Wednesday, November 30, 2005

News Round Up: Nov. 30, 2005 - Hizb and Hussam

Nick Blanford has added some interesting observations on the Hizbullah-Syria connection, which I added to my original post: Hizbullah and Syria.

Many readers have asked whether I believe Hussam's testimony. The question is not whether I believe him; rather, it is that all his testimony is now highly suspect, which has done great damage to the Mehlis investigation and his preliminary findings. If the Lebanese see his Syrian evidence as reminiscent of a "Chinese style show trial," the Syrians find his Lebanon testimony reminiscent of George Bush's WMD hype. Yes, I thought Hussam giving his testimony was visually appealing, which has a big impact on the way he was interpreted here in Syria. I also found Colin Powell's testimony about Saddam Hussein's WMD in front of the UN visually appealing. I like Powell; he is a good messenger, but the message turned out to be false. What we are now left with in the Mehlis Report is that Syria had motive for wanting Hariri out of the way. We do not have more than that. We also had motive that Saddam wanted WMD, but he turned out not to have any. Let Mehlis continue his investigation.

Vienna Interrogation Delayed, Jumblat Warns Against Attempt to Rescue 4 Detained Generals
The interrogation of the five Syrian officers linked to Rafik Hariri's assassination has been delayed till next week, An Nahar reported on Wednesday....

"Returning the flavor to the Truth," by Joseph Samaha in As-Safir
Click here for source in Arabic: English from

On November 29, Joseph Samaha commented in the independent Lebanese newspaper As Safir that: "What Houssam Houssam said in the interview broadcasted by Syrian cable TV and then repeated in the news conference yesterday is literally the same as what he told the international committee investigating the assassination of prime minister Rafik Harriri except for one difference: Now he is claiming that what he told the investigative committee was forcefully taken from him under threat of force plus bribery and that he was taught what to say to the committee."

Samaha continued: "Houssam's claims are very serious. For the report delivered by Deitliv Mehlis to the Security Council about the investigation into the crime was based, at least in part, on two testimonies. The first was made by Mohammad Zouheir Al Seddike, witness now turned suspect, a man who is a known crook and who is also accused of being enticed with bribes to testify. The second was made by none other than Houssam Houssam himself who moved from the position of ally to the prosecution to the position of ally to the defense. It has to be admitted that without these two testimonies the report loses a lot of its credibility especially regarding possible suspects."

Samaha continued: "What Houssam did require that at least a modicum of regard be restored to the 'truth,' or as much of it as was uncovered by Deitliv Mehlis. But this regard cannot be restored with silence, or pretended ignorance or underestimation. Nor will it be restored with a few lines denying all that has been said or by pretending that the investigation is a train that cannot be derailed or slowed by anything until it reaches its final destination."

He continued: "The only way to restore some augustness to the truth is through utilizing complete transparency in the investigation coupled to a detailed and clear reply. We all followed, as much as it was possible, the effort put in by the international and Lebanese investigators, the techniques they used, and the questions they posed to try to solve this crime (who stands to benefit from the crime? Who are the agitators? What do the phone records tell us? What part was played by bribery and corruption? ) and it is now obligatory to expend a similar effort to validate or dismiss these statements by Houssam." - As Safir, Lebanon

Investigation committee quashes Syrian witness' claims about his testimony
Click here for source in Arabic

A front-page article published on November 29 in the privately-owned Lebanese newspaper An Nahar reported that individuals accused by a controversial Syrian witness of having bribed him to give false testimony had refuted his claims.

"While Damsacus presented the statements of its citizen Hussam Taher Hussam yesterday… as proof of the collapse of the international investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, official Lebanese security sources revealed that Hussam had been in the custody of Lebanese Internal Security Forces, arrested on charges of fraud, a while before the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri and not after the assassination, as Hussam had claimed," the article said.

An Nahar added that Hussam was summoned yesterday by the Lebanese investigative magistrate, Elias Eid, to testify as a witness, but Hussam did not show up. "The statement issued by the international investigation committee, in response to the press conference which Hussam Taher Hussam had held in Damascus yesterday, revealed that he had showed up voluntarily before the committee, as attested by his written and certified statement, which refutes his subjugation to any threat, pressure or bribe. And the statement did not confirm that Hussam is the same person who was described as 'the masked witness'."

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Marwan Hamade, also refuted what Hussam had said in his press conference, describing Hussam's claims as "a comedy, and another ominous branch of the Syrian intelligence apparatus which, after having aggressed us with car bombs and threats, now turns to lies and a smear campaign through a person we have never seen before." Hussam claimed to have seen Hamade several times at the international investigation committee's headquarters. He accused Hamade of being one of those who instructed him to give a false testimony under pressure.

Similarly, An Nahar's Jibran Tueini also refuted the witness's statements, while the Syrian investigation committed questioned the credibility of the international investigation committee following the Hussam's statements, according to the An Nahar article. - An Nahar, Lebanon

Noureddine:"Lebanese less supportive of the resistance than ever before"
Click here for source in Arabic:

On November 29, Sateh Noureddine commented in the privately owned Lebanese newspaper As Safir that: "It cannot be claimed that Lebanon rose in unanimous defense and support for its resistance while it was facing the Israelis in tough battles last week. While the public scene of official and unofficial support was touching, the violations of this scene were wider and more serious than ever before."

He continued: "Disregarding the black pages written in Lebanese history by those who collaborated with the enemies and nearly shared power with them in the early 1980s, there was never any true Lebanese unanimity about the threat posed by Israel and the need to counter and resist it. Political speech was directed by the public sentiment of the majority and this plus the regional setting served to aid the resistance in liberating a major part of the Israeli occupied Lebanese territories.

"But this last episode left the impression that the resistance was on its own this time. The official statements released in support of the resistance were not totally convincing. This was partly due to a legitimate fear that the battles might rage far beyond the borders, but what is most disturbing is that this lack of support uncovered a deep hatred towards Hezbollah that goes beyond the fight against Israel and is due to the deep chasms in the fabric of the Lebanese society that have not mended since the withdrawal of the Syrians. The failure of the resistance's latest operation was used as an excuse to start stabbing the resistance in the back and to start looking for venues at which to discuss the "necessary" disarmament of the resistance in compliance with Security Council resolution 1559. Some even went so far as to predict the end of the resistance, which explains the severity of the speech made by the General Secretary of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah.

"What is certain is that the resistance is not as secure as it used to be, and Hezbollah is responsible for this development, because of its overblown victory speech back in 2000, because it surrendered to the allure of the 'military might that owns 14,000 missiles', and because they chose to leave the Lebanese accord at a very critical juncture in Lebanon's history to side with the traditional Syrian ally.

"But this doesn't mean that the resistance has lost or will lose its reason for being, especially for the people of southern Lebanon, who have always needed this invisible force to protect them against the Israeli oppressors, an invisible force that cannot be substituted even with the Lebanese army." - As Safir, Lebanon

Hezbollah official reaffirms alliance with Iran, Syria

Lebanese Hezbollah's Al Manar TV reported on November 27 that: "Hashim Safiy-al-Din, chairman of Hezbollah Executive Council, has reaffirmed the resistance's alliance with both Syria and Iran. He considered this alliance as a natural outcome and that it has achieved tremendous results in the region. Al-Sayyid Safiy-al-Din added that there is no force that can steer Lebanon to the US-Israeli axis as some dream.

"While commemorating the one-week anniversary of the martyrdom of Yusuf Barakat [Hezbollah fighter who was killed in Hezbollah's clashes with the Israeli forces on November 21] in his hometown Zibqin in southern Lebanon, Safiy-al-Din said that the problem in Lebanon is that some parties have not yet changed their previous views. He wondered that if Lebanon, which is bounded by the sea and the Zionist entity, does not ally with Syria, what other countries [are] left to ally with.

"[Safiy-al-Din - recording] The decision of the resistance is linked in the first place to confronting the aggression. The beginning of resistance in the first place is linked to the presence of the aggression. As long as the aggression, occupation, threat and injustice are present, the resistance will continue its mission in the upcoming days, months and years. At this critical and intricate political period our region and country are going through, nobody should think that Lebanon changed its political position irrevocably or even think that they should think of other calculations. This has never taken place and it will never take place." - Al Manar, Lebanon

Razan Zeitouneh, Human Rights Lawyer Attacked by Judge

Razan Zeitounah, the human rights lawyer whom Joe Pace interviewed for Syria Comment and who runs the Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL)was attacked verbally by a High State Security judge this week and thrown out of court while she was trying to defend Nizar Rustnawi. This comes from Shril's news-Update 18/30-November- 2005

About the trial of Nizar Rustnawi:According to The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria, on November 20th, 2005, the designated day for the first session of the legal proceedings for Nizar Rustnawi (a member of The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria) in front of the High State Security Court in Damascus, some of the attorneys from the detainee’s (Rustnawi) defense team attended and attorney Razan Zeitounah was among them. The lawyers were shocked when the head of the court attacked Attorney Zeitouneh by directing repugnant expressions towards her which insulted her humanitarian dignity to say nothing of her being a lawyer, and then expelled her from the courtroom, which prompted the remaining lawyers to boycott the court.

The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria criticized the behavior of the court, considering what happened “a violation of Lawyers rights and the Judge’s neutralism”, and called upon the lawyers’ association and all official groups bearing a relationship to condemn this behavior and every like behavior in preservation of a lawyer’s dignity and respect, as well as for the protection of the sacred rights of defense and a lawyer’s honor from attack. The organization requests from the aforementioned responsible authority an apology for attorney Razan Zeitouneh.”

“Like the organization demands the immediate release of Nizar Rustnawi and all of the political prisoners in Syria, as well as the permanent closure of all political files dossiers.”

Dardari on the Economy: Is it possible?

Here are Dardari's economic projections. The numbers can be seen in different ways. Some of the investment in real-estate projects is fungible, such as the Emaar project recently announced. There is promise of big investment, but for the time being all these large firms are actually putting down is the price of the land. It then takes years to get all the permissions to build and the extent of the actually building will depend on how well initial investments do. Big talk is cheap - we want to see the buildings on the ground. There is no doubt that Syria could grow at these rates and has great potential, but Dardari's plans for liberalizing the legal infrastructure and ensuring a safe investment environment (this requires an independent judiciary) must be accomplished first. To do this Syria must have two things - political stability and the will to make real reform.

