX, which constitutes 91 percent of the total substances used to make the C4 explosives, from Slovakia. He added that a Syrian businessman conducted the deal in Istanbul. Elaph added that this officer confirmed that an Islamic fundamentalist group executed the assassination; however, he said the Syrian intelligence was controlling the group.

“The reports that are mentioning all this information all highlight the sensitivity of the information, and that it should be received critically, especially given the number of countries involved in the issue so far,” Elaph concluded. - Elaph, United Kingdom
Iraq is now accusing Jordan, and not Syria, of harboring command central for the Iraqi Baathist resistance should give Damascus a little relief.
BAGHDAD, August 22: The new Iraqi government on Sunday complained that former officials who served Saddam Hussein were providing funds and organising Sunni Arab insurgency from neighbouring Jordan and said this was "unacceptable".

"There are a large number of regime elements who supervise some of the terrorist groups from Jordan," spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters. "We hope to have an agreement with Jordan on combating terrorism and handing over and pursuing suspects."

He stressed that Baghdad wanted good relations with Jordan, adding: "We know Saddam’s family is there with huge amounts of money and they legally fund political and media activities. They even back efforts to revive Baath Party organisations.î

Iraq has often accused Syria and Iran of not doing enough to stop insurgents crossing their border into Iraq.

But if Syria thinks it can breath more easily, Hassan Fattah of the N.Y. Times reports, August 23, 2005, that a Syrian was among the men who recently tried to attack American Ships at Aqaba. Evidently the group was being run out of Iraq. I guess the Jordanians can blame the Iraqi's for organizing terror in their country - except that it may be the Jordanian, Zarqawi, who was giving the orders from Iraq.
The Jordanian government said Monday that it had arrested a prime suspect in the rocket attack on two American warships last week in Aqaba, and for the first time it directly tied the attack to Iraqi insurgents.

Late Monday, state-run Jordanian television announced the arrest and identified the suspect as Muhammad Hassan al-Sihli, a Syrian. The report said Mr. Sihli, who it said was in charge of planning the attack, was part of a terrorist cell that included three Iraqis, including his two sons, Abdullah and Abdelrahman al-Sihli, and another man identified as Muhammad Hamid Hussein.

The cell was reported to be directed by an unidentified insurgent group in Iraq. According to the government statement, the men were "in constant touch with their organization in Iraq during preparation for the attack." But the government stopped short of linking the attack to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of a terrorist group in Iraq who faces a death sentence here for his involvement in previous attacks.
The number of Turkish tourists to Syria has achieved a remarkable growth so far in 2005 compared to past years, al-Thawra daily reported Monday. “The number of Turkish tourists in 2005 reached 96,000 compared with 22,000 in 2004, 12,000 in 2003, 10,000 in 2001 and 5,000 in 2000,” the paper reported. It attributed the reasons for this increase to the facilities that Syria and Turkey have adopted on borders, the increase of crossing points and air flights in the light of the political rapprochement between the two sides in addition to the economic and trade cooperation.

Investments in Syria hit sp 124 billion first half of 2005
Syria, Economics, 8/17/2005
A senior investment official announced on Tuesday that total investments in Syria during the first half of 2005 reached at SP 124 billion, where foreign capital contributed 23% of it, "a matter that reflects the increased confidence in the Syrian economy."

Director of the investment office at the council of ministers Mustafa al-Kafri called in a press conference on experts and interested persons in investments in Syria to take part at the industrial cities and their investment horizons that would be held in the 4th of next September on the margin of Damascus international fair to focus on promising investment opportunities and facilities that will be offered to those who are considering to invest there.

"There are plans to build seven industrial cities according to the tenth five-year plan of development at governorates of Deir al-Zour, northeast, Hama, central Syria, Raqqa northeast, Hasaka northeast, Idlib northern west to contribute to the developing process in these cities," al-Mouases said.

International investment to be launched in Syria
Syria, Economics, 8/12/2005
Investors in the tourism field expected Syria to become one of the biggest tourist markets because it is still an undeveloped with great potential because it possess important ingredients for those interested in investing in the tourism industry.

Director of the Four Seasons Hotel in Syria, Marx Azli, told al-Thawra daily on Thursday that "a number of big investors have shown desire to enter the Syrian market to launch investment projects for being an undeveloped market." Azli expected his hotel, who's service will start in November " to take hold of 40 % of the Syrian tourist market," clarifying that success of the Four Seasons will encourage investors to come to Syria where the International Hotels Administration Companies are waiting for show the success of big investments in Syria in order to encourage others to invest in Syria.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Asad's Visit to the UN: Why the US Needs to Change its Syria Policy

One of Syria Comment’s readers wrote yesterday that "President & Mrs. Assad are coming to New York in September. The President is going to address the UN General Assembly."

All Damascus has been talking about the scheduled visit of President Asad to the UN meeting in September. Asad's presence in New York will surely "drive the Bush administration crazy," as one foreign diplomat assured me. Washington has been doing everything to keep Syria isolated and to block Bashar's efforts to arrange high level visits with other heads of state. Earlier this year, the US blocked President Asad’s scheduled trips to Brazil and Austria. Recently, it scotched the must anticipated visit of Turkey’s leader to Syria. Two days ago, local papers announced that the delivery of 7 Airbus planes to Damascus had been delayed indefinitely, due to pressure from Washington and Paris. No high-profile Americans have been able to visit Damascus since Washington pulled its ambassador from the country. When a delegation of congressmen recently visited Lebanon, they were told not to come to Damascus.

President Asad’s visit to New York is an attempt to break through this isolation. Farid Ghadry and the Syrian opposition in Washington have written that the US should deny Asad an American visa because he is a terrorist. So far, Washington has intelligently ignored this advice.

People in Damascus have asked me whom the President should see while he is in the States. The president’s agenda is something that Imaad Mustafa, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, and the President's new public affairs office will arrange. They should do so with care.

Undoubtedly, Bashar will try to get some time alone with Turkey's leader while they are both in New York. He should also take his charming and effective wife with him and try to get on 60 minutes or some comparable news show. If he is smart, he will stay through the weekend and appear on the morning news shows. He should also meet with 5 or 6 opinion makers, such as David Ignatius and Thomas Friedman, to explain Syria’s policies. They will not write glowing reports about Syria. Why should they? Syria has been cracking down on public freedoms in Damascus, arresting Kurdish opposition leaders, and throwing its weight around in Lebanon. More importantly to the US, Asad came out squarely against the US invasion of Iraq. All the same, they should see American interests in cooperating with Syria.

Now that the United States is planning to draw down its troop numbers in Iraq and has lowered its sights on what can be achieved in its regional ambitions, the two countries have much to talk about. Both countries are trying to solve their Iraq problems. Syria no longer has to fear that the United States is preparing a permanent presence in Iraq, which many believed would be used as a base to strike Syria. All the same Washington has pursued a policy of "regime change on the cheap" in Syria. It consists of squeezing the country economically and diplomatically until it falters. Already Syria’s economic growth rate has been halved since America invaded Iraq. Syrian politicians are convinced that Washington wants to destroy the Syrian regime, not change its behavior.

As David Hirst recently wrote in the Guardian:

Officially the US might say that all it wants is a change of Syrian behavior; but, said a senior [Syrian] official, "we have concluded in recent months that they really want to bring us down". European diplomats tend to agree that an apparently systematic refusal to engage the regime at any level reflects the influence of neo-conservative hawks, for whom Syria is a prime candidate for regime change in the region. Even if George Bush isn't ready to embark openly on such a policy, the neocons are strong enough to block any inclination in the opposite direction.
Bashar is trying to break the neocon monopoly on Washington’s Syria policy and to reach out to the West the only way he can, by going to the people. He must go over Washington's head. When asked whether Assad would meet with U.S. Officials, Syria's U.N. representative answered: "It is our duty to seek a dialogue because it may solve the problem between both countries (i.e. U.S. and Syria)".

American officials will shun Asad during his visit. Some will try to vilify and embarrass him, but that will be a mistake.

America's highest interest right now is to guarantee a smooth withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and to leave behind a stable and secure state. To do this, it needs the cooperation of all Iraq's neighbors. Syria would like to cooperate with the United States, but only if it is assured that Washington is not trying to bring down the regime. The two countries share a common interest in subduing extremism and jihadism. They also share an interest in ensuring that Iraq has a united and stable government, as Bashar al-Asad has said many times. But as long as the United States stubbornly hues to its policy of "regime change," the US will remain Syria's number one enemy, and Damascus will refuse to open a second front against extremists. The possibility of meaningful US-Syrian cooperation in Iraq is slight so long as the two countries are at war. Secretary of State Rice has tried to dampen down the rhetorical firefight that has raged between the two countries. In one press conference, she hushed reporters who sought to provoke anti-Syrian remarks from her, by reminding them that Damascus had withdrawn its troops from Lebanon. She did not want to push Syria to the wall. She is also on record saying that Washington does not seek “regime-change in Syria, but a change of Syrian behavior.” These small tokens of American flexibility are not enough to convince Damascus that Washington has changed its spots. Everyone knows that the State Department loses most of its battles with Defense or the Vice-President’s office. It will take more than Rice's off-hand remarks to reassure Syria that the US does not ultimately seek Asad’s overthrow.

Washington believes it would be an easy matter for Bashar to reverse his policy of opposing America’s presence in Iraq and to crack down on the Syrian Sunni population that gives comfort and assistance to Arab fighters traveling though Syria to fight in Iraq or Baathist Iraqis who have become ensconced here. It will not be easy.

Washington is asking for background security checks on all 4 million Arabs who visit Syria yearly. It is asking for arrests and surveillance of the Iraqi refugee community living in Syria, which is estimated to be around 750,000 strong. It is also asking for a crack down on the Syrian mosques and Imams who propagate an anti-American and pro-resistance line. There are many possibilities for information exchange with Damascus. Syria has already taken the easy steps to meet American demands in a sign of good faith. It has built a large sand wall and placed thousands of extra troops along its 600 kilometer border with Iraq. It has arrested some 1,200 fighters it claims were headed for Iraq. Two weeks ago, it initiated UNDP sponsored workshops to teach ecumenicalism to hundreds of mosque preachers. But it has not undertaken the more painful internal activities required of it or begun to openly support America’s occupation of Iraq.

To appreciate the difficulty Bashar will have in implementing Washington’s full demands, one must compare his present predicament to Hafiz al-Asad’s intervention in Lebanon in 1976. President Asad’s father sent Syrian troops into Lebanon to stop that country’s civil war at Washington’s request. He did so at great cost to his own presidency. By striking down the PLO and crushing Lebanon’s Muslim forces in an effort to defend Lebanese Christians, he enraged Sunni Muslims within Syria.

The Muslim Brothers went on the warpath, accusing Asad of selling out Arabism and Islam. They began a campaign of terror against Hafiz al-Asad’s secular regime and his Shiite coreligionists. It was the bloodiest period in Syria’s history and very nearly drove the country into civil war. Asad put an end to the Muslim Brothers’ organized presence in Syria in a violent showdown at Hama. It cost his government dearly. Some 20,000 Syrians were killed. The shadow of that dark period still hangs over Sunni-Alawi relations today.

Washington is asking Bashar al-Asad to do something similar by cracking down on the Sunni population that sympathizes with the Sunni Iraqi community and opposes the emergence of a Shiite dominated Iraq. Bashar may well be amenable to launching such a campaign and risking a new chapter of sectarian strife in Syria, but he can only do so if Washington supports him openly. So long as he believes Washington is trying to isolate him and topple his regime, he cannot. It would be suicide for him to open a second front against Muslim extremists in Syria, while Washington seeks his downfall. Syria is the one Arab country that has not been wracked by extremist violence over the last 20 years. That is because the government has not swum against the tide of public opinion by embracing American policies in the region. Syrians overwhelmingly believe that the US is waging a war against Arabism and Islam. For Bashar to attack this common perception and to support America’s fight in Iraq, he must have Washington’s backing. It is basic realism.

Those in Washington who insist on continuing President Bush's campaign to "reform the greater Middle East" by ratcheting up the pressure on Syria and refusing to engage President Bashar, even at the price of added instability in Iraq, are foolish. First, such a policy will fail. There is no internal opposition to President Bashar worthy of the name. Second, it is bad for the US. More American soldiers will be killed in Iraq because of it, and Iraq's chances of finding a way out of its downward spiral into chaos and civil war will be diminished. The US needs Syria's cooperation, and it should put its Iraq policy above that of bringing regime change to Damascus.

Washington must choose between stabilizing Iraq and destabilizing Syria. It is that simple. It cannot pursue both policies at the same time.

Bashar’s decision to go to New York and talk to Americans is wise. It shows he is willing to meet Washington half way. Hopefully, someone there will be listening.

Friday, August 19, 2005

News Round Up: Aug. 26, 05

The Syrian government will apply press laws to the internet and blogging - a dangerous precident. It will mean prison time for anyone convicted of publishing "false" news on the web. So far there are no laws governing blogging in Syria, which means that bloggers have had it easty. One can only be prosecuted for endangering state security, a higher and more troublesome bar.

Syrian government plans to control electronic publishing

On August 18, the independent Al Wasat newspaper reported that Taleb Kadi Amin, assistant to the media minister, said: “Syrian authorities are planning to control electronic publishing, [because] the current mess that is happening now does not benefit anyone.” This statement comes as a result of Media Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah’s initiative to develop the media sector while upholding freedom of speech which the constitution guarantees. The issue of electronic publishing was raised by Syrian journalists who showed great concern over the possibility of being controlled by the government, given that Syrian authorities have been dealing very firmly with many news websites like “News from the East,” “Elaph,” “IslamOnLine,” and “Al Quds al-Arabi,” sometimes shutting them down or forbidding them from publishing altogether, Al Wasat reported.

Al Wasat stated that the electronic sites are the only free platform for Syrian journalists and writers who are not capable of publishing in the official newspapers. Hakam al-Baba, the journalist and webmaster of the website “Freedom” said: “The government’s inclination toward having a new law for publishing restrains the electronic publishing sector and sends Syria to the middle ages and to the days of inspection boards for the sake of having only one chain of thought.” - Al Wasat, Bahrain
The Mehlis Report is now the talk of the town in Lebanon. Everyone is speculating whether it will point the finger at Hizbullah and Syria or be contained to attacking the Lebanese state security system and Lahoud. The politicians at the UN and in Lebanon will have to decide ultimately if they want to take on Syria in a battle, which can probably not be won, and will surely complicate relations between the two countries for years to come. Perhaps they will content themselves with containing the direct allegations to the Lebanese security structure? This battle, which Jumblat and Hariri failed to accomplish at the election box, when they didn't get two thirds of the parliament, could be won through the Mehlis report. That is the hope of many. Its success will depend on whether the ambitions of the report are limited and directed at realistic political goals. Even then it will be a tough and difficult battle. It may derail the tough economic reforms that are pressing if Lebanon is to win continued backing from the US and Europe.

Lebanon`s as-Safir said it hoped the U.N. report into the slaying of the country`s premier would end some tensions in Lebanon.
(AMMAN, Jordan (UPI) -- Arab press roundup for Aug. 25:)
German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis was due Thursday to turn in the report on the Feb. 14 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to the U.N. Security Council.

The independent daily said the report was supposed to end rumors surrounding the international investigation over Hariri`s assassination, which it said had reached "serious limits on the verge of sectarian sedition between the Sunnis and Shiites." It commented many Lebanese had misread U.N. Security Council Resolution 1595 -- related to Lebanon in connection with Hariri`s assassination -- when they believed it expressed international concern for Lebanon or that it would reveal the truth over Hariri`s death.

It said these people missed the "more important background to this resolution, which is the international prejudgment and suspicion of Syria`s involvement in his assassination, and its aim is to provide evidence and testimonies contributing toward this accusation against Syria."

Therefore, it predicted, Thursday`s report to the U.N. will directly commit Syria in cooperating with the international investigation and that this cooperation will not be enough for the investigation commission.

"This will constitute a justification to seek an extension for the commission`s investigation for a few more weeks," the paper predicted.

It expected the next several weeks will likely be dedicated to force Syria to allow the investigators to question the Syrian intelligence officers who were in Lebanon during the time of Hariri`s assassination because the investigation and Resolution 1595 were targeted toward Damascus. It added Mehlis might give the international community the opportunity to "switch the decision of suspicion to one of accusation and trial, which is a decision for the Security Council if it wants to investigate into the assassination or to be a tool for blowing up or organizing international ties with Damascus."

Oman`s al-Watan commented Thursday was critical because the report into the killing of the former Lebanese premier was to be submitted to the Security Council.

The pro-government daily opined the Mehlis report, named for its author, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, had become a curse and source of worry for the Lebanese if rumors were true that a booby-trapped truck that blew up former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri`s convoy had originated from the Shiite Hezbollah-controlled southern district in Beirut.

It warned this could ignite internal sedition and strife between the Shiites and Sunnis, as well as cause other problems if the report reveals a Syrian role in the assassination blast on Feb. 14. The paper warned despite assurances from the Lebanese government and U.N. spokesmen the report would calm the situation in the country, "the congested internal atmosphere in Lebanon cannot believe these assurances" except after Mehlis` report.

It said the explosions in the country and a lack of security causes one to wonder if Lebanon has reached a point where it cannot ensure security and whether France and the United States will decide to supply security assistance to Lebanon. The paper argued the conditions may lead to mass emigration from the country and enormous economic crises, prompting Paris and Washington either to dispatch an international force to Lebanon or declare that Lebanese security is the country`s responsibility alone.
The Arab press was also very critical of Iraq's draft constitution, which some decried as a victory for Israel and al-Qa`ida.
The London-based al-Hayat said issues still to be resolved in Iraq`s draft constitution were a fig leaf to cover a deal" between the Kurds and Shiites.

The Saudi-financed daily said the U.S. administration quickly welcomed the draft charter, saying the document "has an Israeli stench by choosing to divide Iraq."

It insisted Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was not convinced when he declared the draft was finalized with two remaining differences. It opined that the word "federal" in the constitution was a "historic lie," saying no one can explain such a word to mean the unity of Iraq while the country was in such a state of chaos. While the paper, distributed in most Arab capitals, said the Kurds have the right to demand maximum assurances against their repression, they do not seem to be truly concerned with the unity of the country. It added Shiites also had the right to restructure the system based on their rights that have been absent in the past century, "but they also don`t seem to be concerned with the unity of the state."

In this manner, the paper argued, the two groups met to set a plan to "destroy the Iraqi fabric after they failed to find themselves in a unified Iraq." It said "this loaded constitution is not only a victory for American and Israeli desires, nor is it just a Shiite-Kurdish victory, but it is especially a victory for a forgotten party, which is Abu Musab al-Zarkawi."
Amer Mousa of the Arab League was horrified that Iraq would no longer be considered part of the "Arab nation."
"We demand an explanation from the Iraqi government on this document which left us deeply disturbed," Mussa was quoted as saying Thursday.

The contentious article of the draft constitution is one which states that " Iraq is part of the Muslim world and its Arab people are part of the Arab nation."

The Arab league is concerned that the document, over which Iraqi politicians have been fiercely haggling for weeks, does not simply refer to the whole of Iraq as being part of the Arab world.

Iraq is one of the pan-Arab body's 22 members, but the Kurds -- who have the second largest bloc in the national parliament -- had the distinction included in the draft.

Mussa said he had contacted several Arab leaders who shared his views. "This document is extremely dangerous because Iraq is one of the founders of the Arab League," he said.

"Does this text question the whole of Iraq's belonging to the Arab world?," he asked, adding that he had held talks with Baghdad's League representative Raed al-Alusi.

"Iraq's Kurds are an active part of Iraqi society... and Arabs consider them as brothers. The identity of Iraq cannot be defined in such terms," Mussa said.
Syria increasingly targeted by destabilizing strategy From Arabmonitor.inro
Damascus, 24 August - On the Syrian-Iraqi border of al-Tanf hundreds of Syrian trucks are anew held up by US occupation forces in Iraq, just one day after the Syrian and Iraqi ministers of transport announced to have finally settled a weeks-long crisis, during which hundreds of Syrian truck drivers had been prevented from returning to their country and were left stranded in the desert, with no reason given by the Iraqi authorities, who obviously were carrying out orders given by the occupation forces. The new blockade seems to regard this time trucks trying to deliver goods to Iraq. The fully loaded trucks and their helpless drivers are being left exposed to the danger of being robbed during the night or attacked by armed gangs.

Meanwhile, Syria is also suffering dangerous developments at its eastern border to Lebanon, where four policemen had been killed last Friday in Madaya, in clashes with a group calling itself "Jund al-Sham Organization for Jihad wa al-Tawheed". Yesterday news leaked out that the four policemen had been killed by a rocket fired at them from a house in Madaya, as they were searching for a wanted man. While the man who had fired the rocket was subdued by the police, a group of men fled towards the Lebanese border.
General Douglas Lott accuses Damascus of terrorism in Iraq
“In the first explanation of how terrorists are crossing the Syrian-Iraqi borders, Major-General Douglas Lott talked exclusively to Al Hayat from the US Embassy in London about the issue of terrorism from Syria to Iraq,” Al Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper, reported on August 25. “General Lott added that ‘foreign’ suicide bombers arrive to Damascus Airport, then melt inside the Syrian society until they get support to cross the borders to Iraq and execute suicide attacks,” Al Hayat reported.

“Syria is a transit area for fighters in which they come to Damascus and distribute themselves into small groups. They live in hotels and rented apartments until they get the needed support to cross the borders, which is 600 kilometers long and is not monitored properly,” Al Hayat quoted General Douglass Lott as saying. Lott went on to confirm that those suicide bombers receive support from former Baath leaders who live in Syria and have bank accounts in Syrian banks. He adds that those leaders are not controlling or leading the operations in Iraq but they support them with their money. “Lott said he believed that in a country like Syria it is impossible for the government not to know about all this, because the regime controls the country so completely,” Al Hayat reported.

On the other hand, in response to a question about the Iranian threats in Iraq, Major-General Douglas Lott said: “Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is highly trained and supported by Iran can be a problem for the United States if we end up clashing with them. However, the Iranian government knows our clear targets in Iraq and we don’t have evidence that the Iranians are protecting those targets,” Al Hayat concluded. - Al Hayat, United Kingdom
Syria approves large commercial centre
(AP)25 August 2005; DAMASCUS (Syria)

The government has approved a 6 billion Syrian pound ($120 million) project to build Syria''s largest commercial centre in the capital, Damascus, the government's Investment Bureau said yesterday.

An official at the bureau, who declined to be identified as he was unauthorised to speak to the media, said the project will include numerous office and residential towers and create an estimated 3,600 jobs. The project, called The Damascus World Commercial Centre, comprises a 50-storey hotel, a restaurant, a village, two 60-storey and two 40-storey office towers, two 40-storey apartment buildings, a shopping area, a theatre and a cinema.

The project will be implemented the Tigers Group, which is owned by Syrian expatriates in the United Arab Emirates. It will be open for investment by Syrian, Arab and other foreign investors.

Investment Bureau head Mustafa al-Kafri told the government's Al-Thawra newspaper that the project is the first approved in line with the 1991-issued Investment Law No. 10 to encourage foreign investment in Syria.

The law offers tax exemptions for up to 10 years and other facilities and incentives for Arab and foreign investors, like owning or leasing land and transferring capital money after five years of setting up their projects.
How the investors will complete such a grandiose project for only $120 million is anyone's guess. Where will it be built?

As Bashar al-Asad's original vision of growing the Syrian economy through trade, improved relations with Syria's neighbors, by using Syria's geographical asset as an entrepot goes down in smoke, he is turning to mega-building projects, financing from Arab Emirates, and personal guarantees. This is not a healthy shift, but it may be the only one available to the beleaguered President, who finds his country the target of US and French plans to strangle Syria's GDP growth and trade.

In a sense, Bashar is trying to do a Hariri - lift the nation's economy by personal will and deal making. The only problem is that Hariri had a stock market and many eager Lebanese investors, which turned his Solidaire into a national effort. Asad must use Emirate money because Saudi Arabia refuses to help him and little investors are scared to enter the dangerous Syrian environment. He must also become the guarantor of last resort to the new investors. This is dangerous because it will produce a brand of crony capitalism that is connected directly to the office of the president. His reputation will be directly linked to the success of "his" projects. If they go sour, he will be responsible in the end. It is an expedient measure to bypass the painful necessities of real economic reform and jumpstart economic growth, which may return to bite him.

Depending on large contractors to pull the train of economic reform through the legislative and administrative process is risky, particularly because most are not Syrians. All the same, without capital and large scale investment, the private sector will never develop the political muscle it needs to break through the archaic maze of socialist laws and interests which hamstring Syria as the Lilliputians bound up Gulliver.

In the next item from Jordan, one analyst argues that Jordan should downgrade its relations with the US now that Washington is failing in Iraq in order to innoculate itself from Jihadist blowback. This is just the sort of argument that makes it so hard for the US to pull its troops from Iraq. They are now the central tenpost for US influence in the region, should the war of ideas be lost.

Writer warns of "birth" of Jordanian jihadists
On August 21, a commentator in Al-Arab al-Yawm said: "In principle, we, in Jordan, absolutely reject all acts of violence, regardless of their political or ideological justifications. ... Nevertheless, more of this vocal condemnation and denunciation of the extraordinary incident that took place in Aqaba on Friday falls within the context of skimming the surface of this incident without digging into its solid shell. First of all, we must understand that regardless of their importance, security measures do not curb acts of violence of any kind or substance. The country's immunity towards the growing phenomena of violence and terrorism will remain linked to political immunity.

"I look to the near future with fear. New conditions, which will bring Jordanian jihadists back to their country from Iraq, will emerge. The Iraqi resistance will win and will impose on the US occupation and its allies to leave Iraq within months rather than years. The Iraqi resistance men have begun a political process that aims at setting up the conditions of liberation and unity. Therefore, they have actually started a clash that will escalate as the jihadists return to their countries in the end, bristling with jihadist ideology and combat experience.

"It would be wise to face this objectively arising issue, which cannot be controlled by security means, through introducing political measures in order to foresee and deal with developing events in advance. This is done first by reaching out to the Iraqi resistance and holding a comprehensive dialogue with its leaders; second, by announcing a Jordanian initiative on Iraq that is based on the constants of guaranteeing Iraq's independence and unity and helping it achieve advancement, and this of course requires keeping distance from US policy; and third, by taking a substantial step on the journey of democratic transformation. This should be a real step that is deep enough and effective enough to absorb the frustration of the youths; inflame their patriotic sentiment; and give them an open social, economic and political alternative, not only by guaranteeing these youth education and employment, but also by giving them the opportunity for political participation.

"Although Jordan is way too open, Iraqis, Egyptians and Syrians will not pose a threat to Jordan's security. The threat of the birth of the phenomenon of violence is being posed by Jordanian jihadists, whom we must be ready to embrace socially and politically. This must be done within the framework of a substantial change in the Jordanian foreign policy towards the Iraqi and Palestinian issues. We must come up with a new policy that takes into consideration the strategic interests of the Jordanian state and the citizens' sentiment, thus giving them a feeling of pride and rationality.

"The problem is not with the occurrence of a specific incident, which we hope is a one time incident. The problem is with the fact that a number of Jordanians support Al-Qa'idah and support suicide operations, and a large number of these Jordanians hate the United States, which is the Jordanian government's number one ally. Let the security people do their job in full regarding the Aqaba incident. Nevertheless, Jordanian politicians and intellectuals must also make arduous efforts in reviewing the entire situation." - Al-Arab al-Yawm, Jordan
Aqaba attack threatens to raise tensions between Damascus and Amman
Al Quds Al Arabi, a Palestinian-owned, independent pan-Arab newspaper, reported on August 24 that: “The Jordanian police set up three road blocks in Amman yesterday to check people’s IDs. This comes after the authorities announced the arrest of the main person in the group that carried out the rocket attack in Aqaba last Friday.”

People noticed that police in bullet-proof vests spread across Amman and checked people’s papers, especially truck and pickup drivers, which raised fears of new attacks in the kingdom. The roadblocks came less than 24 hours after a Syrian, who is considered the head of the group with two other Iraqis who fled, was captured.

The investigative report said that the brains behind the attack was a Syrian who was arrested, and two others who traveled using fake Iraqi passports, who fled to Iraq. Despite the fact that no official fingers were pointed at Syria, many figures have pointed to the fact that most of the terrorist activities targeting Jordan were originating from Syria, or were carried out by Syrian hands, even if Al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility for them. Jordan had previously accused a Syrian of being behind a plan to blow up the intelligence center in Amman. - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Terrorism and Syria - Jamestown's Special "Syria" Issue

The Jamestown Foundation has just issued their Special Issue on Syria of "Terroism Monitor," an on-line publication. The Jamestown Foundation is the best known independent institute monitoring terrorist organizations.

I am copying the links to their four interesting articles on Syria. I have copied two of the articles in full. One by Sami Moubayed and the other an interview with the British based leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Ali Bayanouni. All the articles are informative.

Here is the newsletter email.

Published by The Jamestown Foundation
"Terroism Monitor"
August 11, 2005 – Volume III, Issue 16

Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and the Third Generation of Salafi-Jihadists By Murad Al-Shishani

Syria: A Haven for Terrorists? By Sherifa Zuhur

The History of Political and Militant Islam in Syria By Sami Moubayed

The Battle within Syria: An Interview with Muslim Brotherhood Leader Ali Bayanouni


Editor's Note:

Syria is an enigmatic country. Ruled by a Ba'athist regime whose top leadership is drawn from a minority religious sect, Syria must contend with the enmity of the West and Islamists alike. This special issue presents a variety of perspectives on this important and controversial country. The article on Mustafa Setmariam Nasar profiles the extraordinary exploits of this influential al-Qaeda leader. The second article explores official Syrian complicity in the transit of foreign fighters into Iraq, analyzing it in the context of Syria's deteriorating national security environment. An analyst and writer living in Syria raises the concerns over sudden political change by drawing a comparison to neighboring Iraq, where the destruction of the Ba'ath regime has led to the demise of secularism in that country. Finally, the interview with Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the most important Syrian opposition figure, gives an insight into the ambitions and limitations of Syrian Islamists.


Abu Mus'ab al-Suri and the Third Generation of Salafi-Jihadists

By Murad Batal al-Shishani

The decimation of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 had many long-term implications, the most pernicious of which was the emergence of a particularly extreme form of Syrian Salafism. At the center of this is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, better known as Abu Musab al-Suri (the Syrian), who is widely believed to be the most prolific al-Qaeda ideologue and trainer alive. Currently working closely with the Zarqawi network, and probably based in Iraq, Nasar also allegedly exercises operational control over several al-Qaeda linked networks in the West.


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Syria: A Haven for Terrorists?

By Sherifa Zuhur

Are Syrian officials aiding the underground mujahideen railroad to Iraq? The many strong opinions on the matter reflect the different views of Syria's future, its relations with neighbors, Iraq and Lebanon, and to jihadist and moderate Islamism. Certainly, we need to look at the totality of Syrian affairs and not simply at isolated cases of questionable behavior. At present it appears the Syrians are more concerned about their decreasing control over a variety of actors in Lebanon than about the progress of mujahideen from Syria eastward. More broadly the Syrians are anxious to assert their cooperation in the global war on terrorism, despite Washington's freezing of certain ministerial and agent's assets, as if protests of innocence will sharpen Washington's aggressive image or prove that the Americans generate a lot of kalam fadi, or empty talk in Arabic.


* * *
The History of Political and Militant Islam in Syria

By Sami Moubayed

The rise of political Islam in Syria can be traced to the 1940s, when a Muslim group called al-Gharra entered parliament, creating an Islamic Bloc to oppose the secular and civilian regime of President Shukri al-Quwatli. In 1944, its leaders presented a long list of demands that included installing special tramcars during rush hour to separate the sexes, shutting down all cabarets and casinos that served alcohol, arresting the owners of nightclubs, and the establishment of a moral police squad, similar to the one in Saudi Arabia, to be charged with patrolling streets and punishing transgressors of Islamic norms. In May 1944, al-Gharra violently protested against a charity ball held in Damascus, which wives of the ruling elite were planning to attend unveiled. Demonstrators took to the streets, carrying revolvers and knives, stoning cinemas that welcomed women and burning nightclubs. To win, the president decided to discredit the clerics in districts where they enjoyed most power; the poor neighborhoods of Damascus.

Quwatli got Adila Bayhum, head of the independent Women's Union, to temporarily cease the free distribution of milk to the city's poor. When mothers came to collect, they were politely turned away and told, "go to the shaykhs, let them give you milk." [1] Then, Quwatli cut off flour distribution in Midan, where the Islamists were popular, knowing perfectly well that nobody else could provide bread since the government controlled all flour rations in the wartime economy. [2] The clerics could not deliver, and overnight the demonstrations supporting the Islamic groups turned against them. This civilized and effective approach is what Syria needs today in order to curb the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other emerging Islamic group.

Consecutive regimes, especially after 1963, did not pursue moderate approaches, however, and clashed with the Brotherhood twice, in 1964 and 1982. The Brotherhood considered the Ba’ath to be secular heretics, and the Ba’athists considered the Brotherhood leaders to be dangerous fanatics who needed to be rooted out from Syrian society. The Muslim Brothers were disturbed by the Ba’athist takeover of 1963 and began to drum up anti-Ba’athist sentiment in Syria’s urban interior. Secret cells of Islamic groups were formed to bring down the Ba’athist regime. In Aleppo, for example, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Abu Ghuddah, an ally of pre-Ba’athist Syrian President Nazim al-Qudsi and former Mufti of Aleppo, created the Movement for Islamic Liberation. [3] Inflammatory speeches aroused the street, and pulpits were used to denounce the Ba’athist regime. By April 1964, rioting had developed into a religious war in the conservative city of Hama, where arms were used against the government. The prime agitator was Marwan Hadeed, a Muslim leader from Hama who claimed that the Ba’athists, alongside all secular people, were infidels who must be put to the sword. He created a street militia of Islamic extremists to strike at anyone related to the regime, called al-Tali’a al-Muqatila (The Fighting Vanguard). [4] It became unsafe for Ba’athists to walk the streets of Hama unguarded, since those who were caught were beaten, and in some cases killed, by the Islamists. The most famous assassination was that of Munzir al-Shimali, a young member of the Ba’ath National Guard, who was killed and mutilated in Hama. [5] This enraged the Ba’athists and Defense Minister Hamad Ubayd ordered the Syrian Army into Hama, bombarding districts of the city where the Brotherhood were located. Street fighting ensued, and the insurgents took up residence at the Sultan Mosque which was air raided under orders from President Amin al-Hafez. [6] In all, around 70 members of the Brotherhood were killed. Defeated, they put down their arms and ceased their militant activity for the next 15-years, when they re-emerged in 1979 to challenge the regime of President Hafez al-Asad.

A combination of factors triggered the Brotherhood to re-activate in the mid-1970s. First, they had recovered, physically, morally, and financially, from the defeat of 1964. Second, their outrage was at its peek when Asad went to war in Lebanon in 1976, supporting the Christians against the Palestinian guerillas of Yasser Arafat. Third, mass recruitment into the Ba’ath Party made it easy to infiltrate and work from within against the regime. Fourth, the Brotherhood had a strong monopoly over schools, thus enabling it to indoctrinate many children and young adults.

Islamic terrorism reached its peak in June 1979 when the Artillery School was attacked in Aleppo, resulting in the deaths of all its young Ba’athist cadets. Not all of the victims of the violence were Alawi Ba’athists; indeed even members of the Sunni Muslim clergy were targeted by the Brothers and their militant allies. The most prominent victim was Sheikh Mohammad al-Shami, who was slain at his mosque, on February 2, 1980.

Faced with a relentless Islamist onslaught, the Ba’ath regime struck back with remarkable ferocity. At the Ba’ath party’s Seventh Regional Congress (December 23-January 6, 1980), Rifaat al-Asad, the president’s brother, famously proclaimed that loyalty was a must: he who is not with the Ba’ath at this stage is against it. [7] On June 26, 1980, the Brothers tried to kill Asad in Damascus and in turn, he passed law 49 on July 8, which stipulated that membership in the Brotherhood was a capital offense, punishable by death. The fighting peaked on February 2-3, 1982 in Hama, where the Brothers took to the mosque pulpits and called for a “total war” against the Ba’athist regime. Authorities responded with force, giving the Syrian Army orders to crush the insurgency. The army responded positively, crushing the insurgency, and killing many thousands in the process. The defeat in Hama was a massive setback for the Brothers who disappeared from the Syrian political landscape for the rest of the 1980s.

To compensate for the losses it inflicted in 1982, the regime constructed hundreds of mosques throughout the country, and encouraged people to be pious but not fundamentalist and militant, as the Brotherhood had been. This eventually back-fired as “backdoor” sermons on political Islam started to surface once again in the early 1990s. Fiery and militant preachers took over numerous mosques, and banned books by the legendary jihadi ideologue, Said Qutb, were distributed widely.