Syria Maintains Hariri Probe Hasn't Affected Foreign Investment
The U.N. probe into ex-Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination has not hurt foreign investment in Syria, which is surging due to strong support from Gulf nations, a top Syrian official said in Malaysia Monday.
Foreign investment into Syria has risen to $1.8 billion through October, up 2 1/2 times from the $720 million for all of last year, said Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari, who is in charge of economic affairs.

Total private investment from all sources rose to US$6 billion ($5.1 billion) through the first 10 months, up from US$4 billion last year, he said.

"We have noticed an outpouring of Arab investment, especially from the Gulf, into Syria," al-Dardari told reporters after speaking at a business forum here. " Arab investors would like to see Syria strong and flourishing in the face of external pressure."

The government recently announced projects totaling US$ 5 billion (#4.23 billion) involving Gulf companies, and expects to unveil another US$ 1 billion (#847 million) worth of new Arab investment before the year-end, he added.

"Until now, we haven't seen any negative impact of the U.N. investigations and the political environment surrounding Syria on foreign investment in the country," al-Dardari said.

Al-Dardari said Syria has embarked on a new phase of economic reforms and liberalization, with plans to launch eight new industrial parks, new airports, infrastructure and technology projects.

"2005 is the turning point for private investment... after decades of centrally clamped economy with public-sector dominated activities," he said.

The government projects the economy will grow an average of 5 percent annually and accelerate to a 7 to 8 percent growth rate from 2010 to 2015, he said.(AP)

Naharnet: Beirut, Updated 28 Nov 05, 11:52

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hussam Taher Hussam, the 'Masked Witness'

How badly does the unveiling of the 'Masked Witness,' Hussam Taher Hussam, hurt the Mehlis Report? The Lebanese are claiming his Syria testimony is all crap in an effort to keep . Syrians have been loving it. I watched the series of interviews and the press conference with Hussam Taher Hussam, which have been continuously aired on Syrian TV yesterday. They were riveting TV. Hussam was good. He is smart and articulate in a "simple" way, peppering his responses with folksy aphorisms, which lent authority and seeming wisdom to normal Syrian talk. He didn't hesitate or look to the Syrian authorities sitting next to him for guidance in his testimony. He answered tough questions by journalists. He had clearly done his homework and was well prepared. He was also well groomed and had a youthful and energetic demeanor, which showed he had lived in Lebanon for a long time. The visual effect of seeing him answer the questions of Syrian and Lebanese journalists with spirit and confidence was powerful. Everyone here in Damascus was watching him and believing. Today, having been subject to the counter-attack from Lebanon, they are less sure.

What made Syrians believe him is that he was forthright about a number of small things most Syrians would hide. He said he had been working for Syrian intelligence while employed as a barber in Lebanon for over a decade. He said his Lebanese captors and handlers had treated him as a Kurd who could be easily bought, claiming that as a Kurd he should be against the government in Syria and that the Sunnis who are 80% of the Syrian population should be ruling and shouldn't let a minority of 10% rule them - a clear reference to the Alawites. The reason for making up such stories is obvious to non-Syrians, but to a Syrian, it made the speaker convincing because no Syrian would dare say such a thing on Syrian TV, even though the majority thinks just that. It is hard for a Syrian to believe that Hussam’s Syrian handlers would coach him to say something so forthright, because mentioning the issue of Alawi rule, even in such a case, is totally taboo. To hear someone mention Alawi rule on Syrian TV is a shocker. He was also forthright about the lures of money and the good life he was offered for his testimony. Syrians can identity with that.

What was not credible was his claim that Saad Hariri actually spoke to him about money. The Lebanese who prepared him for his false testimony were a "Whose Who" of Syria's enemies - Jubran Tueni, Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat, etc. He even got May Shidiac’s name on record, claiming he had seen her from a distance while giving his false testimony at Monteverdi. (Shidiac denies even knowing where Monteverdi is.) None of these encounters would seem likely. The problem is that his testimony to Mehlis was exactly like his testimony against the Lebanese. He claimed to Mehlis that he had personal knowledge of all the top Syrian intelligence officers being involved in Hariri's murder. He also tied the Palestinians and fundamentalist Sunni Lebanese into the plot - much too neat. His Mehlis testimony was as fantastic as his testimony against Mehlis. The conclusion will have to be that he is completely discredited as a witness.

The most concrete evidence in Mehlis' report, directly linking the Hariri murder to the top Syrian intelligence personnel, is now unusable. Saddiq and Hussam were the two witnesses that allowed Mehlis to name the 6 top Syrian intelligence officers, including Maher and Asef, in his report. Both witnesses were plants. Stern magazine exposed Saddiq, who claimed he had been paid by Rifaat al-Asad, as a shyster. Now Syria has exposed Hussam.. My taxi driver yesterday said that Mehlis was not believable because three different people have said they were offered money to give him false testimony - the Syrian who languishes in a Turkish jail who went on TV to say he had been offered a lot of money to do what Mussam did, Saddiq, and now Hussam. This has become a pattern. Beginning with the double report issued by Mehlis - one naming names and the other not - and ending with Hussam's testimony, the Mehlis operation is beginning to look rather unprofessional. It is all getting curious and curiouser, as Alice said.

Whatever one may say about Syria’s use of Hussam, it has succeeded in punching a further hole in the original Mehlis report. It has also tarnished the image of Mehlis himself. No longer does he seem like the tough, Teutonic, no nonsense, investigator who can discriminate between wild stories and hard evidence. He used both Hussam and Saddiq’s testimony to spearhead his assault on Syria and give force to the list of names he insisted on investigating. That assault is looking a bit more questionable today. The testimony of both discredited Saddiq and Hussam was remarkably similar; it suggests that someone was working hard to put together evidence against Syria’s top officials and to link specific names to the more copious, but circumstantial evidence that a Syrian hand was behind Hariri’s killing. If it was not Hariri’s people, as Saad insists, who was it? Some good investigative reporter will make a name for themselves by getting that story.

Nibras Kazimi writes on his blog: "Confirmed: Hosam Taher is Mehlis' Witness No. 1." He quotes the parts of the Mehlis report that depended on Hosam's testimony. Here are the important bits:

96. One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of the same senior Syrian security official approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included another senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

97. At the beginning of January 2005, one of the high ranked officers told the witness that Rafik Hariri was a big problem to Syria. Approximately a month later the officer told the witness that there soon would be an “earthquake” that would re-write the history of Lebanon.

98. The witness visited several Syrian military bases in Lebanon. At one such base, in Hammana, he observed a white Mitsubishi van, with a white tarpaulin over the flatbed. The observations were made on 11, 12 and 13 February 2005. The Mitsubishi left the Military base in Hammana on the morning of 14 February 2005. The Mitsubishi Canter van, which was used as the bomb carrier, entered Lebanon from Syria through the Bekaa border and a military hot lane on 21 January 2005, at 1320 hrs. It was driven by a Syrian Colonel from the Army Tenth Division.

Here is Katherine Zoepf's article in the New York Times, along with a few from al-Nahar. By the way, she is stuck in Lebanon. The Syrian government no longer issues visa's to Americans at the Lebanese border. They must be purchased in Washington. Friends of Katherine have interceded to get a special telegram from the Ministry of Information sent to the border crossing, permitting her to reenter the country. So be warned: don't try to get a visa at the border anymore.

Syrian Witness in U.N. Inquiry on Beirut Killing Reports Bribes
November 29, 2005
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 28 - A man claiming to be a former Syrian intelligence agent in Lebanon has said on Syrian state television that Lebanese officials tortured him and offered bribes to persuade him to present false testimony against Syria to a United Nations commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

The man, Hussam Taher Hussam, said he had been held in Lebanon by supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of the former prime minister, and subjected to torture and drug injections to force him to testify. Saad Hariri, he said, offered him $1.3 million if he would lie about senior Syrian officials. Mr. Hussam did not say whether he had accepted any money.

Mr. Hussam, a slim, bespectacled Syrian Kurd, looked composed and unemotional as he spoke on a program originally broadcast Sunday.

He said Mr. Hariri and his associates had asked him to tell investigators that he had seen a truck used in the assassination at a Syrian military camp, and to present false evidence implicating Maher Assad, the younger brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law, in the killing in February.

"It was a ploy," Mr. Hussam said, adding that Mr. Hariri and his associates were desperate to accuse Syria. Syria agreed last week to allow five of its intelligence officials to travel to Vienna to be interviewed by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor leading the inquiry. His findings are to be presented to the Security Council in mid-December.

In an interim version of the report, released last month, he presented evidence that strongly suggested that high-level Syrian officials were involved in planning the assassination.

Mr. Hussam was not identified as a witness in the interim report. However, the commission issued a statement confirming that he was a witness, saying he had come forward voluntarily. He told investigators several times that he feared that Syrian authorities would take revenge on him or his family, the statement said.

Saad Hariri's office issued a statement denying that there had ever been any contact between Mr. Hussam and Mr. Hariri or his associates.

Elie Fawaz, a Lebanese political analyst, said Mr. Hussam's television appearance had been widely mocked in Lebanon as a clumsy attempt by President Assad and his allies to discredit the investigation.

"The image that pops up in my mind is from Maoist China," Mr. Fawaz said. "Mao used to bring people forward and force them to publicly denounce themselves, and that's exactly what's happening now in Syria."

But Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma historian who is in Syria on a Fulbright research fellowship, said Mr. Hussam's story was playing well. "Everyone in Syria is watching it, and they're very excited," he said. "They love this stuff. They want to believe it."
Leena Saidi contributed reporting for this article.
U.S. Leaves it to Mehlis to Decide what is 'Credible and not Credible'
The United States has declined comment on Syria's call to revise the U.N. report on Hariri's murder after Damascus said a key witness had recanted.
Syrian officials said the findings by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis, which implicated Damascus, should be reviewed after their state television broadcast the so-called 'Masked Witness' testimony.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We'll let an independent investigator, Mr. Mehlis, make the decisions about what is credible and what is not credible and what should be included in his report."