The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March-April 2003, has played an important part in reviving Syrian militant Islam. While some Americans regularly accuse Syria of giving shelter to an assortment of Iraqi and foreign militants – ranging from Saddam Hussein loyalists to Takfiris – the Syrian authorities and the wider public have to contend with the very real twin threat of the revival of the Brotherhood and its many militant and Salafist offshoots. The official position of the Syrian government is that it cooperates with the Americans, if only to neutralize the militant threat inside Syria. True, Syria did turn a blind eye to the fighters who crossed the border to fight in Iraq in 2003, but it soon corrected this policy.

When the fighters were defeated or deported back to Syria, a combination of frustration, anger and despair overtook them. Unable to strike at the Americans in Iraq or the Israelis in Palestine, they unleashed their anger on their fellow Syrians. In addition to the Mezzeh attack of 2004, a group of terrorists were apprehended, after a shooting that caused panic among picnickers, in July 2005 on Mount Qassioun overlooking the Syrian capital. Earlier in the summer of 2005, Syria announced that it had arrested one man and killed another who had been planning an attack in Damascus on behalf of Jund al-Sham, a terrorist organization that has recently emerged in the country.

In order to defeat political Islam in the long-term, the Ba’ath regime continues to promote moderate Islam through regime-friendly clerics like the deputy Mohammad Habash, the Aleppo-based preacher Mohammad Kamil al-Husayni, and new Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, who has announced that he is categorically opposed to political and militant Islam. One of these clerics, for example, has a sign on the gates of his mosque in Aleppo saying: “No to explosions!” There is some speculation that in the event of the sudden demise of the Ba’ath regime, the Brothers and their militant allies would quickly acquire ownership of the Syrian state. Certainly the events in neighboring Iraq since the invasion should be a wake up call for Washington. In Iraq, the U.S.-led invasion has ironically buried Iraqi secularism for good, thus surrendering control of the political landscape to Shi’a and Sunni Islamists

Living in Damascus, one gets the feeling that although overt religiosity is increasing, not all religious people are willing to support, let alone fight for the Islamists. Yet, the Islamic groups do represent a certain segment of Syrian society that cannot be ignored. Recently, some reconciliation steps have been taken by the government, including several amnesties which have set free over 1,000 members of the Brotherhood. In September 2001, Asad allowed the return of Abu Fateh al-Baynouni, the brother of the party’s leader, Ali Sadreddine. [8] But the regime has made it clear that a return to organized political activity, for either the Brotherhood or any other Islamic party, is a red-line that the Islamists would cross at their peril. The regime, however, would be committing a grave mistake by not giving the Islamic activists a platform to express their views (as decided by the Ba’ath Party Conference of June 2005). True, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood remains dangerous, but turning a blind eye to it will not make them go away, nor will it make them any less pernicious.


1. Author’s interview with Dr Munir al-Ajlani, a deputy in Damascus in 1943 (September 2, 2000).

2. Ibid.

3. Bawwab, Sulayman. Mawsou’at A’lam Souriyya fi al-Qarn al-Ishreen (vol II 1999). Abu Ghuddah was exiled to Saudi Arabia and remained there until being pardoned in 1997 when he agreed, at the age of 80, to refrain from any political activity. When he died in February 1997, President Hafez al-Asad sent his condolences to the Abu Ghuddah family and his death was broadcasted on the 9:00 pm news on Syrian TV. This was considered the first rapprochement between the Asad regime and the Brotherhood after the events of 1979-1982.

4. Interview with Ali Sader al-Din al-Baynouni, the leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, on al-Jazeera TV on July 7, 1999. See also, Ta’ammulat Istratijiyya fi al-Ahdath al-Souriyya (Strategic Observations in Syrian Events), al-Hayat March 11, 2005.

5. Seale, Patrick. Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East p.93 (London 1988).

6. Interview with ex-President Amin al-Hafez on al-Jazeera TV, episode 12 (June 6, 2001).

7. Tishreen (July 1, 1980).

8. The Daily Star (September 21, 2001).

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The Battle within Syria: An Interview with Muslim Brotherhood Leader Ali Bayanouni

By Mahan Abedin

Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni
Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni was born in 1938 in Aleppo and brought up in a religious family, where his father and grandfather were both well known Muslim scholars. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while in secondary school, in 1954, and went on to receive training as a lawyer. After spending time in prison, he emerged to become the deputy leader of the Brotherhood in 1977. He left Syria two years later and eventually settled in Jordan, where he remained for twenty years. He arrived in Britain as a political refugee in 2000, after the Jordanian authorities requested he leave the country. This interview was conducted on August 5, 2005 in London by Terrorism Monitor editor Mahan Abedin.

Mahan Abedin: How would you characterize the strength of the overall Islamic movement in Syria today?

Ali Bayanouni: There is a continuum of movements, with the Sufis at one end of the spectrum and the Salafis on the other. But there is a mainstream Islamic awakening in the country and the growing religiosity of the people testifies to this. The opposition parties regard the Muslim Brotherhood as the largest and most influential opposition force in Syria. The Syrian regime tries to frighten the West about the Brotherhood and our activities by claiming that any change in the country would facilitate the rise to power of Islamists. This is clearly an exaggeration and designed to prevent any meaningful political change inside the country.

MA: How optimistic are you about change in Syria?

AB: The status quo is unsustainable, especially if Syria is increasingly alienated by the outside world.

MA: Do you still regard the Alawis as a heretical sect?

AB: We do not discriminate against Alawis and as they say they are Muslims, we do not contest that. The problem of Syria remains political, a minority elite has seized a state and is oppressing the majority.

MA: What is your assessment of the pressures applied on Syria by the West, in particular the United States?

AB: These pressures are not designed to meet the interests of the Syrian people and instead work in favor of American and Israeli interests. Therefore we do not attach too much significance to these pressures. We work inside Syria and address the Syrian people directly. Moreover, we will never accept an Iraqi-style solution for Syria; in short we do not call for outside interference.

MA: What is your assessment of Syrian foreign policy?

AB: Syrian policy in Lebanon created a lot of problems, for instance keeping Emile Lahoud in power against the will of the Lebanese people is a very foolish move. More broadly the regime’s desire to please the United States at the expense of Syria’s relationship with Europe is an unwise move.

MA: Would you have liked for Syria to prolong its military presence in Lebanon?

AB: Of course not, especially because the Syrian regime repressed the Lebanese in the same manner that it has been repressing its own people for decades.

MA: How about Syria’s alliance with the Iranians and their support for Hezbollah?

AB: Syria has been exploiting Hezbollah for its own ends. They have used Hezbollah to consolidate their influence in the region.

MA: How would the Muslim Brotherhood manage Syria’s foreign policy?

AB: We would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

MA: How about Israel?

AB: Israel is occupying Palestinian and Syrian lands and these should be returned. It would be preferable to secure their return through peaceful and political means.

MA: Would you adopt a tougher policy on Israel?

AB: Nowadays the Syrian regime does not react against any Israeli aggression. They support the Islamic resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, but why don’t they support resistance against the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights?

MA: Let us discuss terrorism and Iraq. Are you aware of any Syrian involvement in the top leadership of al-Qaeda?

AB: It is possible. Some individual Syrians may be involved in al-Qaeda.

MA: How powerful are the Salafis inside Syria?

AB: Their influence is limited. Salafism has weak foundations in Syria, as the majority of Sunni Muslims subscribe to Sufism.

MA: Has the invasion and occupation of Iraq strengthened the position of Salafis and other Islamic extremists?

AB: The American intervention in Iraq has radicalized people all over the region.

MA: Do you envisage the outbreak of violence inside Syria, similar to what occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s?

AB: The situation is very unstable and even the slightest provocation can have very serious consequences. The events in Qamishli should have been a wake up call for the Syrian authorities.

MA: There were some small bombings in Damascus last year and the government reflexively blamed Islamic militants, do you believe them?

AB: There has been a lot of speculation on those bombings, and to date the Syrian government has not produced any evidence to back up its claims. The regime would like to portray itself as a victim of terrorism in order to gain sympathy in the international community and convince certain countries that they are fighting terrorism. Moreover, the Syrian government has given some lists to the CIA, identifying alleged terrorists. Even the names of some members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood falsely appear on these lists. Both the Americans and the Syrians have acknowledged that they cooperate together in the intelligence and security field.

MA: How extensive is this cooperation?

AB: The Syrians give the Americans any information they need. Moreover, the Americans send Syrian captives to Syria for tough interrogations.

MA: Do you know Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (Abu Musab al-Suri)?

AB: Mustafa Setmariam was originally a member of Marwan Hadeed’s Fighting Vanguard, but he left that organization in 1981. Afterwards he traveled extensively, staying in Afghanistan, Spain and the UK.

MA: What more do you know about him?

AB: Mustafa Setmariam received his political and ideological training from Adnan Oqla and other Fighting Vanguard members. He was a highly extravagant individual. We don’t know much about his activities today, but it is clear that he has become a Takfiri icon.

MA: Is it true he is currently in Iraq?

AB: I have not had any verifiable information on him since 1981.

MA: Does Nasar have a lot of influence on the youth in Syria?

AB: The repression of the Ba’athist regime has created an environment conducive to the growth of these extreme ideologies and methodologies.

MA: What do you make of reports that foreign fighters are accessing Iraq through Syria?

AB: It is well known that initially the Syrian government wanted to keep the Americans under pressure in Iraq. But recently, especially after U.S. pressures, the Syrians have begun detaining mujahideen and tend to send them back to their countries.

MA: What is the situation right now; is the Syrian government complicit in the transit of fighters into Iraq?

AB: Many of the transit operations could not have taken place without the knowledge of Syrian intelligence.

MA: So the Syrian government is complicit in the transit of fighters?

AB: There is no doubt about that.

MA: But how do you explain the fact that on the one hand the Syrians give sensitive information to the Americans, and on the other create real difficulties for them in Iraq?

AB: Syria does not wish America to succeed in Iraq. But in order to ease the pressures they cooperate with them in this so-called war on terrorism.

MA: How extensive is the transit of fighters from Syria to Iraq?

AB: During the early months of the war the transfer was extensive. In that period even many Syrians left to fight in Iraq. Today if these individuals come back to Syria they are immediately detained. But I must stress we do not have accurate information on the extent of transit operations.

MA: What about reports that remnants of the former Iraqi regime are operating in Syria?

AB: A branch of the Iraqi Ba’ath was historically controlled by the Syrian government.

MA: I am not talking about the pro-Syrian left-wing of the Iraqi Ba’ath; I am referring to remnants of the regime that sought sanctuary in Syria following the fall of Baghdad.

AB: Saddam Hussein established good relations with the Syrians, 3 years before the fall of Baghdad. For instance they prevented the Syrian opposition in Baghdad from criticizing the Syrian regime too harshly. This 3 year period enabled both regimes to develop friendly relations, and the flight of remnants of the Saddam regime to Damascus must be seen in this context.

MA: What is the position of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood on the situation in Iraq?

AB: We believe that Iraq is an occupied country. The Americans invaded to serve their own interests, not to liberate the Iraqi people. The chaos prevailing in Iraq today is a direct consequence of the occupation. Resistance against occupation is the legal and moral right of all people. The Iraqi Islamic Party has adopted peaceful resistance, but others are fighting through different means.

MA: Do you think the empowerment of Iraqi Shi’as makes it less likely for Syrian Sunnis to overthrow the Alawi-based regime?

AB: No, I don’t think there are any direct relationships here.

MA: Do you think Syria could be invaded by the Americans?

AB: No, America will not repeat that experience in Syria.

MA: Now, let us discuss the Muslim Brotherhood and your own role in more detail. Firstly, is the Syrian government still terrorizing the opposition in the West?

AB: Yes, they focus particularly on the Islamic opposition.

MA: Have you been harassed by Syrian government agents here in London?

AB: They used to tell the British government that I have links to al-Qaeda, but of course the British do not believe their propaganda.

MA: What is your current position in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood?

AB: I am the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria (MB). I am responsible for all the global activities of the Syrian MB organization.

MA: What is the nature of your work here?

AB: I lead the political and media activities. More broadly I attend to any other pressing matter relating to the Syrian MB.

MA: Do you also directly supervise MB activities inside Syria?

AB: Law no. 49 in Syria authorizes the killing of anyone affiliated with the

MB, therefore we avoid an organizational presence.

MA: How do people inside the country maintain contact with the party?

AB: We only keep general contacts. One month ago a child of 14 was sentenced to death for alleged involvement with the MB after returning from exile, but his sentence was lowered to 6 years in prison.

MA: How extensive are your secret activities in the country?

AB: We have members inside Syria, but we avoid giving these activities any identifiable structure.

MA: How closely were you personally involved in the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s?

AB: I was the deputy leader at that time and I can tell you that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood had no involvement in violent events whatsoever. Two influential people in particular reacted to Ba’athist repression in a violent manner; Adnan Oqla, who was dismissed from the MB five years before the outbreak of full scale violence and Ibrahim el-Youssef, who was an officer in the Syrian army and a Ba’athist with no relations to the MB whatsoever. The Syrian MB issued a statement condemning the massacre at the artillery school in Aleppo in 1979 committed by Oqla and el-Youssef. The authorities blamed the Brotherhood for the event simply because they wanted more excuses to deepen and intensify the repression.

MA: But what about al-Tali’a al-Muqatila [The Fighting Vanguard], were they not closely associated with the Syrian MB?

AB: Some groups affiliated to Marwan Hadeed adopted that name [Fighting Vanguard], but when the Brotherhood found out about their association, it expelled them from the party and canceled their membership. Most of the events that occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s, particularly events involving violence, were beyond the control of the Brotherhood. It was the Syrian people who rose up to defend Islam and the Brotherhood in the face of the aggressions of the Ba’ath regime. The conflict acquired a sectarian characteristic because most of the influential people in the Syrian regime came from the Alawite sect. This imbalanced sectarian representation in a diverse society inevitably created instability and frustration among the Sunni majority and led to a massive confrontation.

MA: Are you referring to the events of Hama in February 1982?

AB: Hama is a stronghold of Sunni Islam in Syria and well known for its resistance against French colonialism and it is not surprising that its people were the most frustrated under the circumstances. The MB leadership asked the Brothers not to fight in the city and to withdraw from the battle, but the military forces besieged the city and bombarded it for 3 weeks.

MA: Does the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood categorically reject violence?

AB: We have always rejected violence, and have a long history of participating in the political life of Syria, but the Baath regime created conditions under which no political party could engage in peaceful political activism. All documents of the party outline our peaceful approach.

MA: How do you explain the decline of the MB after the events in Hama?

AB: The regime destroyed three quarters of Hama, and repressed popular uprisings in other cities in a similar fashion. The brutality of the Syrian regime, and its willingness to use conventional military capabilities against its own civilian population, is unparalleled in modern history. They detained over 60,000 people in that period.

MA: So unprecedented repression was the only cause of the decline?

AB: After the coup d’etat in 1963 all political parties were harshly repressed in Syria, but the Brotherhood, because of its size and the serious threat it posed to the Ba’athists, received the harshest treatment. But in spite of this repression, in particular the massacres of the early 1980s we remain the largest opposition force.

MA: What has happened to the leaders of the struggle? I refer specifically to Adnan Saad al-Din, Said Hawa and Issam al-Attar.

AB: Sheikh Said Hawa died more than 15 years ago. Issam al-Attar has been leading the Talaa’i organization in Germany since the late 1970s. Our relationship is very good and we meet regularly. Attar leads a loose organization that works mainly with non-Syrian Muslims; hence Attar is no longer exclusively engaged with Syria. But the aims and objectives of his organization are very similar to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. We coordinate and consult closely on Syria-related issues. As for Adnan Saad al-Din, he left the Muslim Brotherhood in 1986 and formed a breakaway faction. This breakaway faction rejoined the main body of the MB in 1991, but Saad al-Din never again returned to the party. But we still maintain a good relationship.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Even More on Khasnawi and the Kurds by Joe Pace

Joe Pace sent me this article about the Khaznawi murder and stituation of the Kurds that he wrote two months ago. It is excellent and adds new details, which the professional reporters missed.

The Daily Star of Lebanon "refused to publish it because they were afraid of Syrian retribution," Joe wrote me. He added, "It is still sticking in my craw because i spent a week in Qamashli dodging in and out of activists' houses, hoping that security wouldn't take note of the foreigner." They did ultimately notice him and he was interrogated for a few hours. He later had his apartment searched in Damascus. Everyone was polite, but security wanted to be sure he wasn't a trouble maker. Joe, the most intrepid reporter in Syria, is back on the beat, Syria Comment is happy to report, bringing us all the news that's fit to print, and even some that isn't, it would seem!

Joe also added this observation about Syria's latest strategy for dealing with the Kurds in his email today:

By the way, i spoke to a few friends of mine from Qamashli last week. it seems that the head of the mukhabarat, Ali Mamluk, held a meeting with kurdish leaders in the north and asked them what their demands were. they were assurances made (though from what i can tell, they were vague) about nationalizing the kurds and implementing a regional development plan. my assessment is that the regime's strategy is two-fold. first, enfeeble and divide the kurdish opposition into two camps--the skeptics who will continue their agitation, and the more credulous who will suspend their activism while they wait for the government to deliver on its promises. given how prone to splitting this opposition is, it would not suprise me if some of the party leaderships split in the next few months on the basis of how to proceed in the face of the regime's gaurantees. the second aim is to draw the kurdish opposition away from the arab opposition by portraying the regime as the only negotiating partner capable of delivering on kurdish demands.
Here is his article:

Prominent Sheikh's Murder Indicates That Syria is Still in the Assassination Business
By Joe Pace

On May 10, the prominent Kurdish Sheikh, Ma'shuq Khaznawi, received a call on his cell phone. The unknown caller told him to await a car in front of his office. According to two of the Sheikh's sons, as he left the office his last words to his colleague were "when are the security forces going to stop pestering me?" Minutes later he stepped into the car and disappeared. His body was found three weeks later on the other side of Syria.

In the months preceding his disappearance, harassment from security agents had become such a source of anxiety that Khaznawi took to calling his sons every hour to assure them he hadn’t been arrested. Khaznawi's sons began to suspect the government's complicity when the day after the disappearance they tried to get a listing of all the numbers that called the Sheikh's cell. A normal procedure that usually takes five minutes and costs about a dollar, the communications office told them they couldn't access the numbers without a permit from the security agencies.

Khaznawi's sons and several Kurdish opposition figures have since called for an investigation of the murder, accusing the government of assassination.

According to the government, the case is all but closed. Investigators claim to have established a motive and captured two of the five perpetrators. The day after Khaznawi's body turned up, two suspects described on state television how they, along with three others, surveilled the Sheikh in Qamashli and Damascus before kidnapping him in front of his office.

According to the confession, they took him to an apartment where they drugged him and drove him to Allepo where he was smothered with a pillow by Abd-al-Razzaq, the driver of Khaznawi's elder brother. The body was then driven to Der A-Zor where it was dumped into a shallow grave.