"We have refrained, while he is working on his report, to comment on any potential preliminary findings or press accounts that may come out about the facts or alleged facts. So I'm not going to try to comment on those," McCormack said.

Syria's attack on the inquiry came a day before Mehlis' team was due to hold its first interviews with 5 senior Syrian officials at U.N. offices in Vienna, ending a prolonged wrangle over the venue for the interrogations.

McCormack said the Syrians "have apparently decided to cooperate by sending these witnesses to Vienna. We hope only that that cooperation continues and is expanded."(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, Updated 29 Nov 05, 09:24

Lebanon Tears Syria's 'Masked Witness' to Pieces, Calling him a 'Ghawar Tosheh' Comedy
Lebanon lambasted Syria's 'Masked Witness' attempt to discredit the international investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination on the eve of the interrogation in Vienna of five Syrian senior intelligence officers by the Detlev Mehlis commission.
"It is a Ghawar Tosheh comedy," said Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh.

"It's a new chapter of attempts by the dreaded Syrian intelligence service which has attempted to assassinate me. This apparatus has now moved into lying through a man whom we haven't seen in our lives or his life," Hamadeh added.

Saad Hariri said through his information office in Beirut that Syria's 'Masked Witness' TV show was an attempt to derail the international investigation into his father's murder.

Legislator Gebran Tueni whom the so-called 'Masked Witness' Husam Husam claimed to have seen at the Monteverde headquarters of the Detlev Mehlis commission said "If this is the latest inventions of the Syrian intelligence system to confront reality, I believe they are in a very bad situation. It's an affair of bankruptcy."

"I don't remember seeing him," the General Manager of An Nahar went on. "I would have hoped Syria would go to defend itself in the international investigation and to serve its own real interests as well as the welfare of the Lebanon-Syria relationship, because we do not differ with the Syrian people and because we are not in a state of war with the Syrian people."

May Chidiac, the LBCI anchorwoman who was maimed by an assassination attempt widely believed to have been engineered by Syria's intelligence, also denied from her hospital bed that she was seen or she has seen the 'Masked Witness' at the Monteverde.

"I don't know where the Monteverde is," May told LBCI.

Syria on Monday unmasked the 'Masked Witness' and put him on television to claim that he has tricked the Mehlis commission feeding them a long testimony and that he came now from his own volition to unveil what he called the truth to the Syrian committee of investigation. Beirut, Updated 29 Nov 05, 09:43

Shabaa Farms to become officially Lebanese: Prisoners

Shabaa Farms is to be officially ceded to Lebanon, Syria's foreign minister said. This is indeed important. It means Israel can now withdraw from the territory, which will take the issue away from Hizbullah, undermining its rational for maintaining an independent militia. Whether Israel will do this without a formal peace treaty with Lebanon remains to be seen. There was talk within Israel of doing this earlier in the year. It also means that a major issue that has kept Syria and Lebanon from developing normal relations has been resolved. There has also been progress on solving the problem of Lebanese prisoners being held in Syria, as well as those who have gone missing. The joint Syro-Lebanese committee slated to resolve these questions has begun to meet.

Syria Finalizes Shabaa's Lebanese Identity, Starting a 'New Page' with Lebanon

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa has declared in an address at the Euro-Med summit in Barcelona that the Shabaa Farms were Lebanese and earlier spoke of a new chapter in relations with Lebanon after the Syrian evacuation.
Sharaa's declaration came in the wake of a conference he held with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora on the sidelines of the summit after which Saniora told reporters that Sharaa will affirm Shabaa's Lebanese identity in his speech.

Saniora indicated the demarcation of the Lebanese Syrian border would produce a written document that the Shabaa pocket at the foothills of Mount Hermon was Lebanese, a turning-point which would help give Lebanon the absolute right to fight for its liberation from Israeli occupation.

In announcing the new phase in Lebanese-Syrian relations Sharaa said "we have embarked upon a new phase in our relations." "We want to open a new page," he said, adding that Syria "wants to see security and stability in Lebanon."

Saniora agreed progress had been made. "We want to have healthy and strong relations between the two countries," he said. "I had satisfactory talks with Saniora and President Assad will be very happy when I brief him about the talks" Sharaa added.

He made the remark in response to a question whether Assad would retract his insult to Saniora by recently calling him a 'slave.' "Syria is committed to collaborating with the international commission of investigation and resolved to uncover the truth behind the assassination, as both Syria and Lebanon, as neighboring and independent peoples, have a major interest in doing so," he said.

Sharaa added that both countries were allies "whose common interests are unlimited." Sharaa stressed that Damascus stood firm with its insistence on "a total Israeli withdrawal to the frontiers of June 4, 1967, including the Golan Heights and the Shabaa Farms, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Arab Jerusalem as its capital."(AFP)

Naharnet: 11/28/05
Damascus and Beirut have opened a new phase of cooperation to determine the fate of hundreds of Lebanese missing or jailed in Syria during three decades of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon. A Lebanese-Syrian committee, charged with resolving the mystery that has become a major source of friction between the two neighboring
countries, held a three-hour meeting on the border point of Jdeidat Yabous Saturday, An Nahar reported.

The Lebanese delegation provided a detailed list of those missing and believed imprisoned in Syria, An Nahar reported Sunday. It did not provide details, but according to the families of the missing, there are more than 500 Lebanese unaccounted for since their arrest by Syrian security forces or disappearance in Syrian-held territory. The newspaper said the meeting was "constructive."

Hizbullah and Syria

Here is a question about Hizbullah I just received and my answer.

Dear Professor Landis,
In light of last week's border skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah I was hoping you could give your readers some insight on how much influence does Syria really wield over Hezbollah? Does the Syrian government/military encourage these military exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah? How does the non-Shiite Lebanon population feel about these flare-ups on the Israeli-Lebanon border?

Dear ...,
I don't know the answer to most of these Hizb questions. The Iranian foreign minister was just in Lebanon and Syria before the incident, but I think Hizb is working for domestic consumption as much as anything in order to keep the "resistance" in front of people's faces and to legitimize itself. Of course Syria is very happy for all Hizbullah's support of late. It and Amal have become the major defenders of Syria's interests and point of view in Lebanon. Now that the Syrian army has no sway over local Lebanese politics and trade issues are being sorted out, the Shiite parties remain the only effective supporters of Syria's interests and the major deterrent to Lebanon falling completely into the US's foreign policy orbit. Syria also sees Hizbullah as the ultimate deterrent to Lebanon signing a peace agreement with Israel, which would sink remaining hopes of ever getting the Golan back.

Israel's leaflet campaign over Beirut was a mistake, because it provoked a negative Lebanese nationalist response just when many Lebanese were decrying the Hizb provocations to Israel. When I was teaching in Lebanon in 1979-81, the Israeli jets that daily broke the sound barrier in low overflights of the city would drive my students berserk. Seniors in high school would all get out of their seats and rush to the windows of the classroom and pretend to shoot at the planes. There was nothing I could do to get them to ignore them or stay in their seats. Such overflights, which have been going on frequently of late, do a lot to underline how impotent the Leb gov. is in defending Lebanon's sovereignty in the face Israeli encroachments. They bolster Hizb rhetoric that it is still a necessary deterrent in the eyes of many Lebanese, especially Muslims.

In Syria, the public loves Hizbullah. Even Christians like it for the resistance part. The first word out of everyone's mouth is that Nasrallah gave his son to the fight - something no other Arab leader has done. They also love his pro-Syrian defense. He is the best thing Syria has going for it in Lebanon and the region and is wildly popular among Syrians for that. They see him as smarter, more media savvy, and more strategically minded than their own president.

As for Syria's role in arming Hizb, certainly, Syria used to be the conduit for Iranian arms getting to Hizb. How much of that is still going on, I don't know. Many people say Hizb has all the arms it needs, but we just don't know. I presume that when the Lebanese Army gets control of Lebanon's borders, it will stop the truck convoys that used to go over uncontrolled, much as it has done with the Palestinians, who have tried to smuggle arms across the border. The problem is that Hizb is so important in Lebanon and few Lebanese politicians are willing to cross it or announce in favor of disarmament. Even PM Siniora attacked UN's Larsen for quoting him in his last report to the effect that Siniora wanted to disarm Hizb.

Friends who just drove around the Beqaa valley, told me that there is marijuana still growing in many places and that Hizb troops are much in evidence and that the Lebanese army patrols do nothing to stop them from controlling the region, manning road blocks, and tending to the drug trade.

My hunch is that Hizb has now become a Lebanese problem. Syria will help it as much as it can, which should be easy so long as the Lebanese army considers the hizb militia legitimate. All the same, Lebanon has been making real improvements to border security. Even Hizb must find it hard to have trucks pass without inspection, but that is something the Lebanese government will ultimately determine and not the Syrian government.
Best, Joshua

Addendum by Nick Blanford sent Nov. 29, 05

Hi Josh,
I thought I would comment on your remark about the Syrian arms channel to Hizbullah. Although much of the general weapons were trucked across the border via the privileged "military" crossing at Masnaa, Hizbullah also received arms via a remote border crossing along the Zabadani-Serghaya-Nabi Sheet road. The area east of Nabi Sheet in the Bekaa is a Hizbullah-controlled zone and includes the small villages of Yanta and Yahfoufa set in a stunningly beautiful valley. I was up there in June nosing around to see how far one could drive along the road before being stopped. The road ends at Yahfoufa beside the ruins of an old Ottoman railway station. The border is about another kilometer or so. I was invited into the house of a Hizbullah guy for coffee and he told me that if I had arrived at night I would have been stopped by armed Hizbullah men who patrol the area. If Hizb really possesses all those long-range rockets we hear so much about, this is where they will have stashed the rockets away, in caves and bunkers dug into the mountainside. The Lebanese government has no jurisdiction to speak of in this remote area and if the Syrians are willing to continue supplying Hizb with weapons, they will face no impediment along this stretch of the border.
best, Nick

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Asef isn't Going to Vienna: Asad Family Safe for Now

Ibrahim Hamidi of al-Hayat gets the scoop again. Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law and head of military intelligence, is not among the five security officers slated to go to Vienna for questioning about the murder of Hariri.

The house of Asad is not in the clear yet. We are only at the beginning of the second phase of the UN investigation, which has targeted the Syrian government as the guilty party. All the same, the Asad family does seem to have dodged a bullet in this round. I watched the news conference with 6 Syrian friends last night in which Walid Muallem and Riad Daoudi answered the question that every Syrian has been waiting for - Will Syria be sanctioned by the world? When it was announced that Syria was cooperating, everyone cheered. When it was announced that Mehlis had made important concessions, everyone smiled.

Since October 30 when UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1636, demanding that Syria hand over is top six security officers for questioning in the murder of Rafiq Hariri, the country has been burning with anxiety and fear. Would it become a legal and not just presumed pariah state? Had Bashar al-Asad, the young and seemingly weak president, allowed his country to be backed into a corner by the United States, Lebanon, and France? Would Bashar allow a family member to be questioned and possibly arrested? Could Syria become the next Iraq - completely ostracized and left to starve under international sanctions until internal collapse, public revolt, or foreign invasion brought revolution? These are the questions that have been the debated in Damascus by a population cut off from decision making both at home and abroad. The President's speech on November 10 only heightened the anxiety. By calling for resistance to what he described as an American-Israeli plot to bring down his family and turn Syria into another Iraq, everyone began to assume he would allow pride to jeopardize the nation. In many respects Mehlis has pitted the Asad family against the Syrian people. After all, the Syrian government has been a family enterprise for decades.

When the preliminary Mehlis report was first published, it named two Asads, Maher and Asef, the president’s brother and brother-in-law, as suspected accomplices in Hariri’s murder. President Bashar had refused to testify, but John Bolton, the neo-con US ambassador at the UN proclaimed that with resolution 1636 even Bashar would be subject to questioning. Observers could only interpret the report as a full broadside against the Syrian state. Could the US and its allies possibly believe they could force the entire Asad family into the clink? Was this regime-change on the cheap? What if the Asads said no? Would the world community do what they did to Saddam Hussein? Could they possibly afford another failed nation in the Middle East at a time when Iraq seemed to be spiraling towards total collapse?

After resolution 1636 was passed, Mehlis seemed to have made an important concession. He demanded to question only 6 witnesses and only one relative of the President. Maher, the President’s brother, was curiously dropped from the list of suspects. The French, who seemed to have assumed control of policy planning for the West by this time, began to whisper that they had a “Juan Carlos option,” a reference to the King of Spain. It seemed that they hoped they could turn Syria into some form of constitutional monarchy. They had lowered the bar of expectations – not total regime change, but partial. The president would have to give up some of his family – the non blood relatives - but not Maher, the head of the Palace Guard. If only he would abandon the family structure, abandon “tribalism” and make a democratic opening toward the reformers and clear the decks of crony capitalists to usher in the free air of the market economy, all would be well. Syria would have made its “strategic decision” to fall into step with the rest of the region and become part of the reformed Greater Middle East. This seemed to be the implication of Western rhetoric and reveries.

These magnificent dreams were dowsed with cold water by Asad’s speech of November 10. He identified his family with the nation and proclaimed there was no third way for Syria. He would not allow family members to be picked off by bullies; it was a question of national sovereignty, honor and self defense. Syria had but two options, he stated, resistance or chaos. Stand by the Asad household in its entirety or be sent down the ugly spiral towards Iraqification, sectarian violence, poverty, and terrorism.

President Bashar defied the world. Many in the West, and some in the East, thought the man had gone crazy. It was the “Lethal Weapon” gambit – look crazy and go for broke, like Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon," in the hope that your opponents don’t really have the heart or brazenness for a showdown. Pray that they are bluffing. This foreign policy strategy has been mastered by George Bush, who has own over the last 5 years. Now we must add Bashar al-Asad to the list of those with a taste for brinksmanship.

It worked. Well, it seems to have worked at any rate. The world backed down and the Asad family has been let off the hook. More and more western powers seem to be convinced by Bashar’s logic. Syria just might become another Iraq without the firm hand of the Asads at the top. Many factors seem to have played a role in this climb-down by the West. Bush is wounded at home, and Iraq is a horror show, voiding early threats of US military action against Syria. The Jordan bombings made the Asads look good and reminded the world that Iraq may well become the spawning ground of terror that we have feared. Syria, by contrast, has seen no serious terrorism for over twenty years, making it the only state in the region which can boast such stability and anti-al-Qa’ida credentials. Even Israel began to sing the praises of the house of Asad, claiming it was the least bad choice for the Jewish state.

The Syrian opposition did not play into Western hands. The Labwani trail balloon popped without an echo. Bush's suggestion that he would add the banner of democracy to the standards of foreign policy reform which he expects Damascus to fly over its ramparts did not impress the Syrians. They remained sullen and anti-American, proving that Washington has few instruments to divide Syria from within. Whether Syrians are too distrustful of the US, too frightened to complain, or too disinterested in democracy, they remained impervious to Washington's probings. America doesn't have tools to use in Syria. Its tool box is empty.

Kofi Annan, the beleaguered head of the UN, seems to have used his last bits of political capital to intercede on Syria’s behalf, insisting that Mehlis find some middle ground. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the heart of the Arab League, said they were not in favor of sanctions even though they insisted Syria cooperate with the UN. Turkey chimed in with a similar refrain, arguing that the region could not withstand further chaos and conflict. The PKK has regrouped, and violence is on the upswing in the east of Turkey. Rumors in Syria suggest the Syrian branch of the PKK is also recruiting and again becoming a force. Should Asad weaken, militant Kurdish organizations, such as the PKK, will prosper and both Syria and Turkey will have a real head ache. Asad plans to redeploy thousands of Syrian troops into the northeast of the country at the start of the new year in order to ensure a tight grip on the region. That is what I hear. I cannot be sure it is true, but it would make sense, not only to reassure Turkey, but also to place the kind of iron grip on the border regions with Iraq that both Washington and Baghdad have been demanding.

Russia and China were early opponents of sanctions. Quite possibly the US and France discovered that no one, not even Europe, had the heart for sanctions, except possibly sanctions that were so “smart” as to be but a pin prick, in which case, why act tough when there is no credible follow through?

There is also always the possibility of a deal. Asef Shawkat is Mr. Security in Syria and has been the main link between US and Syrian intelligence. He is in a position to have hung out some tempting offers to the West on Iraq, Palestine, and even Lebanon. It is unlikely that the West would make a deal or open a real dialog with Syria at this point, but one should not assume that messages weren’t passed to Paris and Washington via Egypt, Saudi, and Turkey that Syria means business on issues close to the Western heart. But the deal scenario has probably not been the driving force behind the Mehlis mollifications. Most likely, local powers with a lot at stake in regional stability made it clear to both sides that a compromise had to be worked out because the region cannot withstand more upset.

Rhonda Roumani's article in the Washington Post, "Syria Will Let U.N. Question 5 Officials: Deal Ends Stalemate in Hariri Probe - isthe best of the stories in English.

Here are the good parts of Hamidi's article:

ورفض كل من نائب وزير الخارجية السوري وليد المعلم والمستشار القانوني في الوزارة رياض الداودي في مؤتمر صحافي مساء امس، ذكر اسماء المسؤولين الخمسة او ان يكون أي من الاسماء اسقط من القائمة.

لكن مصادر سورية رفيعة المستوى قال لـ»الحياة» امس ان «دمشق لم تطرح مع أي طرف موضوع الاسماء، بل موضوع الاجراءات والضمانات»، قبل ان يشير الى ان اسم رئيس شعبة الاستخبارات اللواء اصف شوكت «لم يكن مطروحا»، نافية حصول «أي صفقة». وقال المعلم مرات عدة للصحافيين :»لم يسقط أي اسم» من القائمة.

وكان تردد في وسائل الاعلام ان الخمسة هم الرئيس السابق لجهاز الاستطلاع والامن في القوات العاملة في لبنان العميد رستم الغزالي، ومسؤول بيروت العميد جامع جامع، ومسؤول في المخابرات العسكرية العقيد عبد الكريم عباس ومسؤول قسم الكمبيوتر العقيد ظافر عباس، اضافة الى رئيس فرع الامن الداخلي السابق اللواء بهجت سليمان. ورفض الداودي ذكر الاسماء لانها جزء من «سرية التحقيق». وقال ردا على سؤال لـ»الحياة» ان بعض الخمسة مشتبه بهم وبعضهم الاخر شاهد.

وقبل ان يبلغ الداودي ميليس قرار دمشق، ترأس الرئيس بشار الاسد امس اجتماعين للقيادة القطرية لـ»البعث» الحاكم وللقيادة المركزية لـ»الجبهة الوطنية التقدمية» التي تضم الاحزاب المرخصة. وقالت مصادر مطلعة لـ»الحياة» ان الاسد وضع كبار المسؤولين «في جو المعطيات فتقرر اتخاذ هذه الخطوة الممتازة». واوضحت :»تم قطع مرحلة مهمة، كانت تشكل عقبة اساسية. لكن ربما تظهر عقبات اخرى لاحقا».

وقال المعلم في المؤتمر الصحافي :»ان الخطوة الحكيمة والشجاعة التي اتخذتها سورية تسقط كل الذرائع» لفرض عقوبات اقتصادية عليها. واوضح ردا على سؤال اخر :»اذا كان الهدف كشف الحقيقة، نحن مستعدود للتعاون الكامل لكشفها». وعندما سئل عن موقف سورية اذا كانت مستهدفة سياسيا، فاجاب :»شعبنا كفيل بالمواجهة».

وكان لافتا ان القرار السوري جاء بعد يوم على اعلان وزير الخارجية فاروق الشرع ان بلاده تريد توقيع بروتوكول تعاون مع ميليس يحدد الحقوق القانونية للمسؤولين السوريين ويحدد آليات ومعايير التعاون. ويبدو ان حصول دمشق على ضمانات بفضل اتصالات سياسية قام بها عدد من الاطراف، لعب دورا في الاقتناع بالحل الوسط بان تجري الاستجوابات في فيينا وليس في»مونتي فيردي» او «اندوف» في سورية.