The professed motive was religious. "We have killed Sheikh Khaznawi because he has departed from the religious way of his father…and prejudiced it in addition to his appearance at the satellite channels, a matter that poses as a deviation from the way," one of the suspects said.

Khaznawi was known for his moderation. Friends describe him as an affable man with a quick wit and an open mind. "He believed that everyone should voice their opinion whereas other Sheikhs demand silence and obedience," said Hassan Salih, the head of the Kurdish Yikiti party, who has called for an transparent investigation of the murder. "Other Sheikhs demand you kiss their hand. Khaznawi refused such a practice.

He became too popular for the government to handle." Khaznawi advocated democracy and rights for Syria's 1.7 million Kurds, an estimated 300,000 of which have been deprived of nationality, which means they cannot travel outside the country, hold government jobs, own property, or use public health services. "He called for dialogue between Arabs and Kurds and peoples of different faiths. Nonetheless, he couched his advocacy for Kurdish rights in an Islamic context, something the regime found dangerous," says Sheikh Muhammad Murad, the oldest of Khaznawi's eight sons.

But Khaznawi also invited the ire of some traditional and extremist Islamists. He called for women's rights and never shied away from shaking the hand of a woman, a rare practice among Sheikhs. He called for a separation between religion and government and criticized the resistance in Iraq, calling their activities "suicide operations" instead of "martyrdom operations."

Several months ago, Khaznawi began receiving death threats from Islamic fundamentalists along with MP Muhammad Habash, the Islamic moderate under whom Khaznawi worked. "They warned me and Khaznawi that we were playing with fire," recalls Dr. Habash. (CSM quote) The government has denied that Khaznawi was kidnapped by security agents.

In an Al-Jazeera interview, Islam Dari, the managing editor of the Syrian government-controlled newspaper Tishrin, said "it is not in the interest of Syria to arrest Sheikh Khaznawi for several reasons. First of all, he is a cleric. Secondly, he is Kurdish and has nothing to do with politics." He also proffered Khaznawi's financial problems with his brother as a possible motive for the murder.

The Sheikh's sons dismiss that motive. "The matter was finished long ago. We were living in one city, [our uncle] was living in another. Our father stopping demanding the inheritance." Dr. Habash has also expressed doubt that the government was responsible for the murder.

Habash was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor as saying, "I believe the children are in the eye of the storm and have a desire to accuse the government… [Khaznawi] had good contacts with the regime, government, army, and intelligence. His political activities were not enough to get him killed." But according to Khaznawi's sons and Kurdish opposition figures, there is a litany of motives that might have compelled the regime to dispose of the Sheikh.

Prominent among them might have been Khaznawi's meeting in February with the exiled leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, membership in which has been punishable by death in Syria ever since the regime crushed the movement's insurgency campaign in the early 1980s. Many recall that Ali Abdallah, an activist in the Committee for the Revival of Civil Society, was imprisoned imprisoned for merely reading a message sent by the leader of the Brotherhood in a meeting held by the Jamal al-Attasi Forum for Democratic Dialogue in which members from 14 political forces—including the Ba'ath Party—delivered political statements.

The forum's committee members were all subsequently detained and the forum—the only civil society forum to survive the so-called 2001 "Damascus Winter" clampdown—has been indefinitely discontinued. "If Ali Abdallah was imprisoned for reading an email from the Muslim Brotherhood, imagine the consequences of publicly meeting with its leadership," remarked one Kurdish activist.

The Syrian regime had much cause to fear an alliance between Kurdish groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, which represent the most potent oppositional trends both in terms of organizational capacity and popular support. Shortly after Khaznawi's return to Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood released an unprecedented statement in which they recognized the need to work for a solution to the Kurdish issue, a step which was hailed as a victory in many Kurdish circles.

Further agitating the regime, gave a scathing speech on the anniversary of the death of Farhad Muhammad Ali, a Kurdish activist who died under torture after last year's riots. Khaznawi lambasted the regime's mistreatment of the Kurds and glorified Farhad's death by comparing him to one of the Prophet Muhammad's companions who died under torture when he refused to insult the Prophet. According to Ibrahim Youseff, a Kurdish activist and a close friend of the Khaznawi, after completing the speech, Khaznawi was threatened by security agents. "They told him that he had crossed a red line, that he had declared jihad against the country," he said.

Khaznawi's provocative activities occurred in the context of mounting troubles faced by the regime. Internationally, the regime was humiliated by the forced withdrawal from Lebanon and facing US efforts to execute what political analyst Flynt Leverett has called "regime change on the cheap" through economic and political pressure. Domestically, the regime faced declining oil sales, soaring unemployment, and increasing unrest among the Kurds. Khaznawi visit to Europe in February and his good relations with Western embassies no doubt added to the regime's anxieties.

In April, he gave in an telephone with the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail, in which he was quoted as saying, "Either the regime will change or the regime must go... The reason I can speak out is because the Americans are trying to get rid of dictators and help the repressed." Later that month, Syrian political-intelligence officers convened a meeting in Qamashli to discuss how to deal with the Sheikhs political activities. "The wrote a report saying that the Sheikh had become a source of concern and that they had to get rid of him," says Sheikh Murshid. The day before his arrest, Ibrahim visited him at his office. "I warned him to be careful," he recalls. "I warned him that he had crossed all the red lines. And the next day he disappeared."

The aftermath of Khaznawi's murder has come to be dominated by mystery and contradiction. Khalid Hammud, the chief investigating judge in Damascus, said on state television that the examiners determined the cause of death was "most likely asphyxiation" because the body bore no signs of physical harm.

But Khaznawi's sons claim that the body displayed clear signs of torture, including a broken nose, shattered teeth, and a forehead wound. An Amnesty International Report subsequently listed him as "at least the sixth Syrian Kurd to have died as a result of torture and ill-treatment since March 2004." The sons claim that two they have received information proving that the Sheikh was kidnapped by security forces. One eyewitness placed him inside a security branch days after his disappearance.

The sons also claim to have heard from a doctor working in the military Tishrin hospital who says he saw the Sheikh in a room surrounded by security agents and bearing signs of torture. Perhaps the oddest part of the saga is the mysterious deaths of two of the remaining three suspects. Sa'id Hadeela recently died in a car accident in the northern city of Aleppo. Abd-al-Razzaq, who purportedly carried out the murder, was apparently killed when a train rammed his car which was standing stationary on the tracks. One man who claims to be an eyewitness to the accident said that the body bore no signs of trauma because the train did not strike the driver's seat. Rumors have circulated that he was murdered and his car subsequently placed on the train tracks, but no one has been able to verify these claims. According to several Kurdish sources, when the authorities went to exhume his body for investigation, the coffin was empty.

Later last week, Khaznawi's two eldest sons were summoned to the criminal branch. "They tried to convince us of the validity of the story, but they didn’t give us any evidence," says Murad. "We demanded that they allow lawyers to review the papers from the investigation, but they refuse because the investigation is ongoing. If they have confessions, why is there still an investigation?"

The death of the Sheikh spurred tens of thousands of Kurds to protest on June 5. The protest began as a peaceful march but turned violent when police and Arab tribesman—whom some Kurds have taken to calling "janjaweed" in reference to the nomadic Arabs responsible for the Darfur atrocities—began beating the protesters and looting Kurdish shops. At least 60 people were arrested and six people were killed, including one policeman. Witnesses said that the day before the protests, security agents were photographing the market place and once the protests began they began directing Arab tribesman toward Kurdish shops.

According to Khayredin Murad, the head of the Kurdish Azadi party, one of two parties which organized the protests, the Kurds sustained over four million dollars in stolen goods and property damage. "We demand that all political prisoners be freed and that we be compensated for the financial losses," he said.

The recent Bath Party Conference concluded with hints that the government might grant citizenship to 300,000 stateless Kurds, but few Kurds are optimistic. "Every few years they make these empty promises. Last year, they sent us the Syrian Planning Minister who told us the government would address the problem and nothing happened," says Hassan Salih.

Michal Timo, the spokesman for the Future Kurdish Movement, takes a dimmer view. "This regime is based on a chauvinist ideology that denies the existence of the other. It is incapable of recognizing Kurdish rights and it is incapable of reform."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kurds - More on Khaznawi and the aftermath

Megan Stack of the LA Times has finally published the story she wrote on the Khasnawi murder in June and its effects on the Kurdish community of Qamishli. (Copied below) She traveled to Qamishli in a rented car with two other reporters - Nick Blanford of the Christian Science Monitor and Hassan Fattah of the NY Times. Blanford drove and they did an in-and-out, which allowed them to avoid the attention of local police and intelligence. I have posted both Fattah's and Blanford's articles. Here is Megan's, which compensates for its delay by being the most analytical.

The much hoped for new nationality law for the Kurds has not resulted from the June Baath Party Congress, as many hoped it would. In fact the bill seems to have been shelved alltogether and many Kurdish leaders have been arrested during the last month. People in Dardari's office of State Planning and in the UN worked furiously to prepare proposals and new laws in the weeks leading up to the Baath Party congress. This activity led to raised hopes that something would be done to give citizenship to the more than 200,000 stateless Kurds living in Syria. Plans do seem to being going ahead to invest money and carry out development projects in the Jazira. Dardari's office is now working on them. A friend of mine and businessman from Dayr az-Zor recently called to say that people from the Deputy Prime Minister's office had recently contacted him about a proposal for a large development program in the region. He is very excited and coming to Damascus today to lobby for it. But the economic stimulation package for the Jazira will do little to quell Kurdish discontent if Kurdish demands for political equality and citizenship are not met.

It is also worth reading this story from the NY Times about the Kurdish uprising in Iran. Both Syrian and Iranian Kurds have been emboldened by the success of Kurdish Iraqis to carve out a homeland and get it enshrined in law, even if under the guise of federalism.

Cleric's Slaying a Rallying Cry for Syrian Kurds
By Megan K. Stack, August 14, 2005, LA Times

The sheik had advocated equal rights for the minority in the mainly Arab nation. To the regime, he symbolized a separatist threat.

QAMISHLI, Syria — The cleric had been missing for nearly a month when his family had a taste of relief: A man who identified himself as a government official approached the missing man's sons on the street and said, "You will hear happy news of your father."

A few days later, state security agents took the sons to see the cleric. His thick beard, a badge of his religious devotion, had been hacked off. His body bore marks of torture — broken teeth, badly burned skin. The cleric was dead.


The security agents told the sons that criminals had confessed to killing Sheik Mohammed Mashuq Khaznawi and burying him in a shallow grave. But his family didn't believe them.

"The Syrian authorities fabricated an ugly play and gave us the corpse," said Sheik Morshed Khaznawi, the slain cleric's 30-year-old son. "In the end, the Syrian authorities have complete and total responsibility for what happened and for assassinating the sheik."

In early June, the sons brought his body home to Qamishli and laid the remains to rest wrapped in the Kurdish flag, a defiant symbol of a people without a country. Since then, Khaznawi's torture and death have become a rallying cry for an increasingly restive Kurdish people.

The death of the mild-mannered sheik robbed Syria's Kurds of a charismatic, grass-roots champion for their demand for equal rights in the predominantly Arab country. But with many Syrian Arabs fearing that the Kurds would manage to cleave Syria and found a Kurdish homeland, the government saw Khaznawi as the figurehead of a volatile separatist threat.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Sunni Arab rule over the majority Shiites and Kurds in the heart of the Arab world also came to an end. The U.S.-led invasion has inadvertently upended traditional notions of minority rights throughout the region.

Excitement was particularly keen in the Kurdish heartland, the swath of desert, lush mountains and ancient riverbeds straddling Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. After years of harsh poverty, crippling discrimination and second-class status, Syrian Kurds were galvanized by the liberation of their Iraqi brethren. Riots and demonstrations erupted last year in Qamishli and spread throughout the country. Hundreds of Kurds have been held incommunicado and reportedly tortured.

The sheik was at the center of the struggle in the tumult last year. He called for rights; he spoke out against the imprisonment and torture of Kurds. And then he disappeared.


Long before he vanished from the streets of Damascus, the capital, Khaznawi was considered a dangerous man.

Just 47 when he died, he'd already gained a reputation as one of the country's most respected, and subversive, religious minds.

Khaznawi, a sober-faced father of 16 who wore flowing tunics, a tidy turban and unruly beard, was from the small Kurdish village of Khazna, an outpost in the deprived eastern desert where Syria fades into Iraq.

In a country of pervasive want, these borderlands are one of the bleakest corners. It is a landscape of almost unbroken brown, a deadly stretch of desert animated by dust devils and listless, bleating flocks, where farmers in mud huts struggle to scrape a living from the inhospitable earth.

Khaznawi grew up here against a backdrop of rising tensions between Arabs and Kurds. He'd clashed with the Syrian regime for decades. His book on Islamism was banned. He was forbidden to travel for most of the 1990s and barred from delivering sermons at Friday prayers.

"Security agents used to say that a traditional religious man keeps the people ignorant, and one security agent is enough to control everyone," said Morshed, Khaznawi's son. But he "enlightened people, so they needed a lot of agents to keep an eye on everyone."

Khaznawi was hungry for change, both religious and political. He advocated passionately for women's rights, scorning Islamic tradition that valued a man's testimony on par with that of two women.

"He crossed a lot of red lines which the others couldn't cross," Morshed said.

Khaznawi made weekly trips to Damascus, working as deputy to Mohammed Habash, a moderate Islamist member of parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center. Both men preached an Islam so tolerant that they were branded kafir, or nonbeliever, by fundamentalist preachers.

"My friend, my brother," Habash said of Khaznawi in a recent interview. "We were in the same struggle against the darkness and corruption of religion."

Both received death threats, Habash said. On a single day this year, Habash got seven menacing calls on his cellphone.

But relations between Habash and the Khaznawi clan have soured badly since the body was found. Habash didn't go to Khaznawi's funeral, and he did not send condolences, Khaznawi's family said.

Apparently pressed by the Interior Ministry, Habash signed a declaration absolving the government of guilt. The cleric's sons say Habash is protecting the regime and dismiss him as a government mouthpiece. But Habash says his conscience is clear. He believes Khaznawi was killed by "fundamentalists."

Khaznawi's sons agree that their father was threatened. But they don't blame shadowy Islamists; they blame the regime's security services, even though it is extremely dangerous for them to point the finger at the government.

"He always said, 'If something ever happens to me, it will be from the authorities,' " said Sheik Murad Khaznawi, the cleric's eldest son.

Khaznawi apparently had angered Syrian intelligence in February by meeting in Belgium with Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni, the exiled leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting was a brazen act; the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed by the Syrian regime, and membership is punishable by death. Many analysts believe this meeting was Khaznawi's fatal mistake.


Descended from the mountain warriors and nomads of ancient Assyria, the Kurds are a colorful fixture in northeastern Syria, working the vegetable fields, spilling from overcrowded pickups in brilliant dress, calling out in their rolling tongue.

But the history of Syria's 1.7 million Kurds — and those in the rest of the region — is darkened by ethnic suspicions and an ongoing struggle to find a place in often hostile countries.

Their troubles date to the 1960s, when Arab nationalism swept the region and caught ablaze in Syria. In a rush to "Arabize" the oil-rich tail of land near Turkey and Iraq, the Syrian regime settled Arabs between traditional Kurdish villages. The next blow was a controversial census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

Culture, too, came under fire. The Kurdish language was banned, and Kurdish villages lost their names in favor of new Arabic designations. Many of the restrictions have since been lifted by a regime eager to ease tensions, but the memory of oppression sticks.

"It was a lot of mistakes, one after the next, over and over," said Kurdish writer Dildal Filmez. "And in the end, the mistakes blew up like bombs."

In light of the decades of hurt and grudges, the effect of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was predictable: It destabilized northern Syria. In a part of the world where tribes and clans are much older than the nations they inhabit, the Kurds of Syria and Iraq have always lived an intertwined existence. And for decades, both lived under Arab nationalist Baathist regimes that considered their ethnicity a threat.

But as the months passed after the fall of Baghdad, excitement boiled into impatience. The riots that erupted in March 2004 left at least 24 people dead and were the bloodiest unrest this rigidly controlled land had seen in decades.

Even amid hundreds of arrests, there were signs of conciliation from a rattled regime after the riots. Diplomats, analysts and even some Syrian officials say that the government understands that it can't afford the dissent and dissatisfaction roiling the Kurdish hinterlands.

But after a year of promises, the hopes of the Kurds have hardened into skepticism.

"After 30 years, their promises have no credibility," said Mishal Tammo, a leader of the outlawed Future Party. "We can't believe in anything unless we see it. Their talk is just to win time."


Amid rising tensions over the last year, an ever-more-outspoken Khaznawi tried to use his popularity to win some ground for his people.

"The real problem [for] the government," said his son Murad, was "that he demanded rights for the Kurds and he demanded equality for the Kurds."

Khaznawi vanished on a clear morning in May. He got a telephone call, an invitation for breakfast. "I'll be back in two hours," he told his colleagues at the Islamic Studies Center. That was the last time they saw him alive.

In late May, Khaznawi's sons staged a demonstration in Damascus to demand news of their father.

A man drew near, identified himself as a senior government official with the rank of general, and spoke of the forthcoming "happy news."

A few days later, they were taken to see their father's body.

Security officials arrested a band of men they called "the criminals" and aired a tape of the leader's confession on state television. The confession did nothing to convince Khaznawi's followers, thousands of whom surged into the dust-caked streets of Qamishli shouting slogans in Kurdish and demanding an investigation of the cleric's death.

Khaznawi's slaying has driven another wedge between the Kurds and the Syrian regime, renewing the anger of generations and deepening the sense of despair.

"We now have a recipe for disaster in Qamishli," said Abdel Hamid, director of the minority rights program. "Emotions are being radicalized. They see this [Syrian] Baath as a continuation of Saddam Hussein, and they see this as a continuation of the struggle for independence."

Border Issues

This story from the Washington Times points out why it is so difficult for US and Iraq troops to control the border. Tribes that span the Syrian-Iraqi border have been crossing it with impunity since it was first defined after WWI. This maks it particularly difficult to police and control. I have spoken to a few Syrians from the Jazira region who have explained to me how their families have earned their livings for generations by smuggling across the border. They are good at it and regard smuggling as a family business, of which they are proud.

Smuggling across Syria border seen funding insurgency
By Antonio Castaneda
August 11, 2005

SINJAR, Iraq -- When U.S. soldiers reached this stretch of Iraq's border with Syria, some expected to face off against foreign fighters they thought would be crossing into the country in trucks packed with weapons.

Instead, they found caravans of mules crossing the border without their human masters, a tactic of smugglers in Syria who load contraband on dozens of mules or donkeys and set them free to amble down familiar paths.
"They can just smack the mules on the rear and they'll meet them at a rallying point" across the border, said 1st Lt. Scott Weaver, of Susanville, Calif., an intelligence officer with the 1st Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which patrols this area.