واوضح المعلم ان الضمانات تشمل حضور محامين مع المسؤولين السوريين وان تكون صلاحية التوقيف محصورة بالقضاء اللبناني الذي يمكن ان يطلب من القضاء السوري اتخاذ الخطوات الاحترازية.

واوضح الداودي ان الاتصالات ستجري في الايام المقبلة لتحديد مواعيد حصول الاستجوابات وكيفية سفر المسؤولين. وعندما سالته «الحياة» ما اذا كان الخمسة مشتبها بهم او شهودا، اجاب :»في التحقيق تسمية شخص مشتبها به او شاهدا لا يعني ان التحقيق يتقدم، بل ان هذا الشخص له علاقة اكثر من الاخر، وفرضية البراءة قائمة بالكامل في كل مرحلة وان الموضوع لا يرقى الى مرحلة الاتهام الا بتوافر المعطيات القانونية والادلة القاطعة التي تقدم الى المحكمة من قبل قاضي التحقيق». وزاد :»حتى اذا وصل الامر الى الاتهام، فان فرضية البراءة قائمة».

وفي نيويورك، أكد الناطق باسم الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة ستيفان دوجاريك الاتفاق بين الحكومة السورية وبين ميليس. وقال: «في استطاعتنا ان نؤكد ان فيينا ستكون مقر استجواب خمسة مسؤولين سوريين». واضاف الناطق ان الامين العام «مسرور جداً بالتوصل الى اتفاق على ان يكون مقر الاستجواب مكاتب الأمم المتحدة في فيينا».

وقالت مصادر في الأمم المتحدة مطلعة على تفكير دميليس «ليس هناك اي ضمانات مفتوحة الأفق بعدم الاعتقال» في حال ثبت تورط الذين سجري ميليس اللقاءات معهم والذين صنفهم ميليس «مشتبهاً بهم» في عملية الاغتيال.

وأضافت المصادر ان موافقة ميليس على استجواب خمسة من قائمة ستة مسؤولين أمنيين تأتي «كجزء من عملية». ولفتت الى ان الأمم المتحدة لم تكشف اسماء الستة بصورة علنية ورسمية مما يمكن ميليس من تقديم قائمة «بفوج» آخر من «المشتبه بهم» لاحقاً. وقالت أن ميليس قرر الموافقة على استجواب «خمسة» فقط في فيينا كنقطة انطلاق.

وبحسب المصادر المطلعة على تفكير القاضي الالماني «أراد ميليس ان يبرهن انه، منذ البدء، يتصرف بليونة وليس بتعنت كما حاولت سورية أن تقول وكررت ذلك اول من أمس على لسان وزير الخارجية» الشرع.

وضمن ما تراه هذه المصادر «ليونة واضحة» من ميليس موافقته على نقل مكان التحقيق من «مونتي فيردي» في بيروت الى مقر الأمم المتحدة في فيينا، وقبوله باستجواب خمسة من الستة مسؤولين أمنيين، وموافقته على عدم اصدار مذكرات اعتقال في فيينا.

وشددت المصادر على أن التعهد هو بعدم اعتقالهم «فقط وحصراً في فيينا» اذ «ليست هناك ضمانات بأنه لن تكون هناك اعتقالات مستقبلاً... وليس هناك أية ضمانات مفتوحة الأفق بعدم الاعتقال». وحسب مصادر أخرى «لا توجد هناك أية ضمانات».

وفي بيروت علّق ناطق باسم لجنة التحقيق الدولية على الاعلان السوري بالقبول بالاستماع الى المسؤولين السوريين في فيينا بالقول إن ميليس «يرحّب به ويعبّر عن تقديره لكل الافرقاء الذين عرضوا مقرات في سبيل هذا العمل (التحقيق)». وأشار النائب الى ان ترحيب ميليس جاء «لأن الخطوة السورية تأتي في سياق تنفيذ قرار مجلس الأمن الدولي ونحن مسرورون بالاعلان السوري». ورداً على سؤال حول سبب إشارة الجانب السوري الى خمسة ضباط سوريين وليس ستة، قال الناطق باسم اللجنة ان لا تعليق حول التفاصيل. وعن موعد حصول الاستجوابات قال الناطق باسم اللجنة: «هذا أيضاً من التفاصيل المتصلة بسرية التحقيق».

وكان المحققون الدوليون استمعوا أمس الى كل من رئيس الاتحاد العمالي العام غسان غصن ونائبه بسام طليس في شأن اتصالات هاتفية جرت معهما من قبل رئيس جهاز الاستطلاع السوري في القوات السورية التي كانت في لبنان العميد رستم غزالة للدعوة الى اسقاط حكومة الشهيد الحريري في العام 2004 بالتظاهر في الشارع.

وذكرت مصادر مواكبة للتحقيق ان المحققين الدوليين سيواصلون الاستماع الى شهود ومشتبه بهم لاتخاذ قرار في شأن توقيف أو عدم توقيف بعضهم. واستمع المحقق العدلي اللبناني في جريمة اغتيال الحريري أمس الى إفادات أربعة شهود جدد أمس.

وفي باريس علمت «الحياة» من مصدر فرنسي موثوق به ان اللجنة القضائية الفرنسية لتبادل الموقوفين التقت امس السوري محمد زهير الصديق المشتبه به في قضية اغتيال الحريري، والموقوف حاليا في العاصمة الفرنسية بناء على طلب القضاء اللبناني. وقال المصدر ان اللجنة ستعطي رأيها الاسبوع المقبل.

وكان لبنان طلب استرداد الصديق من فرنسا، علما انه لا يوجد اتفاق لتبادل المطلوبين بين البلدين. وذكرت المصادر انه نظرا الى غيالب مثل هذا الاتفاق، تدرس اللجنة الفرنسية امكان تسليم المطلوب الى القضاء اللبناني. واضافت ان فرنسا لا تمانع في التسليم، لكن الخطوة تواجه عائقا مرده الى كون عقوبة الاعدام ما تزال قائمة في القانون اللبناني في حال الادانة بتهمة القتل.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Syria Will Send 5 to Vienna. Will Asef be among them?

At 6:00 this evening, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Muallem announced on a much awaited TV briefing that the questioning of five officials would be carried out at UN offices in Vienna. Everyone in Damascus is very relieved. Many believed that Syria and Mehlis would not come to an agreement and that Syria would be facing sanctions. Business men had been complaining that the Syrian pound had fallen to 59 to the dollar, its lowest rate, and was impossible to buy on the markets. Tomorrow, it should be strengthened and merchants who were holding back their dollars will now sell.

The big question of the evening was why only 5 and not 6 would be going. At least six reporters asked who the missing person was - all believing it was Asef Shawkat, the President's brother-in-law. None had the guts to ask directly or use his name. When Muallem responded by denying that 6 had ever been demanded, but only 5, everyone laughed. The following BBC story suggests that Asef will be going, but everyone in Damascus assumes he will not be among the five, and that the president was able to avoid sending anyone from his family, the "red-line," which everyone has been talking about here. Syrians are feeling relieved that their government is cooperating and has protected the people from sanctions. Undoubtedly, the security forces will be peeved if Asef has been saved from questioning, but they have not been. Now we must wait to see if Mehlis will be satisfied with their testimony. In all probability, he will accuse Syria of planning the murder. Then the government will be back to square one and will have to decide whether to give them up to a court. The crisis is far from over. All the same, Syria did well to reduce the number being questioned from 6 to 5, and to get a lawyer for each of those being questioned. Bolton said he was pleased.

UN probe to quiz Syrian officials

Syria has agreed to allow UN investigators to quiz its officials over the assassination of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the questioning of five officials would be carried out at UN offices in Vienna.

He said Syria had been given "reassurances" on its sovereignty. The announcement follows weeks of deadlock between the UN investigation and Syria on the issue.

Syria had refused a request by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is heading the inquiry, to carry out the interviews in Lebanon. Mr Mehlis was unwilling to accept a Syrian offer to allow questioning either in Syria itself or at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

"The [Syrian] leadership has decided to inform Mehlis that it accepts his suggestion, as a compromise, that the venue to listen to the five Syrian officials be the UN headquarters in Vienna," Mr Muallem said.

UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Mr Mehlis confirmed the agreement in a telephone call to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

One potential sticking point remains, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in neighbouring Jordan.

The UN originally said it wanted to speak to six Syrian officials, but Syria is talking of five officials travelling to Vienna, he says.

Mr Muallem told reporters: "Me, I know that the number is five. I don't know where you get the sixth from."

He also said Damascus was not worried that the officials, who are travelling with their lawyers, would be arrested in Vienna.

"Mr Mehlis doesn't have the authority to arrest [them]. He must ask the Lebanese judicial authorities who will then ask Syria," he said.

Mr Muallem would not identify the officials involved, saying it was a matter of the "secrecy of the investigation", or say when the interviews might take place.

Reports from Lebanon suggest the officials include the head of Syrian military intelligence, Assef Shawkat, a brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moubayed and Abdulhamid on where Syria is headed

Monday 21 of November, two Syrian soldiers were badly wounded by US soldiers on the border. The Americans were carrying out activities on the border and they shot in the direction of Syrian soldiers. They returned fire. Two Syrian soldiers were shot by sharp shooters. They were taken to the hospital at Bu Kamal and then to the hospital at Deir ez-Zor. One reporter here also said that Syrian soldiers then returned fire and blew up a hummer which might have had up to six Americans in it. Presumable they were killed. There are several reporters trying to confirm this story.

Sami Moubayed and Ammar Abdulhamid go head to head in their contrasting analysis of the Syrian opposition and how Syria will bear up under international pressure. Sami believes Syrians will pull together to back the government for fear of becoming another Iraq and that Bashar will reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood and "nationalist opposition," in order to keep them close and avoid their cooperating with the US.

Ammar writes that the "Syrian regime is no longer viable, and that a search for an alternative is now not only legitimate, but mandatory," in order to "prevent the creation of another haven for jihadists and terrorists." Although he does not rule out the case for military action, he argues that "the downfall of the Syrian regime is better induced through a combination of diplomatic pressures, targeted economic sanctions and various activities and gestures meant to empower the internal opposition in the country and perhaps also the growing disaffection within the middle ranks of the army." Interestingly Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told cabinet colleagues Sunday that Syria would "likely" soon be forced to abandon its support for terrorism. He holds a view opposite to Ammar's about Syria becoming a haven for terrorism. If Ammar has a particularly bleak view of where Syria is headed, Sami is perhaps too optimistic. The government is not likely to make any real opening toward the opposition. Nevertheless, the mere fact that the opposition refuses to reach out to the Americans, who, they consider beyond the pale, means it is boxed in. Here are the two articles:

Making new friends in Damascus?
By Sami Moubayed
Thursday 24 November 2005

A few years ago, the term nationalist opposition was introduced to Syria by President Bashar al-Assad. This means "opposition that has no ties with foreign parties". Mainly, this meant everybody except the Muslim Brotherhood and the Reform Party of the US-based Farid al-Ghadry.

The Muslim Brotherhood had received money and arms from neighbouring Arab countries in 1982 to topple the Syrian government and al-Ghadry has been collaborating with the Americans since 2003 for the same purpose.

Previously, there was no "nationalist opposition" in Baathist Syria. The opposition, regardless of its ties or orientation, was always considered unpatriotic, and its leaders were described as enemies of nationalism, the state and the Syrian people.

That time has long passed and Syrian politicians today have been trying to reach out to various groups in the opposition, aiming at acheiving national unity to ward off US pressure mounted after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Harriri on 14 February 14 2005.

The Syrians have realised that the only way to avoid further isolation is to establish a united front inside Syria, where the Baathists and all their traditional enemies (the Muslim Brotherhood included) can work together.

After all, the opposition might be opposed to the government for a variety of political reasons, but it is by far more opposed to the United States. This opposition includes the Communist Party, Marxists, founding Baath Party members and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria's rapprochement with the "nationalist opposition" was begun by al-Assad when he came to power on 17 July 2000.

On 22 July seven days after he began his constitutional term as president, al-Assad released 30 members of the Muslim Brotherhood from prison.

Another gesture included the return of Abu al-Fateh Baynouni, the brother of the Brotherhood's leader, Ali Sadr al-Din al-Baynouni, from exile in September 2001.

The ban on the scholarly works of Mustafa al-Sibaei, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was lifted after being on the Baath blacklist for over four decades.

President al-Assad then issued a general amnesty in the summer of 2000, releasing 600 political prisoners, 90% of them were from the Muslim Brotherhood.

In November 2001, al-Assad released another 113 Muslim Brotherhood members, most of whom were arrested in 1979 for a massacre they had conducted at an artillery school in Aleppo in 1979.

In December 2004, 112 Muslim Brotherhood members were also released. Another 55 prisoners were set free, mostly from the Brotherhood, on 12 February 2005.

The Brotherhood found more reason to cooperate [with the Syrian government] when al-Assad refused to join in the US-led war in Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003.

They hailed his commitment to the Palestinian uprising, and his support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hizb Allah in Lebanon.

Both al-Assad and the Muslim Brotherhood have repeatedly said that democracy cannot be imported to the Arab world from the US, nor can it be imposed by President George Bush.

The only way to democratise is from within the Arab world by the Arabs themselves, they often said. This view is shared by a vast majority of Syrians and Arabs.

The Muslim Brotherhood also hailed al-Assad's refusal to abide by American terminology on terrorism, vis-a-vis Hizb Allah and the Palestinian resistance, and his declared commitment to restore the Golan Heights to Syria, and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

One week after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, members of the Muslim Brotherhood appeared on Aljazeera and called for dialogue with Damascus, refusing to use the US campaign against Syria to settle old differences with the regime.

They stressed, in interviews and press releases, that there was no Ahmed Chalabi among the Syrian opposition. This notion was repeated by opposition members inside Syria, thereby earning the title of "nationalist opposition".

The message was taken by authorities who responded with similar goodwill, permitting many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had lived in asylum in Iraq, to return to Syria after the invasion in March 2003.

After that, these dissidents were not arrested or harassed in Syria, as long as they did not engage in illegal political conduct (by law, the Muslim Brotherhood is a banned organisation).

Between 2003-2005 domestic political reforms stalled in Syria as a result of Syria's entanglement in a web of complex issues, related to Iraq and Lebanon.

Soon enough, the Muslim Brotherhood raised its anti-government rhetoric, much to the displeasure of Damascus. In May 2005, the writer Ali al-Abdullah, a member of the Jamal al-Atasi Forum, read a speech sent to the forum by Baynouni from London. Immediately, the Syrian authorities ordered his arrest.

The forum founders cried foul and the authorities requested that they issue an official apology, saying that they had not intended to spread Muslim Brotherhood propaganda in Syria - by law 49 being a member of the Brotherhood, or spreading its views, was a capital offence. When they refused, they too were arrested.

The arrests, which included the forum's president Mrs Suhayr al-Atasi, and the veteran Baathist Husayn Uweidat, gave the Syrian authorities bad publicity. They were released after one week but Abdullah remained in jail until November 2005.

The government knew that arresting these people was going to give it very bad publicity, especially now that the world's attention was focused on Syria. But this was a price it was willing to pay to send a clear message to everybody: that the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam were a red line that nobody could cross in Syria.

To make this point loud and clear at the Baath Party Congress in June 2005, authorities said they would formulate a new multi-party law, ending the socialist monopoly over political life in Syria (existing since 1963).

Parties not affiliated with the Baath would be allowed to operate. The only exception would be the Muslim Brotherhood and other Muslim parties.

The calls for abolishing law 49, which had been proposed by the moderate Muslim cleric and parliamentarian Mohammad Habash, faded out in the weeks preceding the Baath Party congress.

The publication of the Mehlis report in October and the subsequent adoption of UN Resolution 1636 have made the Syrians put aside their differences and unite in opposing foreign pressure on their country.

Marches, anti-US demonstrations, and rallies condemning Mehlis have become a daily scene in Damascus.

Syrian nationalism is soaring and the majority of Syrians feel that it is their duty to stand by the government at this difficult stage because although they might have reservations about the government's actions, they would not want it to be weakened or removed by the US.

Those who have second thoughts are asked to look next door and see the chaos prevailing in Iraq to see how un-rewarding it would be to side with the Americans.

The government has embarked on a series of reforms intended to reduce, in anticipation of eliminating, any reasons for discontent in the Syrian Street. The authorities are planning to raise wages, authorise bank loans facilities and create more jobs.

The Brotherhood found more reason to cooperate [with the Syrian government] when al-Assad refused to join in the US-led war on Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003

On the political front, the government issued a general amnesty in November 2005, releasing 190 political prisoners, mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many expected that the two famous parliamentarians, Riyad Sayf and Maamoun al-Homsi, would be released. They were not, probably, because the government did not want any big names to make headlines, except those of the Brotherhood. The state was sending a clear message: we are releasing what remains of the Muslim Brotherhood from Syrian jails.

The reason is that owing to the increasing religiosity in Syria society, the only party which can truly and genuinely mobilise the street are the Muslim groups.

The Muslim Brotherhood, and a variety of other opposition groups in Syria, issued an opposition document called The Damascus Declaration in October 2005, right after Detlev Mehlis issued his report, criticising the government for stalled political reforms.

The authorities surprised everybody by refusing to arrest or harass any of the politicians who signed the document.

Then, in another gesture of goodwill towards the Brotherhood, al-Assad had an unofficial conversation with members of the Arab Nationalist Congress meeting in Damascus shortly after his speech at Damascus University on 10 November 2005.

The speech, it must be noted, made no reference whatsoever to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Assad reportedly told his guests that he does not have a problem with anybody who opposes the government politically.

The government only has a problem "with those who collaborate with Syrias enemies". This was a clear message to the US-based al-Ghadry. Al-Assad added that he is willing to conduct dialogue with everybody, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is a new atmosphere in Syria. It will be worth watching how Syria will deal with the Brotherhood in the months to come since all indicators, including the Syrian president's Damascus University speech, suggest that Syria's relations with Washington will deteriorate rather than improve.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He is the author of Steel & Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000 (Cune Press 2005)

A new Iraq is forming in Syria

By Ammar Abdulhamid
Commentary in the Daily Star, Friday, November 25, 2005

Although Syria has for long been hailed as one of the Arab world's most secular countries and the heart of Arab nationalism, its religious and ethnic diversity has always been more complex than this image suggests. The northeastern parts of Syria are inhabited mostly by Kurds and Assyrians, while the society's allegedly secular character has reflected, in reality, an informal though complex arrangement between the various religious groups in the country. In recent decades, the arrangement has involved, in particular, the majority Sunni population and the Alawite minority.

The arrangement was first introduced by President Hafiz Assad. It allowed, in essence, a core of Alawite officers to control the country's security, leaving management of the economy to a handful of Sunni, Christian and Druze officials and merchants. But the arrangement was by no means perfect and would have collapsed in the early 1980s had Assad not put down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama. Memories of this event still loom heavily in the minds of many Syrians today.

The accession to power of President Bashar Assad in June 2000 threatened to dissolve this arrangement. Under the new leadership, the regime's main props narrowed to a clique centered on the president, his immediate family members and close friends. If the old arrangement was imperfect, its dissolution at the hands of the "new guard" was even worse. For the ruling elite did not offer any new vision for Syria's future. Transparency, reform, modernization and development were words often used by Assad and his advisers, but, for the most part, they remained just that: words. No programs, policies or action plans were offered.

As later developments would show, this fact seemed to denote not only a lack of interest in such matters on the art of the new guard, but, more importantly, a lack of real understanding of the basics of governance and of the nature of the global geopolitical changes that took place following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria's old patron. As a result, the history of the last five years has been characterized by endemic corruption,

adventurism and serious miscalculations paving the way for the regime's current international isolation.

Indeed, under the current regime, Syria seems to be heading toward disaster, a point recently highlighted by Assad's petulant defiance of the international community and his refusal to cooperate with the ongoing UN probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But this is not surprising: a witness seems to have already implicated the president's brother and brother-in-law, and this fact could well point the finger at the very top of Syria's leadership.