Though smugglers here traffic mostly in gasoline and cigarettes -- sometimes up to $200,000 worth of cargo in one trip -- military officials say the trade helps fund the insurgency that has gripped cities to the east, such as Tal Afar and Mosul.

U.S. and Iraqi officials frequently call on Syria to close its side of the border. But the smuggling problem also has roots on the Iraqi side. Some Iraqis in the area consider their ties to the government second to those with their fellow tribesmen, who live on stretches of land that cover both countries.

"It's not a geographic boundary. It is a political boundary where the British and French divvied things up" after World War I, said Capt. James Pavlich, an intelligence officer from Pinetop, Ariz.

In one Sunni Arab Iraqi border town, the local sheik also oversees villages in Syria, often crossing the border to visit family, U.S. soldiers said.

"[Insurgent] forces within their towns are still their people. There is tremendous cultural hesitation to provide information to an outside force," said Capt. Dan Ruecking of Elmhurst, Ill., a battery commander in the 1st Squadron.

The U.S. military has focused on stopping human trafficking of insurgents willing to launch suicide attacks inside Iraq. Fifteen of those arrested crossing the border in this area since May have confessed to trying to join the insurgency, said officials. They estimate that insurgents pay $150 to $200 to local handlers for help with passage.

Iraqi border guards say other illegal crossing tactics include bribing Syrian guards to fire their weapons or stage fake arrests to attract the attention of Iraqi guards while smugglers quickly sneak across.

"The same Ba'ath Party is also in Syria, so they're helping the bad guys inside Iraq," said Garby Nasser, an Iraqi border guard, referring to the party that ruled Iraq for decades under Saddam Hussein and that still rules Syria.

Though much of the area along Iraq's border with Syria is desert flatlands, parts have gullies and even a ridge of mountains that help conceal border crossers from U.S. armored vehicles and helicopters that peer out at night with high-power observation equipment.

Even the legal border crossing point to the north in the city of Rabiah is a concern for U.S. commanders. Several Iraqi guards were recently fired for corruption.

Another article by the same reporter, but in the LA Times, poiints out how difficult it will be for Americans to hand off authority to Iraq troops in the towns along the Iraqi-Syrian, such at Tal Afar: "U.S. Gambles in Handing Security to Iraqis."

Syrian authorities engage in a "media war" with Muslim Brotherhood"
The privately owned Al Mustaqbal newspaper reported in its August 11 issue that, after a non declared truce, a media war recently reignited between the government of Damascus and the “Muslim Brotherhood”, which is banned in Syria. The newspaper reported that in a statement issued by the Brotherhood’s Shura Council, the group attacked Syrian President Bashar Assad for the first time since he was elected in year 2000, and said that the “regime cannot be reformed."

The newspaper added that the Syrian regime had, in its latest Baath Party convention, described the group as an “opposition group weaving conspiracies against the regime and having contacts with lobby powers hostile to Syria.” The newspaper added that the Baath Party convention also accused the Brotherhood of “secretly inciting against the Syrian regime in the United State”, while the Muslim Brotherhood denied it is maintaining any contact with the U.S., and is “constantly declaring an attitude that rejects any foreign intervention to change the regime.” - Al Mustaqbal, Lebanon
This declaration of war by the Brotherhood ends a period of "negotiation." Perhaps it wasn't direct negotiation, but the two sides - the government and Muslim Brothers were feeling each other out in an attempt to create some elements of an understanding. The government issued all exiles Syrian passports on demand. Laws against the Brotherhood were not revised, making it impossible for party memebers to return unless they made personal arrangements with the regime to have charges dropped against them before entering the country. The president let most of the imprisonned MBs out of jail over the last five years. For a while, the government seemed to be making a genuine attempt to put Hama and Syria's dark period of civil war behind it. That period has now come to an end. The many arrests of Kurdish opposition leaders and increased anti-Muslim Brother rhetoric on the part of the regime over the last few months have polarized the situtation. The government is worried that Lebanon may once again become a launching pad for anti-government groups and opposition members.

Al-Hayat reported today that the most recent closures of the border crossings to cargo trucks has been solved and that 100 trucks passed through customs yesterday.

Syrian-Lebanese customs agreement to solve the problem of cargo on borders
“A recent Lebanese Syrian meeting discussed the border problem between the countries and reached a solution to open the borders according to a schedule,” Al Hayat, a pan Arab newspaper, reported on August 11.

The meeting also called upon both countries to possess the technical devices that will make the searching process easier on the borders because the time consumed by searching cargo is so high. On the other hand, Nasri Khouri, the head of the Syrian Lebanese Higher Council, said that the borders problem between Syria and Lebanon was a purely security issue and that the Syrian authorities were able to catch many smugglers as a result. “Lebanese Minister of Industry, Pierre Gemayel, commented however that if it is really was security reasons behind the borders closure," one doesn't stop smugglers on legal border lines, Al Hayat added. - Al Hayat, United Kingdom

In the meantime, Iraq shut its borders to trucks for a while, and Jordan threatened to do the same. How much this effort was coordinated by the US as a counter-measure to relieve Syrian pressure on Lebanon is not know.

Syria: trucks on borders with Iraq cross
Syria announced on Wednesday that all Syrian trucks on the border with Iraq were allowed to pass into Syria, noting that an "unspecified Iraqi barrier," was the cause behind this issue.

Syria's Director of Customs Basel Sannoufa told SANA that "All Syrian drivers were permitted to enter into the Syrian territories yesterday except 20 of them who are expected to pass later on today."

Answering a question on empty Syrian trucks that were stopped at Iraqi crossing point of Rabiaa, the official noted that "he who halted those drivers was an unidentified barrier from the Iraqi side of the borders."

Meantime, He denied rumors of procedures form the Jordanian side against trucks coming from Syria pointing out to the presence of an agreement with Jordan to ease truck passage between the two sides and saying that it was abided by, and that there was an understanding to install projectors to enhance the efficiency of truck inspections coming from either side of the border.

The Good news is that Syria is donating 1000 tons of wheat to Iraq
The head of the UN's World Food Program in Syria, Mohammad al-Kouhene, thanked Syria who has become "one of the promising donor countries for the Program," pointing out that Syria supported the WFP operations in the occupied Palestinian lands last year. It should be added that Mohammad al-Kouhene has been working on the effort to organize

Britain said on Friday, Aug. 12 that it would bar a London-based Syrian cleric, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, from ever returning to Britain.
Mr. Bakri Mohammed, the founder and vociferous leader of the British branch of the radical group Al Muhajiroun, drew the attention of the British authorities after delivering sermons praising the Sept. 11 attacks, referring to the hijackers of the four planes used in the attacks as "the magnificent 19," and calling for British Muslims to join an Islamic jihad against the West.

After the July 7 attacks in London, Mr. Bakri Mohammed publicly said he would not report potential suicide bombers to the British authorities.

The Home Office said Home Secretary Charles Clarke had written to Mr. Bakri Mohammed to tell him that he no longer has the right to live in Britain. "The home secretary has issued an order revoking Omar Bakri Mohammed's indefinite leave to remain and to exclude him from the U.K. on the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good," the ministry said in a statement.

Bakri is a Syrian, but holds a Lebanese passport which he acquired in the 1990s before traveling to Britain. He is there now and was detained by the Lebanese police yesterday. Today.. Syria seeks Islamist's extradition:-Syria has asked Lebanon to extradite Omar Bakri, an extremist of Syrian origin who left Britain last week under threat of a crackdown on hard-line Islamists. ...

Monday, August 08, 2005

What is Happening at the Ministry of Interior?

Ghazi Kanaan was appointed to be Minister of the Interior in the last government reshuffle on October 4, 2004 in order to “strengthen” and consolidate the ministry. That was the word from on high. But what did it mean? Some said he was given the brief to bring order to the hydra-headed secret police that had slipped out of the President’s control. The various branch heads seemed to make their own decisions and carry out their own policies, uncoordinated by any central authority – at least that is how it seemed.

The multiplication of intelligence bureaus under Hafiz al-Asad in the 1970s seemed designed to sew chaos into the Syrian system of authority and undermine the rule of law. In many ways it was a classic exercise in divide-and-rule. In a security state, it was important to multiply the institutions of security so each could watch the other and ensure that no one security chief ever considered taking power for himself. It was a way to coup-proof the system that had been so prone to instability and putsches. But the indispensable link and organizing factor in this web of competing security branches was Hafiz al-Asad, for only he had authority over them all.

How was the young Bashar to impose his will on this hydra-headed monster? Kanaan had been the effective security chief in Lebanon for decades. He new the system well and had divided the Christian forces in Lebanon into a multitude of competing factions, all submissive to Syria. But why appoint him to the Ministry of Interior, which had escaped the disorganization of the intelligence community? How was Ghazi Kanaan, as head of the police, supposed to bring order to intelligence or strengthen the president’s hand in taking back control over internal affairs in Syria? It was confusing.

Two recent stories that have been told to me may help clarify the picture. One came to me from a general in the Interior ministry, who is in charge of the police in a governorate. He complained that the top Sunni officers in the ministry are all upset over how Kanaan has been manipulating the confessional balance in the ministry. It must be recalled that Kanaan was the first Alawi to be placed in control of the Interior – traditionally it was a post designated for Sunnis. The outward face of security had been left in the hands of Syria’s religious majority, whereas, the internal muscle of security - the intelligence branches - had been placed firmly in the hands of Alawi officers. Evidently Kanaan has been busy giving Alawis plum positions as heads of the sensitive governorates and “demoting” Sunni officers by placing them in desk jobs in out of the way corners of the country. This has confessional favoritism has caused an uproar in the ministry.

The second story is from Alawi villagers. They say that Kanaan “gathered together” simple villagers and appointed many to the coveted positions in the police academy, much to the irritation of the Sunni officers in charge of the professional training school. Recently, these officers expelled about 50 Alawis from the college who had only one year to graduation and were about to be commissioned. The Alawis were accused of being “lazy,” one of the charges against them was that they wasted their time making “matte,” a bark tea that is commonly drunk by the villagers of the Tartus region. It takes a long time to prepare and involves a time consuming ritual of repeatedly pouring boiling water over the bark to darken the tea. It is drunk from special glasses with a long glass straw with a special sieve on its bottom. Whether on not the matte problem factored into their dismissal or not, I have no clue, but it is invoked by the Alawi villagers as proof of the discrimination they encountered. They were also sensitive to the excesses of Kanaan’s policy of stuffing the police academy with Alawis, but they felt like pawns in a larger sectarian game that they never asked to be part of. Evidently the Alawis are bringing a court case against the Police Academy for dismissing them.

So what do these two stories add up to and can we draw any conclusions from them about larger state policy? It is important to place what is going on at the Ministry of Interior in the broader context of the President’s promise to change the relationship between the intelligence community and society. He has often stated that he wants to lift the hand of intelligence off the shoulders of the public and to bring security under the narrow strictures of the law. Perhaps we can understand this as part of the President’s “institution building” and “proper procedures” campaign?

This implies a shift of power from intelligence to the state police, who will theoretically assume a larger role in enforcing laws that relate to national security. Perhaps Kanaan is trying to beef up the Alawi component in the police bureaucracy in order to prepare it for this new national security role? This would also explain some of the competition and tension between Asef Shawkat and Ghazi Kanaan. Rather than trying to take control of the intelligence agencies directly in order to strengthen the President’s hand, he may be preparing to shift authority away from intelligence to the police.

What the President’s role in all this may be is pure speculation on my part. Is Kanaan doing this on his own authority, or is he responding to directives from above? I do not know. The President has been accused by members of the Alawi community of being less sectarian minded than his father and of “forgetting” his community, whose support is crucial to the regime. It may simply be a move to allay these concerns, whether on the part of the minister or the president? In the meantime, Kanaan’s policy of favoring his coreligionists has opened a can of worms in the Ministry of Interior and threatens to sour the relations of many loyal Sunnis officers to their superiors.

It has long been rumored that Ghazi Kanaan may be replaced as Minister of Interior in the impending government reshuffle that was to follow the Baath Party Congress in June. AlSeyassah, the rumor-mill Kuwaiti paper, wrote on July 11 that Kanaan was suspended from his ministerial duties, because he was the man behind Rustum Ghazaleh in Lebanon, but this was all hearsay. Such reports may just have been spin put out by his many opponents? We are still waiting for the announcement of a new government. Kanaan was recently socked with special financial sanctions by the US government, which may have jeopardized his tenure and usefulness to the President. One thing is for sure, many people will be waiting to see what happens at the Ministry of Interior in the next government.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Anwar al-Bunni: Interview with Syria's leading Human Right Lawyer, By Joe Pace

Interview with Anwar al-Bunni
By Joe Pace, Harvard University.
For Syria Comment
(Joe is spending the summer in Syria and, once again, does a terrific job in this interview. Bunni is very smart and has much to teach us about how Syria works.)
August 6, 2005

Anwar al-Bunni is the head of the "Free Political Prisoners Committee," and Syria's leading human rights lawyer. He estimates that the various members of his family have spent over 60 years in Syrian prisons. He defended Damascus Spring leaders in 2001 and continues to represent many prisoners of conscience in Syria.

Pace: Could you provide some background on the relationship between the Kurdish and Arab opposition? Why is the relationship so tenuous and is it improving or deteriorating?

Bunni: The Syrian authorities have always created barriers between the Kurdish and Arab oppositions. It planted the fear within the Arab opposition that the Kurds wanted to slice off a piece of Syria and forge a separate state. And it scared the Kurds into believing that the Arab opposition was incapable of delivering what the authorities could deliver, and it convinced them that direct negotiation with the regime would be more fruitful than coordination with the Arab opposition.

They also used the Kurds during Saddam’s rule to influence the internal situation in Iraq.

Some of the barriers between the two oppositions have come down and this is a frightening prospect for the regime. They began meeting and engaging in dialogue, so obviously they began to understand each other better. The Arab opposition began to realize that not all Kurds want a Kurdish state and the Kurdish opposition began to realize that the call for democracy could solve their problems—culturally, economically, and nationally.

They have begun to engage in serious dialogue, despite the fact that differences remain between them. They have participated in several demonstrations and sit-ins together. Still, there lingers some mutual fear that the parties’ official stances are not their true stances.

When did the dialogue begin?

I would say that the barriers began to break down and the dialogue began after 2000 or after Damascus Spring. That’s when the real interaction began. And since we were defending Kurds, we, as Arab lawyers, contributed to the dialogue and the breaking down of barriers.

What inspired the dialogue?

There were three basic factors. The first was the political opening that allowed the birth of political movements. The second factor was the pressure on Iraq and the Kurdish role there. It gave weight…a role…a new importance to Kurdish parties in Syria. So people began to address the Kurdish issue with newfound interest, especially the Arab opposition. The third factor was the new openness on the part of the Kurdish parties toward the Arab opposition, something which resulted from the loss of faith that the Syrian authorities would grant them their rights or relieve the economic and political pressure on the Kurdish communities. So they began looking for an alternative, in other words, better relations with the Arab opposition in Syria.

We hear a lot that the Iraq war empowered Syrian Kurds, but in what way? How did events in Iraq enhance their influence?

The Kurds began playing a larger political role in Iraq, something which led the Arab opposition and the Syrian authorities alike to pay closer attention to the desires of the Kurds.

Prior to the Iraq war, the Kurds did not play a political role in Syrian politics. Their role was limited to demands placed upon the authority—they didn’t engage in dialogue with the rest of Syrian political society. But after the events in Iraq, the Syrian Arabs began to feel that maybe the Kurds would assume a larger political role in Syria as they did in Iraq. So they had to pay attention to their demands in order to contain them.

But how does a larger role for the Kurds in Iraq translate into greater influence for Syria’s Kurds?

It was first and foremost a psychological effect because they began to feel as though there was protection; that they could depend at the very least on moral and emotional support from the Kurds in Iraq. This sort of support is of crucial importance, the mere face that someone is asking about them—what they’re suffering from, what they’re saying, etc. This is more important than military or financial support.

Now they have a shelter. Before, if a Kurd needed to flee there was nowhere to go. He certainly couldn’t go to Iraq or Turkey. Here they were attacking them, there they were attacking them…But now they have a shelter and it has emboldened them. If something happens to someone here they can flee to Iraq.

So what did the regime do in order to contain this new Kurdish problem?

They tried to contain the Kurds by manipulating some of the Kurdish parties, and by promising them nationality in order to keep the parties in a relationship with the regime. They created the problems in Qamashli in 2004 to weaken the Kurdish-Arab relationship and foster divisions between them. They tried to get the two sides to distance themselves from each other; of course, it didn’t work because people realized that the government was playing them.

So has this newfound influence emboldened the Kurds to issue more demands for an independent or federalized state?

The world was previously oblivious to the Kurdish issue. And the government was contending that the Kurds wanted an independent state. But recently, people have begun to speak out and they are starting to realize that the Kurds have a legitimate complain. But at the same time, Kurdish extremism is unacceptable. They aren’t going to overcome these old suspicions with ease. There is this ingrained suspicion that the Kurds want an independent state and what happened in Iraq scared the Arabs even more.

The authorities have relied on qawmiya (here: Arab nationalism) and its grandiose slogans to legitimate its existence. And they have endeavored to conceal Kurdish features from sight. They tried to Arabize them; they took Kurdish land, Arabized the names of Kurdish villages, deprived them of their citizenship, denied them access to government jobs. Of course, there are Kurds in places like Damascus who lead normal lives without any of those problems. The problem is primarily in the northern regions.

These tactics caused a backlash: people began to cling to their culture more, staking out more extremist positions. This is to be expected—if you close the door of participation in front of someone, they’ll find another partner to cooperate and communicate with. But among all of the Kurdish parties, not one advocates seceding from Syria.

There is also the issue of ethnic nationalism—it is finished. It failed. People now realize that they are never going to establish countries on the basis of a single ethnicity, whether that be Arab, Kurdish, or Armenian. Even in Europe, no one proposes that Germany be only for the ethnic Germans or France for the ethnic French. The concept of an ethnically-based nation state is no longer valid. Of course, an independent nation-state remains a dream among the Kurds, but it remains just that—a dream. No one expects that it will ever be realized. They realize that that state is impossible so the advocacy of such has begun to recede from their party platforms.

There are still a few extremists who maintain the dream or try to realize it, and this is natural. But the rest see that the solution resides in democracy, in a system that respects the dignity of every human being and not under the flag of a country based on qawmiya. People see that qawmiya brings them nothing but poverty, theft, pillaging, and oppression. It hasn’t achieved economic growth, dignity, or glory—it hasn’t brought them anything.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Europe and elsewhere live with citizenship and full rights and none of them are clamoring to leave their country and move to Kurdistan. The idea of a Kurdish state is a dream—nothing more, nothing less. But reality will not permit its realization.

What about federalism in lieu of a separate state?

Federalism or state unity is something to be determined after we reach democracy. But federalism is a just another political arrangement; it doesn’t mean fundamentally changing the state entity. Switzerland has 32 cantons. How has that impacted on the strength of Switzerland. It’s still one of the stronger powers in the world. America has 52 states, each with its own legislature, its own laws, and its own constitution. How has that lessened the power of America? On the contrary, this structure has enhanced its power. My thinking isn’t, let’s create a federated state even if it means that the state will be weak. My dream is to make my country stronger.

What sort of reaction to this revival have you seen among the Arabs?

Extremism from one side always results in extremism from the other. With the exception of the events in Qamashli there haven’t been very many explicit manifestations of the extremism. Some serious tensions have developed among the Arab tribes who reject this Kurdish revival—some understand the issue, but others have responded with their own brand of extremism. Even some of the cultured elite had a negative reaction to the events in Qamashli.

The problem is the absence of a natural environment. If the environment is diseased, it is going to produce more social diseases in all circumstances. An environment characterized by oppression and domination is not going to produce healthy thought—its going to produce extremism.

That’s what we’ve been saying: a democratic environment will push people to be more proper and more rational and it will stunt extremism.

So what are the major differences between the Kurdish and Arab oppositions?

The most fundamental difference is that the Kurds think—and this is their right—that there is a uniquely Kurdish problem. The Syrian opposition views it as an issue of just another group deprived of its rights, but not a Kurdish problem in the sense that the Kurds constitute a nation. And this basic difference ramifies into multiple points of disagreement about the details of their predicament. But the fundamental point of contention is whether the Kurds are a separate nation or just normal Syrian individuals deprived of some of their rights.

It’s not a problem if the Syrian Arabs say “we are Syrian Arabs who are part of the Arab nation.” But it’s not permitted for the Syrian Kurds to say “we are Syrian Kurds who are part of the Kurdish nation.” So there’s a contradiction.

Most of the Kurds support America’s project of remaking the Middle East. They call Bush “father of freedom,” which I cannot imagine goes over too well with a lot Arabs. How does the Arab opposition react to this?

No, in Syria you’ll find Arabs who say let Bush come here as well.

But it’s a rarer sentiment among the Arabs than the Kurds.

No, it’s not rare among the Arabs. That’s what happens when you block all other avenues for change. The Kurds may get the most publicity because in some of their demonstrators they were praising Bush. But even in Qadmus, where the ethnic conflicts erupted, some of the Isma’lis were calling for Bush to come. The same thing happened in Misyaf three months ago. So you shouldn’t think of it as a Kurdish predilection—it’s the natural result of closing the doors in front of the citizenry. I heard an old man saying the other day, “let Israel come and rescue us from this state.” Israel! And he was speaking in a loud voice in the middle of the street. These sentiments are the byproduct of oppression.

But if there is a Kurdish party that openly supports the American project, does that create tensions between it and an Arab party who may share the same ideals but rejects American intervention?

Maybe in the beginning it was a problem. But now that many of the Arabs have begun to speak more openly in their endorsement of the American project, it’s become less of a dividing line exclusively between the Kurds and Arabs.

Ok, then what about oppositional parties in general that differ on the role of American intervention?

Of course, it’s a point of contention. But, in general, its one of many points of contention. It’s a primary point that the nationalist Arab opposition clings to. There is a segment that cannot comprehend the concept of external powers playing a role in internal reform.

We used to lambaste America for supporting those dictators. But now America is saying that it supports democratic leadership. And they still criticize. What do they want? What do they want America to do? When America supported despots they criticized her. Now America has admitted to making mistakes and says it supports freedom and democracy. So what do they want the Americans to do? What do they want the position of the largest country in the world to be? Should America be silent on everything?

Then why do you think they continue to stand against America?

For two reasons. First, they have been raised to dislike America, and especially because of its past mistakes, it has no credibility. No one believes that America has the people in its interests. The second reason is its position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. It has yet to usher a solution to the conflict and that’s an extremely sensitive point for Arabs. Then there is the Iraq war which left some 400,000 people dead. And then what? They expect that America will then withdraw and leave the people to die.

The only thing they are certain of is that America is looking to protect its own interests. Defending human rights and democracy consists of pressuring the regimes in order to secure their own interests—it is not done in the defense of the people. So no one has faith that they can rely on America.

I won’t rely on America but I am going to exploit American pressure to realize my goals. Don’t be part of the American project, but you should still position yourself to benefit from it. Allow America to put pressure on the regime and reap the benefits. Don’t participate in America’s project, but don’t fight it. They don’t understand this equation.

You say that the opposition benefits from foreign pressure. How? Hypothetically, what would happen if foreign pressure came to a halt?

We’d all be imprisoned. It’s that simple.

The European Union has more credibility in the region and it’s taken a more reasonable stance towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So people are willing to rely on them more than America. And I made this point to Ambassador Scobey before she returned to Washington: America is in dire need of credibility in the realm of democracy and human rights. How am I supposed to believe that America supports democracy and human rights when they are supporting Husni Mubarak for his fifth term or Zaid Eddin Ibn Ali for his third term when he is oppressing people in his country? There’s no balance in the policy. They need to be promoting human rights everywhere, not just in Syria but then disregarding human rights violations elsewhere.

It has lost its credibility. But the more credibility the US gains, the larger its potential role becomes.

The opposition is clearly divided over the role of American influence. But to what extent does that constitute a major cleavage that interferes with cooperation and unity?

This is an ostensible source of problems, but it’s not the fundamental reason for lack of unity within the opposition. The real reason for disagreements is that the opposition hasn’t managed to reach the people. It speaks for its own interests and the interests of opposition personalities rather than speaking for the interests of the people. The people are absence from this opposition.

No opposition element has a complete program for action. I disagree with someone because my platform doesn’t comport with his—but here, no one has a real platform. And the people can’t evaluate the platforms and decide which one is better. So where is there room for disagreement? They disagree on personal issues.

There are some substantive manifestations of these disagreements: the issue of Arab nationalism, the role of America, the role of Europe, the position towards the regime. Is the regime capable of reform, can we dialogue with it or not? Those are the apparent differences, but the real reason is that there is no carrier for the message. They don’t represent people, they represent themselves.

So how do you solve this problem? Is this opposition salvageable?

In my opinion, this opposition exists only to oppose the regime. It will collapse with the collapse of the regime. There are small gatherings—and this hasn’t yet been widely noticed—of normal people who didn’t previously have any relation to politics. And these new groups have begun to organize their thoughts and produce a new leadership. We have to rely on those people, not the current opposition figures.

The current opposition figures dream that one day they will have the power. But it’s a dream—it will never be realized. At best, they may be part of a transition stage while the people determine their stances and goals and the desired leadership.

People are becoming more aware. Because of the satellite and the internet, they are beginning to realize how politics affects them. We can’t determine how much power they will have right now, but I imagine that in the near future their power will begin to manifest itself. And they will not march to the tune of the current opposition.

Do you think that coordination could begin to solve the problem?

No, I don’t think so. Like I said, there is no popular support for the opposition. The Kurds are well organized and they can bring people to the streets. Regarding the Arabs, there are no parties that have the support of the street.

If the opposition doesn’t represent anyone, does the regime consider even a united opposition a threat?

Of course, a united opposition would be a threat. Sheikh Khaznawi [a prominent Kurdish Sheikh who was recently assassinated, most likely by the regime] became a threat because of his good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s not so much the Muslim Brotherhood that has weight in society as much as the new Islamist trends which have been gaining steam as a result of repression. I don’t think they’re worried that the Muslim Brotherhood has a large, organized, explicit base in Syria. But the meeting between a Kurd and the Muslim Brotherhood sends a signal to the Islamists more than it entails the formation of an organized alliance.

But right now, the regime does not have anything to fear from inside of Syria. The only time the regime fears the internal opposition is when it coordinates or receives support from foreign powers. In short, the regime fears foreign—not internal—pressure because the internal opposition cannot influence the regime.

Is the opposition directing its energies toward direct confrontation with the regime or are they beginning to exploit foreign pressure to implement their agenda?

They are pressuring the regime directly and that is the problem. They need to make use of the more intensive foreign pressures.

What about the claim among many opposition figures that endorsing foreign pressure or accepting foreign support would cost them credibility on the street?

There has not been a revolution in ages that was purely internal—they are always influenced by other powers. So that kind of talk is a lie. There is no such thing as purely internal change.

Yes, but you don’t think there’s any legitimacy to the claim that giving the degree of anti-American sentiment, receiving money from America would be the kiss of death for their credibility?

Of course, there are risks. But we’re not talking about money or material support. That is the lowest level of politics—we need to understand the political game to consolidate our positions. They don’t have to loose credibility because they don’t have to be part of the American project. But they need to take advantage of American pressures. We need to utilize the West to pressure for the release of political prisoners and so on and so forth. They forget that human rights is an international issue—it is grounded in international treaties and relies on international enforcement.

The regime accuses opposition figures of treason. Does this tactic work?

No, not any more. It used to before satellite TV and the internet. On the front page of the newspaper Ath-thawra they accused me of agitating for human rights while ignoring national rights. But that hasn’t made a dent in my credibility. In fact the exact opposite happened—ten articles appeared on the internet in support of me.

You spoke earlier about a new group of people that you think will become the new opposition. What are the conditions for this inchoate, popular opposition to succeed?

The international community needs to continue pressuring the regime in order to protect civil society and human rights activists so that they can take their message to the people. People began to speak out, but the arrests resumed and people were intimidated and stop discussing politics. The most important thing is the protection of activists from arrest and murder. That would enable people to agitate more for change. We need pressure for the government to pass laws that protect civil society. That would create the conditions under which a new opposition could emerge.

I hear a lot from average Syrians that there are two evils: the greater evil which is the occupation of Palestine and Iraq, and the lesser evil which is the government—

That’s regime propaganda. When did the Syrian regime ever do anything to help solve the issue of Palestine and Iraq? Nothing. I can’t say that there is a big evil and a small evil because the two are interrelated.

Lets assume for a second that we have two enemies: the regime and America. If the two of them fight each other, I have one less enemy to worry about. Both of them aim to oppress me. Now they are fighting each other. Let them fight! If one of them is vanquished then I have one less enemy.

But there are people who are unwilling as a matter of principle to accept an American victory. How do you convince them that American pressure is in their interest?

Those people are one element of many. There is no entity that wants to see an end to American interference more than the Syrian regime itself. But like I said, we need exploit American pressure not for the sake of American interests, but for the sake of achieving our own goals. And this is what the current opposition doesn’t understand. It doesn’t understand how to play the game. Even regarding people like Farid Ghadry—we have an expression in Syria: “better the dog bark with you than at you.” Let Farid bark with you. Don’t degrade him. The opposition has no conception of how it is going to bring about these grand political changes.

This is why I say they will collapse with the regime. They have no program; they have no role outside of opposing the regime’s existence. Who are they going to oppose after the regime’s collapse?

The regime’s political strategy depends on planting landmines throughout society. But the mine doesn’t explode if you place your leg on it—it explodes when you remove your leg from it. The regime planted the land mines then placed their legs on them so that if the regime goes, the society will explode. We can expect the same thing that happened in Lebanon to happen here. We suffer from the same problems of competing nationalisms, sectarianism, and extremism. So we are held hostage by a regime that says to us “if I leave, the world will end. You’ll suffer through civil war. Best leave me in place.”

We need to mobilize the people to build a new society and minimize the potential for this explosion. But nothing is free. No country can progress without paying a price, be it blood or civil war. Even America had to undergo civil war before it could become a great power—hundreds of people had to die. Europe had to suffer through the Second World War to become what it is today. Big changes require big prices. But we need to work to minimize the price we will have to pay for progress.

This is the role for foreign pressures—to enable people to mobilize and build a new society that will not explode as soon as the totalitarian boot is lifted. To allow people to build a society that will neutralize that landmine.

What is Behind Recent US Threats Against Syria?

Recent headlines describe how US officials hope to keep the pressure on Syria. Both John Bolton, the controversial new US ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continue to warn Syria that it better revamp its security system to arrest and prosecute militants passing through the country. They implicitly threaten that Washington will place further economic sanctions on Syria or, perhaps even, strike out militarily against it with a cross border or bombing raid of some kind. Any sort of one-off punitive action would be counter-productive. It would only bolster Bashar’s popularity, much as the Ras al-Shaykh bombing in Egypt boosted Mubarak’s popularity in Egypt. The State Department, however, is suggesting a softer line and cooperation with Europe rather than unilateral American action.

Bolton Says Iran, Syria Failing to Stop Militants
Los Angeles Times - CA,USA
John R. Bolton, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, accused Syria and Iran of not doing enough to stop foreigners from joining the insurgency in Iraq.

Rumsfeld says Syria 'not behaving in wise manner' - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "The United States and the world obviously has to create a better clarity in the minds of leaders of Syria that what they are doing is harmful ultimately to themselves," Rumsfeld said after a speech in Beverly Hills at which he was twice heckled.

Rumsfeld said he was referring to Syria's refusal to return Iraqi funds, housing of Baathists from Saddam Hussein's fallen regime and the flow of insurgents across the border. He said Syria was also "undoubtedly financing" some of the Iraqi insurgency.

Several means of upping the pressure on Syria have found backers in Washington. One most often hears of sanctioning the Commercial Bank of Syria, which is accused of laundering Saddam's money, and sanctioning oil. This article below by Peter Schweizer in USA Today recommends crushing Syria's oil industry. Syria's economy has already been staggered by America's invasion of Iraq. The government recently announced that the estimate of Syria's 2004 GNP growth rate had fallen to 2%. 2003 has been estimated at around 2.5%, which was down from 2002's rate of almost 4% due to the war. Thus the real growth rate in Syria is actually negative because population growth is around 2.7%.

The US can ensure that the Asad regime fails by enacting such draconian measures and that Syrians are impoverished as have been their Iraqi neighbors.

Will America gain anything from this squeeze play other than to spread chaos, anger, and poverty throughout the Arab world? I suppose it will have the satisfaction of revenge. It won't stop terrorism, though - that seems fairly certain. The whole rational for Washington's invasion of Iraq was to jumpstart good governance and economic growth in the region in order to dry up the swamp of Arab frustration that provides a breeding ground for terrorist groups.

The present and proposed sanctions on Syria are working in the exact opposite direction. Their most likely outcome will not be to reduce terrorism, but to produce a second failed state in the region - or third, if we count Palestine.

Time to tighten the noose on Syria
By Peter Schweizer

As the ground war continues in Iraq, there has been plenty of discussion about the training of the Iraqi army, a timetable for U.S. troops leaving and the domestic security situation in the country. But what happens next door in Syria could determine Iraq's future.

Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, has already gone on record declaring that insurgents are "operating out of Syria with impunity," providing both financial support and guidance. More recently, the U.S. Treasury Department linked four of Saddam Hussein's nephews, who are operating out of Syria, to the insurgency.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has urged the Bush administration to increase pressure on Syria. In recent months, U.S. troops have been operating near the Iraq-Syria border in an effort to hit terrorist bases of operation.

Importance of bases

It is impossible to know at this point how important Syria is to the health and welfare of the terrorists operating in Iraq. History teaches us that external bases from which to operate have always been vital. Material from the Soviet archives shows that sanctuaries in "neutral" Cambodia and Laos were vital for the North Vietnamese. During the 1980s, Pakistan provided a key base of operations for Afghans fighting the Soviet occupation. At a minimum, Syria provides a convenient place for terrorist cells to form, get funding and supplies, and rest after conducting their attacks.

The Bush administration has taken some steps to turn up the pressure on Damascus. It has frozen the overseas assets of senior military and intelligence officials and imposed economic sanctions. But these measures don't go far enough. Consider the vital Syrian oil and gas sector. Energy production represents 50% of the country's total budget income and 70% of total exports. Plenty of American oil companies help keep the Syrian energy sector working: ConocoPhillips, Chevron Texaco and U.S. Occidental all provide critical expertise and parts to the Syrians.

President Bush's sanctions, while helpful, are not effective. All of these companies can still invest in the Syrian energy sector; they just need to contract with non-American suppliers for replacement parts and personnel.

Also, there are plenty of European and Asian countries that help prop up Syria's energy sector. Syrian energy production is already down, even with this external support. Without it, the Syrian energy sector would probably collapse.

But how do we tighten the noose? President Reagan faced a similar problem in 1982. Determined to prevent the construction of a natural gas pipeline from the communist-controlled East into Western Europe, he imposed sanctions against any U.S. oil companies participating in the project. Almost overnight, he was undermined by European allies who circumvented the sanctions and allowed their own energy companies to replace U.S. contractors.

Reagan didn't budge

Reagan's response? He applied portions of the Export Control Act and announced that he was extending the sanctions to include any foreign companies that were using U.S.-licensed technology. If, for example, a French company used U.S.-licensed technologies on the pipeline, that company could not sell in the U.S. market.

European leaders were outraged, and a compromise followed. In exchange for backing down, Reagan got the Europeans to commit to tightening loans, dramatically reducing the size of the natural gas projects and tightening controls on technology exports.

If our European allies fail to support a tighter squeeze on Syria, President Bush should consider a similar move. Syria needs international technological and management support to keep its energy sector going. And no international energy company is going to risk exclusion from the U.S. market in exchange for a contract with the Syrian government.

There are other levers that we should also be prepared to pull. The so-called Arab Gas Pipeline will bring huge quantities of natural gas to Syria when it is completed in the next few years. There are also large petrochemical projects, such as one just completed south of Damascus. These projects rely on funding from international banking institutions, as well as the International Finance Corporation (an offshoot of the World Bank). They are critical for the economic health of Syria. The Bush administration should lean heavily on international financial bodies that are doing business with Syria (and are funded in part with U.S. taxpayer dollars).

Syria has the capability to seriously weaken terrorist groups operating in Iraq. The question is, does it have the will to do so?

Damascus has no interest in seeing a stable, democratic Iraq next door. Success would mean the end of dictatorial rule in Damascus. Only by facing the prospect of economic collapse, brought on by massive American pressure, will Syria be motivated to do the right thing.

So long as groups finding refuge in Syria are killing U.S. soldiers, that country should not receive any economic support from the West.

Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book Do as I Say (Not as I Do).