It is safe to say, therefore, that in these circumstances, the Syrian regime is no longer really viable, and that a search for an alternative is now not only legitimate, but mandatory as well in order to preserve regional stability and prevent the creation of another haven for jihadists and terrorists.

However, and since no one can rationally advocate recourse to another militaristic venture in the region, the downfall of the Syrian regime is better induced through a combination of diplomatic pressures, targeted economic sanctions and various activities and gestures meant to empower the internal opposition in the country and perhaps also the growing disaffection within the middle ranks of the army.

On the other hand, now that Syria's leadership seems to have opted for a confrontation with the international community, a case for the use of force against the regime can no longer be completely ruled out. In fact, the latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria, Resolution 1636, was passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for forceful measures.

While we should all hope not to witness the making of another Iraq, the Bush administration needs to continue to follow a multilateral approach and coordinate its moves with France, Europe and the Security Council. Unilateral moves will only stoke anti-American sentiment, a development that Assad and his entourage seem to be counting on in order to shore themselves up and focus the Syrian people's attention away from the fact that the regime is ultimately responsible for the current crisis threatening the stability, if not the viability, of the country.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian dissident and blogger. He is currently serving as a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Hassan Tahsin, writing in "Arab News," claims there is a Hidden Agenda Behind US Interest in Hariri Murder

In brief the Western attacks in the Middle East are neither for the sake of fighting terror nor for imposing democracy. It is in fact to enrich the American economy and ensure cheap and uninterrupted fuel supply, particularly after China has notched up to the second position among the world powers. A weakened Iraq and Syria would also guarantee the security of Israel.

Therefore it is the duty of all peace-loving people of the world to back Syria against a US-French war of aggression.

Al-Hayat argues that Syria must not allow its economy to become isolated in The Syrian Economy in the Political Climate of the Middle East Region

SANA, the Syrian news agency claims "that a number of economic measures and decisions will be soon issued to facilitate foreign trade and to expand in financing it."

Issam al-Za'im, past Minister of Planning (2000) and Minister of Industry in the Miro government, gave a talk in Homs in which he voiced optimism that Syria would be able to surmount its economic challenges as she had done many times before noting importance of the social economic market in this respect. He said Syria has faced many economic and political challenges in the past years mainly in the 80s of last century but she was always capable of confronting and facing it by depending on her national economy and being self-suficient. Today, however, he argued for the merits of the newly announced "social economic market," saying that Syria was seeking by this system to achieve many positive advances, such as the integration into the world economy, and the enhancement of its national production so as to compete in the international markets and boost the national economy. He said Syria could make an increase in the Gross Domestic Production DGDP reaching to about 7% which is the percentage put by the government for the coming phase. He noted that this would be made through controlling population growth and restructuring the law of investment number 10 in a way that contributes to estblish investors confidence.

Syria says 400 Mossad agents in Lebanon
Syria's official Al-Thawra newspaper claimed Thursday that more than 400 agents from Israel's spy agency Mossad are in Lebanon in the latest volley in an increasingly vitriolic war of words with Lebanon's new leaders. "You have to recognize the danger of having more than 400 men from Israel's Mossad in Lebanon who are working with the other (Lebanese) agents who once supported the Zionist enemy and its militias," wrote editor Fayez Sayegh. "These agents are encircling Lebanon like a belt that will explode when Israel and its strategic ally the United States decide," he said, charging there was also an increasing number of agents from the CIA and European states in the country.

"All these agents came to Lebanon... to sow dissent, revive hatred, reinforce pressure on Lebanon and Syria and above all spy on national forces, the Lebanese resistance and Palestinians," said the paper.

Syria's state run Tishrin newspaper and the Baath newspaper had tried to stir up strife in Lebanon earlier this month, when they ran editorials calling on its allies to hold demonstrations in Lebanon against Premier Fouad Siniora's government and the economic situation in Lebanon. The call was widely dubbed by the local media as a flagrant intervention in Lebanon's domestic affairs in defiance of unrelenting global pressure on the regime of President Bashar Al Assad to take its hands off Lebanon. No demonstrations took place and no political group in Lebanon announced any plans to demonstrate.
Ex-Lebanese Security Head Quizzed in Death , by By ZEINA KARAM, BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP)
The former head of the wiretapping unit for Lebanon's army, Col. Ghassan Tufeili, was questioned Thursday by members of a United Nations commission investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, officials said.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Syria must answer Mehlis Tomorrow about sending the 6 to Vienna

Ibrahim Hamidi writes that "Mehlis is expecting Syria`s answer to question 6 people in Vienna before 25th, which means tomorrow is the deadline. That is why many Arab leaders have been contacting Damascus in the last few days. Please see the link."

Cham Press translates an article from al-Khaleej which quotes Syrian sources as saying that:

According to sources, the Syrian self-reliance regarding food, power and a large number of transformed industries will enable Syria to curb the American schemes."It is clear that the Syrian policy which depends on steadfastness and flexibility did not reach a dead lock, on the contrary it is a fruitful policy as Mehlis accepted to interrogate the Syrian officials in a place the Syrian governments approved.

Furthermore, President Al-Assad's speech was absolutely defined Syria's choices and put the Lebanese forces (of Arab trend) to meet its duties and also Arab countries and the world", Sources added. Sources believed that Damascus's openness to the most influential capitals in the world has resulted in changing the attitudes of Mehlis who fears any confrontation with the UN General Secretariat. Sources said that Mehlis's retreat to interrogate Syrian witnesses in Beirut as a big blow Washington received.
Contrasting Hamidi's story about how Asad has received calls or visits from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and others to respond positively to Mehlis by tomorrow, with that of al-Khaleej, which suggests Syrian officials believe they are undermining UN resolve and are ready to endure sanctions, it is clear we have a classic stand-off. Will Syria take Vienna? I am not putting money on it, but it has backed down before. Asad's message about resistance was clear. We will see.

Nibras Kazimi has a new blog in which he suggests that Syria may not be responsible for killing Hariri. He does this by dissecting the testimony of the second witness against Syria, who has been named ‘the masked witness’; now allegedly identified by New TV as ‘Hosam Taher Hosam.’ This is not Saddiqi. "Mr. Hosam is a Syrian Kurd, born in 1975 in Tel Al-Hefzeiz in the Hasaka Province, Syria. His mother’s name is Zainab Hassan, and his employer is supposedly ‘Syrian Intelligence.’ He claims to have worked directly under people like Assef Shawkat and Rustum Ghazaleh."

Syria Seeks to Limit U.N. Inquiry in Killing
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 23 (Reuters) - Syria wants the United Nations investigators looking into the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister to agree to question witnesses and suspects only inside Syria, and with their lawyers present, according to a draft agreement put forward by Syria.

According to the draft, which was obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, the chief United Nations investigator, Detlev Mehlis, would be required to share his findings with Syrian investigators.

Syria denies any role in the killing.

Mr. Mehlis and members of the United Nations Security Council, which authorized him to investigate the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, in Beirut, have made it clear that such restrictions would be unacceptable.

In a letter the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, asked Secretary General Kofi Annan to intervene with Mr. Mehlis and help negotiate a "cooperation protocol." A United Nations spokesman said Mr. Annan would not get involved.

In an interim report last month, Mr. Mehlis said he had evidence of the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese officials in Mr. Hariri's killing.
Israel: Syria will 'likely' give up "terror"
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told cabinet colleagues Sunday that Syria would "likely" soon be forced to abandon its support for terrorism. Mofaz told the weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet that the broad international pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad, following allegations that officials of his government were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was beginning to bear fruit."

Mofaz said that it is likely that the pressure being applied on Assad will lead him to abandon terror and evict terror headquarters from Damascus," reported the Ha'aretz newspaper from Jerusalem. "He regarded this as a positive development for Israel," the paper concluded. The Syrian government denies it is a supporter of terrorism, and says the offices that Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups have in Damascus have purely propaganda and fundraising functions, not terrorist ones.

The U.S. government has a patchy relationship with Syria on terrorism issues. On the one hand, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly said that Syria is -- at the least -- not doing enough to prevent the infiltration of foreign fighters across its borders into Iraq. Some defense officials privately accuse Assad's security apparatus of harboring senior regime figures and facilitating their insurgency in Iraq. But some intelligence officials say that, behind the scenes, Syrian security has been cooperative against Islamic terror networks. UPI
Al-Baath to give up 500,000 members
Reliable sources said that the Regional Leadership of the Baath Party has taken decisions to re-format the party which suffers from being flabby. The measures aim to adopt a genuine political party formula. One of the decisions provided for reducing members of party branches leadership in governorates and universities from ten to five. Sources expected that the issues of elderly members who do not attend party meetings, who are estimated at half a million, will be tackled.
New American law against Syria

On Tuesday, November 22, 2005, the President signed into law:
S. 1713, the "Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005," which amends the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 to apply its provisions to Syria; broadens the Act to cover acquisitions from as well as transfers to Iran and Syria.

US pressures Syria to act over Iraq border

James Jeffrey, senior coordinator for Iraq, also warned Iran against its "illegitimate interference" in its war-torn neighbour. "Syria is a police state. We don't like that, we don't approve of that but it is a fact," James Jeffrey told reporters in Jordan in a videoconference from Washington. "They have the means of controlling the transfer of particularly foreigners into their country and the vast majority of foreign fighters are not Syrians but come from elsewhere."

"We don't know why they are not stopping it but we expect results," he said, adding that a "large majority" of suicide bombers who launch attacks in Iraq come from Syria. "One can argue to what degree Syria is encouraging such moves, assisting it, simply tolerating it by not doing enough to stop it," he added.

Asked what practical steps Syria should take, Jeffrey suggested imposing strict visa controls on young males entering the country. "That would be a first step." Jeffrey dismissed suggestions that direct dialogue with the Syrian authorities would resolve the problem, saying: "They don't need dialogue, they need to produce action."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can the US and Syria Work Together in Iraq?