Condoleezza Rice seems to disagree with Rumsfeld and Bolton. She is trying to fight back the idea of further immediate moves against Syria. In a recent interview with Robin Wright of the Washington Post, the Secretary of State was very measured and non-committal about what might be done to Syria. She argued that pushing Syria out of Lebanon was enough Syria bashing for the time being and should satisfy Syria's enemies. She did not suggest taking further measures against Asad in the immediate future. Here is how an-Nahar wrote up her interview:

U.S. Proclaims Itself Guarantor of Lebanon's Sovereignty
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has effectively proclaimed the United States a guarantor of Lebanon's sovereignty, charging that Syria was still 'trying to influence events in unseemly ways.'
"The first thing that we've done is to, together with France, mobilize international opinion so that the Syrians had to get out of Lebanon," Rice said in an interview carried by The Washington Post On Sunday, The interview was reproduced by An Nahar on Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that the Syrians continue to try to influence events in Lebanon in ways that are unseemly, including, I think, the pressure that they're putting on the Lebanese on the border," Rice said well before Syria had ended its trade blockade in the wake of Premier Seniora's talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus.

"We are going to continue to work with the international community to convince the Syrians that this is not an acceptable course," she said, asserting that the Syrian behavior "is hurting the Palestinians, hurting the Iraqis and hurting the Lebanese, and that they're out of step with what's going on in the international system."

'But is there a moment in which you say, "Enough" if the Syrians fail to comply?' Interviewer Robin Wright, a veteran Middle East specialist, asked.

"Well, I think it's not a small accomplishment that Syrian forces are out of Lebanon," Rice responded. "Let's remember that, again, a lot has happened in the period of time since the Hariri assassination. And Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and there is a new government in Lebanon.

"And now, the next step is to make certain that the Syrians respect Lebanese sovereignty, and so we'll work on that step. But when you say, 'Are you going to do something,' well, I think Syrian forces out of Lebanon is a good thing," Rice said.

An Nahar splashed that quote under a page-one headline that hollered: "Rice, We shall guarantee Lebanon's sovereignty."

"You now believe that all intelligence and military forces are out?" Wright asked. "No, I don't. But I do believe that Syrian military forces are out of Lebanon. There's a verification team that will tell us what other elements that might be there. We still await the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. So there are a number of steps."

"Which will probably be out soon, isn't it?" Rice was asked. "Fairly soon, but I don't have a date in mind. We don't have a date that we've been given yet," she responded.
If we read the tea leaves in Rice's interview, she is taking a softer line that Rumsfeld. She wants to work with the European Community to put pressure on Syria to make sure Syria withdraws its intelligence from Lebanon. She said nothing about unilateral American sanctions, which the Europeans will frown on. It seems quite clear, at least to this observer, that whatever intelligence agents Syria may have kept behind in Lebanon, they are not and will not be able to change the policies of the new Lebanese government. Syria used its economic might to pressure Siniora and Hariri, not its intelligence agents. It had to close the border to get action from Lebanon. I think the left-behind-intelligence-agents argument is a Red Haring.

Syria rejects US blame for Iraq's unrestXinhua, China - 7 hours agoDAMASCUS, Aug. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- Syria on Saturday rejected the US charges that it was responsible for the unrest in the war-torn Iraq. ...

Meanwhile, Syria is trying to keep itself from being islolated economically. One move to foster better economic relations with its neighbors is the ratification of the trade agreement with Jordan.

The Syrian government has ratified a free trade agreement signed with Jordan.

The deal is meant to develop economic cooperation and increase bilateral trade between the two countries. More then 1,500 companies operate in Syria's free trade zone and - trade, import and export included - in the first six months of 2005 it reached 350 million euro, while in 2004 investments attracted one billion 700 million euro.

Syria Muslim Brotherhood for all-out change
Science Daily (press release) - USA... June 15, 2005) -- An exiled Syrian opposition leader is visiting Iraq to discuss cooperation with the Iraqi government in combating the Baath regime in Syria. ...

Syria, Lebanon discuss supplying Lebanon with electricity
Arabic News - Syria and Lebanon are to discuss supplying Lebanon with electricity according to a singed accord between the two states, Secretary General of the Syrian ...

Seniora Speaks Out as U.N. Coerces Beirut to Begin Hizbullah's Disarmament Dialogue
Premier Seniora says his recent talks with President Assad have rebased relations between Lebanon and Syria on a foundation of 'equality and mutual respect,' emphatically denying that they tackled the idea of a face-to-face meeting between the Syrian President and Saad Hariri, the majority leader of Lebanon's first Syria-free parliament....

Syria Seemingly Reactivates Trade War Against Lebanon
Annahar, Beirut, Updated 07 Aug 05,
Syria seems to have resumed its trade war against Lebanon, re-shutting the central border crossing for Lebanese cargo trucks anew amid reports that the Assad regime contends that Premier Seniora was procrastinating on commitments he had given during his visit to Damascus a week ago.

The Masnaa-Jdeidet Yabous crossing on the eastern border was re-closed by Syrian authorities at midday Saturday, hardly a week after it was reopened to normal traffic following Seniora's talks with President Assad and Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otari in Damascus last Sunday, An Nahar reported on Sunday.Long queues of stranded trucks formed up anew at the Masnaa border checkpoint in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley while the Abboudieh-Dabboussieh passageway in northern-most Lebanon remained completely shuttered for a fifth straight week Sunday.

Some 700 transit trade trucks are stranded in the north."Back to square one," commented the F-TV Beirut network. But its newspaper sister Al Mustaqbal said Seniora was convinced that the re-closure of the Bekaa crossing was a temporary result of 'administrative bureaucracy bereft from any political backdrop."Seniora has dispatched Lebanese military officers for talks with Syrian authorities on the border to "arrange for a quick termination of the renewed crisis," Al Mustaqbal said.

Syria to modernize jails
Arabic News - Syria is serious in her efforts to modernize jails and make them vocational and educational centers, Minister of Justice said Thursday. ...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Syria's Reforms: Too Much or Not Enough?

Susanne Koelbl of Spiegel online has written a fun story on the loss of Syrian intellectuals.

Syria's Reforms: Too Much or Not Enough?
August 4, 2005, 03:09 PM

President Bashar Assad's job of holding Syria together is an almost impossible balancing act. Although his reforms are too limited for the younger generation, who are calling for both political and economic freedom, as far as the old established families are concerned, he has already gone too far.

Damascus, the capital of Syria. Although the country is moving forward, for many young Syrians progress is not fast enough.
How long can a person who is beautiful, talented and 30-years old wait for the future to come? TV presenter Intisar Junis is not the waiting sort. Today, she is in a hurry and does three things at once. She is sitting in her tiny, windowless office on the third floor of the state television station in Damascus. In a few minutes, her live show will be going on air. Today's guests? The minister for health and the minister for higher education, two old men in grey suits. The pale blue and red backdrop of the studio décor -- which looks a bit like a beach towel from the 1950s -- far from fits them.

Junis adjusts her red, rather tight-fitting blouse and scribbles a down few questions on a notepad. Then, next to the questions, she begins jotting down a column of figures: her estimates of how much a Hyundai SUV could cost her.

Junis is a good patriot. She is loyal both to the state and to the president. If she weren't, she wouldn't be sitting here today, working at the state-run TV station. But, she also has dreams. Dreams that she desperately wants to come true. In particular, she'd like that SUV. And, she'd like more money. Right now, she earns $200 per month, not more than an average worker, despite the fact that she is almost as well known in Syria as Sandra Maischberger is in Germany or Oprah Winfrey in America.

She wants something else, too. She wants Syria's young president, Bashar Assad, who has never given a TV interview in Syria, to appear on her Thursday night political show "25." "I'm young," she says in that deep, unmistakable voice, which has already helped her come a pretty long way. "I have questions, lots of questions."

Recently Junis also started working as a correspondent for Dubai TV. The state-of-the-art TV studio is a two-hour flight from Damascus, but the pay is better and there are no "red lines" -- that is issues that are not to be reported or discussed, such as corruption scandals involving powerful politicians, nepotism and a host of other topics. How long will Junis hold out in Damascus?

Don't Leave Me this Way

Assad's government wants to prevent popular, inoffensive personalities, like Junis, from leaving the country to work elsewhere. More emigrants could be fatal for the already troubled nation, which is politically isolated and lagging behind economically. In the past decade -- largely during the reign of Assad's father -- hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled both the regime and the Baath Party socialist market rules, which strangle Syrian entrepreneurs and bleed the nation dry economically. They left a nation that not only uses its secret service to carefully monitor foreign powers, but also to spy on its own people and keep them in line. Today, Syria's intelligentsia is strewn across the world. Germany alone is home to 8,000 academics, 6,000 of them medical doctors.

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Some have returned for a trial run, to see how things are now that the younger Assad is in power, rather than his father. Marwan al-Kabalan, is among them. A professor for politics and media studies who receieved his degree in Manchester, he had his pick of numerous places to work as a Middle East expert. But a year ago, he chose to return to Damascus, where he could have what he so missed elsewhere: the silence that at night suddenly blankets the city, and the powerful shadow of Mount Kassioun -- the much loved backdrop to the city -- which he can see from the terrace of his apartment.

The smell of fresh kebabs and Muhallebi -- a sort of milk pudding with rosewater and pistachios -- drifts through the streets of the old town. The smell of home.

At first glance there is nothing conspicuous about 35-year-old Kabalan; a man in dark pleated trousers and a white shirt, carrying a briefcase, determinedly making his way from the university, through the chaos of the traffic, to the other side of the street. However, the professor differs from other Syrians, who speak about politics and reform only very cautiously. He is angry, and he says as much.

The Painful Path to Progress

For Kabalan, changes here have come about "painfully slowly." He is annoyed by the everyday petty corruption -- if he has to pay backhanders for a telephone connection or for the electricity or for the water supply. Even five years after Assad's assumption of office there is no credible legal system, not even the first signs of one, and still no transparency, with regards to who is doing business with whom. Who would want to invest in a country like that?

Assad may talk the talk, but can he walk the walk?
President Assad had promised that the state would largely keep itself out of the private lives of the people -- and it is true that opponents of the regime are no longer dragged off in the middle of the night and never seen again. But when Kabalab gives an interview to an international newspaper, one of the five secret service organisations questions him as to whether he had really said what he said, and if it wasn't at all 'unpatriotic': "I love my country, but the people here make you feel like you are a traitor."

So how long should it take to achieve progress? At least from an economic point of view, that is an easy question to answer: the country has until the oil runs out. Thanks to current high prices, the 500,000 barrels of Syrian crude oil pumped out every day account for 50 percent of the state budget. From 2008 the amount produced will drop dramatically. The country will then be reduced to importing oil, which is expensive. The Assad regime has until then to come up with a way of ensuring that people can survive.

"Just give me time," was Bashar Assad's plea when he inherited the presidency from his father five years ago. The young ruler, who trained in London as an eye doctor, is also someone who has returned to Syria. Great hopes have been pinned on this reserved and lanky man. But he is also the subject of big questions: Is he a modernizer? Is he different from the others? Does he want political renewal - or after all just the Chinese model of economic openness without political freedom?

Out with the Old ...

Assad's father steered the country's fate for almost 30 years. He was authoritarian, but also pragmatic. In 1991, during the Gulf War, he stood on the side of the Americans against Saddam Hussein, his arch enemy.

Hafis Assad was a man of power. His son is being forced to be one, rather against his will. The father was feared, the son is loved. The older man judged his subjects severely and ordered them around. The younger one listens to advice and weighs the pros and cons.

...And In with the New

Bashar Assad, 39, even has a different style compared to his father. From time to time he will suddenly turn up, with his elegant wife, at the national museum or the opera. His wife, Asma al-Achras, is ten years younger than him, is a banker and was born in England. The power couple act as if there are no differences in their social station. She never wears a headscarf and gives intimate interviews, in which she talks about her husband. They share an office together in their villa in the west of Damascus. The charming Asma al-Achras, who the Syrians call their Princess Diana, is no doubt an influential advisor.

The talk in recent years has constantly been that Assad isn't the real ruler of Syria - only a puppet of the secret services and military. But since the Baath Party Congress in June it has become clear that this tall, somewhat wooden, head of state really does control power in the country.

He has freed himself from the Baath party's old guard and already got rid of much of the military. Insiders speak of a purge of 450 officers. Assad has loaded the secret services with those he trusted, leaving the most important posts for his brother-in-law Assaf Schaukat.
But the honeymoon period is over for Bashar Assad. He'd have to make good on the things he promised when he assumed office: reform and change. And the quicker, the better.

Assad with his wife, who is known as the Princess Diana of Syria.
"It is a long way to democracy, but we are going in the right direction," says the president, then dampening expectations by adding: "You want us to jump. But the danger is that by jumping you just end up on your head."

So what are the limits to this new freedom? Those who push the boundaries, quickly feel the strong hand of the regime. When the charismatic entrepreneur and parliamentary representative, Riad Seif, 58, openly criticized the corruption of the ruling clans, a state security court sentenced him to five-years imprisonment. Despite sickness, and contrary to the country's usual rules, he is still serving the sentence. A few weeks ago, Assad shut down one of the last independent discussion groups, the Atassi Forum. Before doing so, he had the leaders temporarily arrested.

The TV presenter Intisar Junis still has not met the president personally, even though she comes from the coastal area near Latakia, nearby his family's village. All of the people who live there are part of the Alawite sect, a minority which has become more powerful -- above all in military circles -- along with the rising fortunes of the Assad family. In Damascus, rumor has it that the Alawites pull the strings. And, of course, Junis herself also has influential relatives in the security services.

Not far from the television station, the TV presenter is sitting with girlfriends in her favorite café, "L'Odeon." She is talking to someone from Dubai TV on the telephone, while she sips her tea and takes a drag on a cigarette. She says that she doesn't want to rely on family and religious contacts to get ahead in her career, as if to say that nepotism is a relic from the past. "I'd rather depend on myself," she says, before quickly changing the subject. Power structures of religious groups -- such as Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, and Druze -- is one of the subjects of conversation which is taboo, one of the "red lines".

Care to Dance?

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, tonight's party is kicking off late. Syria's nouveau riche gather at the Platinum night club while large limousines wait outside. Cooled Lebanese white wine is being served and seven types of whiskey are on offer at the bar.

The presidential family's official portrait painter is there, along with the female director of Syrian television, a couple of corporate bosses and a top-level secret service agent. A close friend of the president, a general, is also expected to turn up later.

The women dance in rustling silk dresses to the sound of oriental pop songs. The men have their sleeves rolled up and try to keep up. The night is going just as it should be.

During the last decade, one group has become extremely rich in Damascus -- the sons and daughters of Syria's sultan. They've travelled the world, speak an array of languages and because they belong to the ruling class, they don't have any reason to leave the country. Nowadays they control the country's mobile telephone monopoly, its restaurant chains and its media organizations. Their influential fathers helped set them up.

It's like dancing on a volcano. Since Syria popped up on the US radar, charged with aiding resistance fighters in Iraq, the security of the Syrian regime has begun to falter. And as a result of the murder of former Libyan Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri, alliances, which were once the lifeblood of Damascus' ruling elite, have fractured.

The fellow Arabic states Saudi Arabia and Egypt have labelled Syria at least partly responsible for the murder, which occurred under the watchful eyes of Syrian security services. Even France, the country's former colonial masters, have pulled back. Syria is isolated, a situation which the elder Assad knew he had to avoid.

But who wants to talk about the whole thing on a night out. A top business man chats about his latest charity project while eating dessert. The country has been good to him. Now he wants to give something back, namely the 150 kilometer beach between Lebanon and Turkey. It is dirty and run down and he wants to have it cleaned up, he says. Then he is dragged onto the dance floor.

Everyone here is hoping the party somehow never ends. Or that, if it does ever draw to close, the hangover isn't too painful.

An internet cafe in Damascus. Today there is more to Syria than ancient ruins.
On some of the streets of Damascus it actually sometimes looks like the future has already arrived: Internet cafes are open late into the night while private banks and chic branches of Benneton and Armani line the boulevards. Even ATMs arrived in the capital not long ago, creating a small sensation.

The government is hoping people's hunger for a consumerist society outweighs their desire for democracy and freedom. In fact, this desire is something which the regime, since it has started focusing on the free market, would like to see disappear altogether.

Ten thousand visitors crowd every day into the "Motor Show," an exhibition of cars for sale near the airport. Some of the women wear the veil, some are completely covered from head to toe, while others are decked out in cropped tops. They gaze at the latest models of exotic brands, such as the Malaysian Perodua or the Chinese Chery - owning your own car is the dream of every Syrian. The state has even sunk import duties for cars from over 200 percent to one third.

Major investors in the Gulf States are showing interest in building streets, pipelines, luxury apartments and exclusive tourist resorts along the coast, naturally under the precondition that the government is serious about the new capitalism friendly laws. Even a new Syrian stock market is planned to open soon.

Your Country Needs You!

The man behind the ambitious economic plan has also returned to Syria. Abdullah al-Dardari, 42, studied in Frankfurt and Britain and worked for the United Nations. He is a slick professional, non-ideological and focused. Al-Dardari is Assad's go-to man for economic miracles, a one-man show because he still lacks competent staff. For a long time now those surrounding the president have been telling ex-patriate Syrians around the world: "Your country needs you!"

Those benefiting from the present system -- the old families that have so far supported the young president's regime -- have been unsettled by the new ideas. These influential clans fear the loss of their monopolies, and see nothing to take their place. The ignominious withdrawal from Lebanon is considered to be their greatest loss, one they hold Assad personally responsible for.

Syrian troops withdraw from Lebanon. Much to the disappointment of those parts of Syrian society which had benefited from the occupation.
The small but economically fruitful neighbor was virtually a lung for Syria, through which the poor and politically narrow country was able to breathe: sinful amusement park and free-trade zone rolled into one.

Syrian businesses plundered the "Casino of Lebanon" and used it for money-laundering; tolls collected at Beirut ports found their way into the pockets of Syrian secret service agents; Syrian straw-men embezzled the money of international investors. A system of mutual corruption flourished.

But above all by losing Lebanon, Syria lost its last pawn in the war of negotiations over the Golan Heights. Syria sees peace with Israel as a precondition for a true new beginning, a bid for international investment and prosperity. Syria is no longer a little superpower in the Middle East, and the legacy of the old Assad is dying out. According to the clans, young Assad's regime may soon be over as well. This is also how the Bush administration in Washington sees the situation -- and not without a certain degree of satisfaction.

But what comes after Assad? The world's leaders warn of chaos and Islamic extremism -- and they're probably not far wrong. In Syria, as in Iraq, there are too few political parties and civil institutions in place for an orderly transfer of power. Instead the coercive regime of one minority forces the country into unity.

Meanwhile, Professor Kabalan walks up and down his three-room apartment and steps out onto the terrace. The evening sun falls on the slopes of Mount Kassioun, and soon it will grow quiet in the city, which is how he loves it. He's just received a letter from Columbia University in New York. He wants to leave again, for a year. By then things will be better in Syria, he believes -- or the situation will at least be in some way different.

Round the corner, in Masa Villas, the TV presenter Intisar Junis is packing her suitcase. She's going to Dubai, though only for a week. The station there pays her $4,000, 20 times as much as Syrian state television. Her plane leaves in the morning.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Who Are The Muslim Brotherhood Trying to Fool?" by Wafa Sultan

Syrian Expatriate Asks: Who Are The Muslim Brotherhood Trying to Fool?

MEMRI has put out a translation of Dr. Wafa's recent article in annaqad - the Critic - criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood. She also has harsh words for those liberal Syrians who have sought to ally with them. Annaqad is an important website that was closed down for a period after the temporary arrest of Nabil Fayyad, one of its main contributors. (Google this site to find out more about Fayyad.) Fayyad left Syria for the US after his short arrest and interrogation, where he joined Farid Ghadry's Syria Reform Party. A little over a month ago, he returned to Syria, claiming he would open an office of the SRP and daring the government to close him down. I have not heard from or of Nabil Fayyad since, but the important website - annaqad - is back and revamped. It is viewable from Damascus and Nabil is writing on it, so I assume he is OK. For those who read Arabic, this article related to the one translated below by MEMRI is very interesting and important given the recent events in Qadmous and the discussion it provoked on these pages about Alawis, and whether they have been persecuted in Syria and are responsible for everything bad in the country. Thanks to the anonymous commentator who sent it to me. It is here entitled,
العلويون بين مطرقة التكفير وسندان السلطة!! رد على مقالة نبيل فياض :البعثيون أم الأصوليون:من دمر سوريا؟

Here is the MEMRI article:

Dr. Wafa Sultan is a psychologist and a Syrian expatriate who resides in the U.S. On June 5, 2005, she published an article on the reformist website - the Critic - entitled "The Muslim Brotherhood: Who Are They Trying to Fool?" in which she cautioned liberal opponents of the Syrian regime against believing that the Muslim Brotherhood has really adopted pluralism and democracy. On July 26, 2005, Dr. Sultan appeared on Al-Jazeera to debate an Algerian Islamist professor of religous politics. (To view this clip, please visit ) The following are excerpts from Dr. Sultan's article on The Muslim Brotherhood:

"Has Something Changed in the Basic Principles of the Muslim Brotherhood? Or is it Nothing but a Big Lie?"

"Websites have recently overflowed with articles and reports discussing the Muslim Brotherhood organization. One can not help noticing the degree to which most of these articles and reports underestimate the intelligence of the readers when they attempt to prettify this organization's ugly image. I look at the expression used by the Muslim Brotherhood 'demanding to respect the beliefs and the opinions of others and to establish a pluralistic, democratic society that honors all people regardless of religion or sect.'

"I stop at this sentence and ask myself: Has something changed in the basic principles of the [Muslim] Brotherhood to make us believe that they have changed their attitude? Or is what they are adopting now nothing but a big lie required by current political exigencies, both international and domestic - as the folk saying goes 'act like a weakling until you are strong.'

"The crimes which they committed on the basis of their principles are still fresh in our memory, and the innocent blood which they spilled is still in our hearts. In the most recent statement which they issued following their conference, they attempted to wash their hands clean of the terrorist acts in Syria at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s and to pin it on a splinter group which, as they claim, adopted violence as a means to achieve its goals."

"Are They Now Praying to a Deity Other than the One Whose Name They Called when Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' While Shooting Down the Country's Best and Brightest?"

"However, slips of the tongue - if theirs was really a slip of the tongue - always reveal what is in the heart, and especially the heart of a hypocrite. In that statement, they said: 'The Muslim Brotherhood organization has nothing to do with this splinter group that used violence against the pillars of the regime.' Against the pillars of the regime?! Was Muhammad Al-Fadil, who was assassinated by these criminals, one of the pillars of the regime, or was he one of the pillars of the Faculty of Law at Damascus University?! Was Dr. Yusef Al-Yusef, whose body they riddled with bullet in front of the medical school at the University of Aleppo while shouting 'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar' - was he one of the pillars of the regime, or an ophthalmologist who didn't have anything whatsoever to do with the regime?...Were the students in the artillery school, who were attacked by their commander, First Lt. Ibrahim Al-Yusef, and within seconds turned 200 of them into [a collection] of scattered
limbs...were all these pillars of the regime? And if they were, as the Muslim Brotherhood claimed in their statement, then why do they disown that 'splinter group,' rather than taking it in? Aren't they themselves against the regime?

"What has changed in the Brotherhood's basic principles to make us believe that they have changed their positions? Have they adopted a new book other than their old books, in which they found justifications for their acts? Are they now praying to a deity other than the one whose name they called when shouting 'Allahu Akbar' while shooting down the country's best and brightest from among the scholars of science and law, for the sole reason that they belonged to groups that did not embrace their basic beliefs and principles?

"Do they now believe in verses other than those that incite them to fight those who do not believe in their book and their Prophet, so that they [now] demand to respect the beliefs and freedoms of the other? Have they changed their view about 'those who have incurred Allah's wrath' and 'those who have gone astray,'(1) such that they are capable of building a pluralistic democratic society with respect for everyone?...Are they going to desist from accusing others of being apostates, while threatening to kill them, making them divorce their wives,(2) or deporting them? Has the woman become, in their understanding, a human being deserving of having her rights and wishes respected, and one that cannot be beaten up merely because a deranged, crazy husband suspects that she is not performing her conjugal duties according to his taste?

Expatriate Members of The Muslim Brotherhood are "Planning to Return from Their Safe Havens to the Scene of Their Crimes"

"We cannot deny the Muslim Brothers their Syrian nationality, nor do we want to, just as they cannot deny other Syrians their nationality, even though they want to. However, the coming stage requires of them, just as it requires of us, that they should enter the new Syria on the basis of sincere belief in this nationality, and not on the basis of beliefs and ideas which are morally illegitimate and which have long [been discredited]. Our religious or sectarian affiliation is no criterion for good citizenship. Love of Syria and respect for all Syrians, regardless of religious affiliation, is the only criterion. Can the Muslim Brotherhood and others who have been sullied by their shameful terrorist past – are they willing to abide by this criterion?...

"Do they have the courage to openly declare their new beliefs and apologize for their past so that we won't need to dig up their past? They are calling [now] for a pluralistic, democratic society ruled by the principles of justice and equality. On what basis are they going to build this society?...Have they changed their fundamental beliefs? Why don't they give an answer to this question?...They used to commit crimes [and then] escape to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Jordan [in order to find] a safe haven, and now they are planning to return from these safe havens to the scene of their crimes to participate in building a democratic pluralistic society based on justice and equality?!...

"The Syrian people are exhausted from the oppression and despotism of the [Ba'ath] regime which has borne down on them for more than 40 years. We suffered a great calamity when the Assad family and their band seized power in Syria, but we will suffer an even greater calamity if, when we get rid of this band, we find ourselves face to face with the Muslim Brotherhood – 'God forbid.' Are the [Syrian] opposition and secular and democratic parties, both in Syria and overseas – are they aware of this truth? Will they be able to thwart the Muslim Brotherhood's plan to corrupt the new Syria? Assad's monopoly on power was a violation of the rights of the people and has led us to a miserable life; however, we do not want to replace it with something even worse."

(1) The wording is taken from Koran 1:7, where according to the standard commentators these descriptions refer respectively to Jews and Christians.
(2) In many Muslim countries, the law requires a man who is found in court to be an apostate to divorce his wife.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Party Politics


Damascus, 2 August (AKI) - A Syrian opposition group has announced it plans to organise a conference of groups opposing the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Paris in September. The Assembly for Syria, has said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Adnkronos International (AKI), that the aim of the meeting is to "seek national democratic change in a peaceful and gradual manner to transform Syria into a state where the rule of law, human rights and independent judiciary are all recognised." Asked how the opposition groups will try to achieve their objective, the Assembly for Syria's spokesman, Fahd al-Aragha al-Misri, told AKI that the strategy will be discussed at the meeting, but that there was a general agreement that they would be peaceful.

"Every peaceful measure is legitimate if it pushes the [ruling] Baath Party and the regime towards change. Such measures include civil disobedience and labour strikes," he said.

The Assembly for Syria, which was formed in Paris earlier this year, describes itself as a "civil society institution".

Other groups participating at the planned conference in September include the Berlin-based Syrian Party for Democracy and renewal and the Kurdish Democratic Party. The Baath Party will also be invited to participate, al-Misri said.

Besides the political groups, United Nations, European Union and Arab league observers will also be invited to attend the conference.
Muslim Brother Leader Basiouni meets opponents of the Syrian government in Lebanon

Lebanon's new PM Siniora during his visit to Damascus last weekend had to promise to investigate the Muslim Brotherhood leadership meeting in Tripoli, asserting it must have been convened before he formed the new government. "We are committed that Lebanon will never be a theater of conspiracies against Syria," Siniora was quoted as assuring his Syrian counterpart. One of Syria's chief concerns about losing influence in Lebanon is that it will become a haven for opponents of the regime, as it was during the 1950s. One of the conditions Syria has demanded for reopening the border to trade is that Lebanon defend Syria's strategic interests.

This included getting the Lebanese government to state that it would not seek to disarm Hizbullah despite America pressure for it to do so. Hizbullah's leader is now in Iran, where he has been assured that Iran Assures Nasrallah that efforts to Disarm Hizbullah are a 'Mirage'.

President Chirac of France recently defended Hizbullah when Israeli PM Sharon asked him to help disarm the Shiite militia. Dar al-Hayat covered it like this:
When Sharon asked the French President to use his influence in Lebanon and Iran to pressure Hezbollah and prevent it from causing trouble along the Israeli-Lebanese borders during the implementation of the disengagement plan, Chriac was reported to have responded that Hezbollah is a stabilizing factor in Lebanon and that the problem is actually in Syria.

Although it is understood that the Franco-Syrian relations are not in their best phase especially after Syria gave a gas and oil contract to an American-Canadian-British coalition of companies, even after Chirac personally interfered to push for the French companies to be chosen, it is still incomprehensible for relations between Paris and Damascus to deteriorate to that extent considering the centrality of the Syrian role in the stability of the Middle East, where the situation was destabilized mostly due to American and Israeli actions.

Farid Ghadry's Syrian Reform Party is complaining about the Free Democratic Coalition that announced its formation last week in Damascus. The new party got considerable attention because it is headed by a woman. Ghadry claims it is nothing but a front organization for the Syrian government, but he doesn't give any proof of this except to argue that only revolutionary parties, such as the Syrian Reform Party which seeks total regime change, are legitimate in representing the aspirations of Syrians. Here is his claim.
Syrian Authorities Creating New Syrian Oppositions

The aim is to discredit the real opposition by diluting their presence as the Iranians have successfully done and helping build oppositions to lobby the US Congress on behalf of the Assad regime.

Washington DC, August 1, 2005/RPS News/ -- Like the KGB created the "Trust" during the height of the Cold War to control any opposition to the Central Communist party, Syria's Ba'ath Party is busy creating many new "Trusts" in the form of opposition groups that really do the work of the government by either discrediting the real opposition or by seeking rapprochement with the Assad regime under the banner of reforming the present regime rather than changing it.

Real Syrian opposition always seeks Regime Change and nothing less. Seeking regime change is what differentiates the real opposition from the "Trusts" created by the Assad regime.

The latest opposition group has been formed by a Syrian-American woman with a much more dangerous agenda than simply being an opposition close to the regime. According to information RPS received, this new opposition will be funded by the Ba'ath Party to lobby the U.S. Congress, a feat that has escaped the Ba'athists in Damascus. Being an American citizen, this new woman-led opposition will be able to dispense funds to members of Congress to do the Syrian government lobbying behind the scenes.

This is not the first time that the Syrian government attempts to lobby the US Congress to influence the White House and the US State Department. More recently, an-Nahar Newspaper published an article by Hisham Milhem claiming that Joe Albaugh met with the Syrian Ambassador in the home of a Lebanese in Washington working with the pro-Syrian intelligence of Lebanon who helped facilitate the process. This ended with failure when after the An-Nahar article, magazines like Time and Newsweek attempted to investigate the matter thoroughly.

US Establishes First Base on Syrian-Iraq Border

John Hendren of the LA Times reports that "The U.S. military hopes its first long-term presence near Iraq's border with Syria will help stem the flow of suicide bombers." The Base is at Rawah north of the Euphrates River along the strategic route that connects the Syrian border to roads leading north toward Mosul and southeast to Baghdad. It is high time the US and Iraq forces developed a permanent presence near the border. The base may also offer the US the capability of pressuring Syria by crossing the border in "hot pursuit" operations. Here is the article:

Base Set Up to Curb Rebels
July 31

BAGHDAD — American troops have established the first long-term military base along a major smuggling route near the Syrian border in a new effort to block potential suicide bombers from reaching targets in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities.

A force of 1,800 U.S. troops, responding to continuing concerns that foreign fighters are crossing the Syrian border into Iraq, recently began an operation that includes setting up the base, three miles from the crossroads town of Rawah.

By establishing for the first time a base north of the Euphrates River along the strategic route that connects the Syrian border to roads leading north toward Mosul and southeast to Baghdad, military strategists hope to prevent foreign fighters, who they say are aligned with Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, from reaching their targets.

"Religious extremists entering Iraq are a threat to the government. They're being used to do to Iraqis what they are unwilling to do to themselves — commit mass murder of innocents. [Zarqawi] is trying to use them to foment civil war," Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the top ground commander for the coalition in Iraq, said in an interview.

"So in addition to assisting the Iraqis in reestablishing control of the borders," Vines said, the military needs to deny access to "areas that are being used to train, indoctrinate and coordinate the movement of these religious extremists into areas where they're being used as suicide murderers in the eastern provinces, including Baghdad and Mosul."

The American forces began arriving July 16 in the region, where they occasionally have carried out incursions in the last two years to fight insurgents. The region has long been viewed as a key staging area for insurgent activities, but U.S. intelligence suggests that the problem has increased in recent months as foreign fighters have used it to smuggle an increasingly lethal variety of explosives, including car bombs.

The new offensive comes at a time when Vines and Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, have been talking openly about the possibility of substantial reductions in U.S. troop levels in Iraq beginning next spring.

The new operation underscores the difficulty of trying to seal off the lengthy border where foreign fighters are known to frequently cross. Some U.S. military officials acknowledge that even with the base, they probably will never be able to fully close off the border.

At the same time, the operation is deemed vital to ongoing efforts to reduce insurgent violence before a planned national referendum in October. American officials hope that as a permanent Iraqi government is established in coming months, order can be better restored, thus enabling U.S. forces to begin pulling out.

U.S. military officials in Iraq say the operation near Rawah is their top priority. In the last two weeks, the military has been building structures at the new base and American troops have begun arriving at the facility. The base as been set up far enough from the town so that insurgents seeking to launch mortar and rocket attacks would have to do so from the open desert, where they are more likely to be seen.

A mission statement viewed by a Los Angeles Times reporter states the military's goal is to disrupt Zarqawi's organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and establish Iraqi government control of the border, driving a wedge between the militants and the Iraqi population and eliminating a "safe haven" for insurgents.

The battle plan calls for U.S. troops to launch a series of raids, secure the area and bring in Iraqi security forces. Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi referred briefly to the operation after meeting Thursday with President Jalal Talabani.

"Our forces will start from the Syrian border … till we reach Ramadi, then to Fallouja," he said. "We have taken precise measures on the ground and acquired the president's approval to start the operation."

As in Fallouja, in western Iraq, where U.S. forces fought in November to oust insurgents, U.S. military officials have asked the Iraqi government to issue emergency laws that could include a curfew and a travel ban.

The operation, the largest in western Iraq since May when 100 alleged foreign fighters were killed in Operation Matador, is key to fulfilling an order from Casey: that Iraq's borders be secured by November.

Foreign fighters are believed to have been crossing into the country from Syria since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. After a recent crackdown along the rocky northern border near Mosul, they have been forced to enter farther south, U.S. officials said. Rawah is of strategic importance for insurgents seeking to reach Baghdad from that portion of Syria because it is just north of a bridge on the Euphrates River that links the area to the road to Baghdad.

Smugglers who for years trafficked in cigarettes, gasoline and sheep are now being paid to bring in foreign fighters, explosives and weapons, senior military officials said. Commanders are especially eager to seize members of Zarqawi's group who are believed to have escaped there from Fallouja in November.

The 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade Combat Team is leading the operation and is the first to take up a permanent presence in the area. Officials say it has been difficult, if not impossible, for U.S.-led forces to control the region without such a commitment.

"It's a huge, desolate place and if somebody wanted to hide out it would be a good place to hide out," Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, commander of coalition forces in western Iraq, said in an interview in Fallouja.

As the operation unfolds, Marines would continue to hold the region south of the Euphrates, while the Stryker Brigade, which has been based in Mosul, pushes south, putting insurgents in a "vice," a senior U.S. military strategist said.

The unfamiliar whoosh of helicopter rotors and the sight of the Army brigade's Stryker vehicles engaged in battles along largely rural roadways have prompted hundreds and possibly thousands of the estimated 20,000 people in Rawah to flee in fear of an attack similar to the one in Fallouja, officials said.

Local media have reported that as many as 80% of the residents have left. American military leaders say that the actual number appears to be far lower.

U.S. military surveillance photos said to be of the area near the town of Qaim separating Syria from Iraq show breaks in a massive berm. U.S. military strategists say the photos also show "personnel loading trucks" and a lookout point atop one building with a view across the border.

Troops from the Stryker Brigade recently chased a suspected car bomber across the river at Rawah and forced him out of the car, a senior military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second car arrived and apparently detonated the first vehicle, killing the bomber before driving off.

A U.S. military official said the incident revealed the extent to which "handlers" monitored would-be suicide bombers to prevent them from backing out. In the first four days of the military operation, U.S. troops encountered two car bombers and several mortar and rocket attacks, officials said.

Military spokesmen did not release any information on whether there had been any injuries or deaths related to the operation.

The effort to install more Iraqi border posts and seal the frontier with Syria would have its limitations, commanders acknowledged.

Even then, "there'll probably still be smuggling across the border, as there are on a lot of borders," said Johnson, the Marine commander.

But American military strategists say insurgents will have to work harder and travel farther as a result of the operation.

"They want an area where they can plan, train, indoctrinate terrorists before they are employed elsewhere in country. In western Al Anbar they were less likely to be disrupted before they are ready to be employed, due to the relatively small presence of coalition and Iraqi security forces," said Vines, the coalition's ground commander. "Insurgents must not be allowed sanctuaries where they feel safe and operate with impunity. Indicators are that terrorists felt that parts of western Al Anbar had become a sanctuary."