Common US and Syrian Goals in Iraq
Iyad Allawi, the ex-Prime Minister of Iraq, who was backed by the Americans in the last Iraqi elections is campaigning in Syria among Iraqi exiles here. I have been asked to meet with his campaigners and write about his platform by some of his supporters. (I don't have time to do this, but some reporter should.) But, it is worth mentioning, that Allawi has the support of the Syrian government. This is not surprising because he represents the best hope of secular Sunni Iraqis to form an alliance with secular Shiites and preserve the unity of Iraq. It is also worth noting that Allawi is also heavily supported by the US government for the same reasons. This should give pause to the people who claim that the US and Syria are working at cross purposes in Iraq and who insist that Washington should refuse Syria any role in helping to find a solution to the Iraqi situation. (This is the stand of WINEP. Robert Rabil recently wrote for the Washington Institute that the US should deny Syria a role in Iraq because it is a bad country.) This is foolish politics and ensures that US demands for Syrian cooperation at the border will not be carried out as enthusiastically as possible. Both governments support Imad Allawi for the same strategic reasons. Both Syria and the US want a stable, unified, and secular Iraq. Both have an interest in limiting the role of Iran in Iraq. Syrian Sunnis from the north-eastern tribes have taken up Allawi's cause here. They believe he is the only salvation of their Sunni cousins in Iraq. Both Syria and the US are trying to buy the Iraqi Sunnis into the political process in Iraq in order to find a way out of the escalating sectarian violence and to put an end to the resistance and terrorism.

Why can't Washington be smart about this? It has consistently refused Syrian cooperation in Iraq. It has refused to allow Syrians delegations to attend conferences on border control. It has refused to supply Syria with much needed night-vision goggles and other high-tech equipment to help survey the border. It has kept the Iraqi government from establishing links and dialog with the Syrians. It has rebuffed Syrian attempts to keep intelligence sharing on Iraq and fundamentalists open at high levels. It has refused to permission of high-level American military representatives to come to Syria to confer with their counterparts here on border issues. America's attempts to isolate Syria have undermined intelligent Iraq policy.

Lebanon's supporters in the US and neo-cons have blinded themselves to the possibility of Syrian cooperation in Iraq. Some of this is understandable. Syria did encourage Jihadists to go to Iraq during the first months of the war. All the same, Syria is now cooperating with the US because the US has declared its intention to eventually leave Iraq, a process Syria hopes to hasten. Syria is also rightfully worried about Iraqi blowback should the resistance continue. The Jordan bombings were a clear demonstration of this danger to all Iraq's neighbors. Lebanese are rightfully fearful that should the US open the door to Syrian cooperation in Iraq, Damascus will try to use their assistance and positive role in the East to buy continued lenience for meddling in Lebanon and foot dragging over the Mehlis investigation. These are understandable fears, but Washington should not let their Iraq policy be driven by Lebanese interests. Washington can separate its Lebanon policy from its Iraq policy, making it clear to Damascus that help in Iraq does not mean a license to fiddle in Lebanon. To those who insist that “pressure works” and only pressure will get the attention of Damascus, let them continue to use pressure. There is no law that pressure and dialog cannot be used together.

It is now clear that the US is not going to achieve regime-change in Syria – even the kind of cheap regime-change of the Qaddafi-deal variety. So long as the “isolate Syria” supporters could hope for dramatic success in getting Syria to make a strategic pirouette by refusing all dialog with Damascus, there was some justification for not cooperating on the Iraq border even though Syria was willing to. Today, that refusal is just stubbornness and short sighted. It may be costing US and Iraqi lives. It certainly means US efforts to increase dialog between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is firing without all its pistons. The US should enlist Syria to play a constructive role in this effort. Iraq’s Kurdish President is keen on bringing the Syrians into the picture and enlisting their support. He has asked the government to stop anti-Syrian propaganda. Allawi is also campaigning for Syria’s help. These are America’s two closest Iraqi allies. Why not listen to them, rather than clip their wings? Use Syria to counterbalance Iran. Refusal to do this only forces Syria and Iran together. It makes western fears of a Shiite crescent in the region self-fulfilling. Syria is an overwhelmingly Sunni country. Although Bashar al-Asad is an Alawite and thus technically closer to Shi`i than Sunni Islam, he is above all secular and interested in preserving his regime and Syria’s position in the region. Harnessing these interests to US goals should be a priority.

Addendum: Just received this from a reader:

Just read your latest posts. Poor Ziad Abdelnour. Got everything he ever wanted, but had nothing to do with it. He must have gone clinically insane. Is that interview for real?

As for Iyad Allawi, I don't pretend to be an expert on Iraqi politics, but I can tell you the election results from Iraqis who voted in the US in the first post-Hussein election:

1) Shiite alliance
2) Kurd alliance
3) Assyrian parties
5) Allawi's ticket

So even Iraqis living in the world's premier capitalist society had more confidence in communists than Allawi. Not exactly a stellar showing. Is he still running alongside Ghazi al-Yawer, who wears a dishdasha and kuffiya in Iraq but comes to DC and brags about how much he loves the Washington Redskins? Street creds, anyone?
Here is a list of the people, compiled by "Shril" who are on trial in front of Syrian State Security Court this period. One can see that most are accused of belonging to Islamist groups or the Iraqi Baath. This is consistent with Damascus' declaration that it is worried about Iraqi-style violence spreading into Syria and the government's declared aim of helping the Iraq government stop Jihadist infiltration and the violent resistance in Iraq.

4 December
Name Accusation
Omar Darwish Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to Islamic brother hood
Radwan Darwish Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to Islamic brother hood
Muhammad Raadon Human rights activist

11 December
Jamel Hallol Islamic background
Khalid Alraaee Islamic background
Mahmoud Abo Mayalah Islamic background
Ahmad Omar Islamic background

18 December
Mahmod al-kateeb Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Ahmad al-kateeb Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Abdel majeed kayrawan Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Muhammad Mahmoud Qasem Islamic background (Detained in 13-2-2005)Yalda "countryside" of Damascus

11 prisoners from al-qamishli Islamic background
Abdel sattar qattan Accused of relation with Islamic brotherhood

15 January 2006
prisoners from al-tal area
"Baraa Mania"- "Ghassan al-khateen" – shaher al-zarqa"- "Murad al-zarqa" "Asem Basheer" Islamic background

seven prisoners from Al-Tal aria (countryside of Damascus Charged with belonging to al-wahabia al-takferia

5 February 2006
Nizar Rastanawi Human rights activist
Abdelrahman alsharef Islamic background- Detained in February 2004
Osamah Cash Islamic background- Detained in August 2003

The arrest of opposition member Kamal Al Labwani at the Damascus International Airport - more info from the Syria Human Rights Information Link.
Syrian opposition member Kamal Lubwani was arrested during his return from Washington and meetings with a number of American officials at The White House, National Security, and American Foreign Affairs. The arrest took place during his exit from Damascus International Airport and at the hands of officers from the civilian police, one of whom is ranked a major, while his wife was preparing to meet him.

Al Lubwani traveled to London a little over two months ago to make an exhibition for the pictures that he drew during his imprisonment on the basis of what has been called “Damascus spring”. After that he traveled to Brussels and met with officials at the European Union; then he moved on to Washington where he did not reach an agreement with The Reform Party leader Farid Al Ghadari. He announced that he is with The Syrian National Council (Al Majlis Al Watani Al Suri) and signed a joint declaration with Doctor Najeeb Ghadban and Al Diri, and told thousands from Washington that he met with American officials for the purpose of discussing change from within and without a repeat of the Iraq scenario, as well as that he discussed the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic change. However, a number of the Syrian opposition members who signed the Damascus Declaration said that Al Lubwani was not present during the preliminary negotiations of the declaration.

The Transfer of Al Lubwani to the examining magistrate
During his questioning in front of the examining magistrate in Damascus, Doctor Kamal Al Lubwani rewiewed the positions that were declared during the interview he gave with Al Hurra satellite television, the substance being:

- emphasis on the absolute rejection of any military or economic pressure on Syria and the absolute rejection of violence.
- emphasis on transparency, clarity, and the rejection of clandestine efforts, along with condemning the bias in political rhetoric.
- emphasis on democracy and support for human rights organizations and basic freedoms, especially the right to participate and produce an opinion, as well as all of the civil and political rights.

The office of the prosecutor general rested its case on the accusations of weakening the psyche of the nation, weakening national consciousness, threatening national dignity, kindling the fires of sectarianism, and belonging to a clandestine organization; its case is based on his opinions and ideas, whether those that he expressed openly and transparently or those that he preserved for himself on his own private slips of paper, and the charges rest on articles 285-287 and 307-308 of the Syrian penal code.

The defense team learned that Doctor Al Lubwani has been exposed since his arrest to the worst detention circumstances which drove him to request the prosecution of the head of the branch of political investigation who slapped him in the face.

The defense team stresses that Doctor Lubwani’s preventive detention has lost its legal justification because all of the requested evidence is present in the file and there is no fear of its loss or destruction, just as there is no fear of the accused taking flight considering he is the one who showed up and returned to the homeland having faith in the integrity and justice of his cause. This detention gives the impression of a punishment or an advance on its settlement and is contrary to the constitutional and legal principle based on that the accused possesses the presumption of innocence until a final ratified judgment concerning him or her is issued.
Shril also describes the:
Prevention of the gathering of The Council of the Damascus Declaration
The Syrian Committee for Human Rights (London) disapproved of the audacity of the Syrian security authorities in preventing the convening of the meeting of the temporary council for the Damascus declaration; an action which was carried out on the evening of Sunday, November 11, 2005, by barring the entrance of the building in which the meeting was chosen to convene by means of a massing of elements of the police and intelligence services.

Rhonda Roumani explains in the Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 17) why the Syrian opposition has distanced itself from Labwani:
But as the US has been trumpeting Labwani's plight, internal Syrian opposition has distanced itself from him. Wary of US intentions in the region, many view support from Labwani with suspicion.

Labwani is one of only a handful of opposition figures within Syria who has called for stronger ties with the US. Many here are afraid of being labeled the Syrian version of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition figure who many say helped build the case for the invasion of Iraq.

Labwani, a medical doctor from Zabadani, a mountainous area on the border with Lebanon, gained notoriety in Syria when he was arrested in 2001, along with nine other prominent activists. He served a three-year term and was released in September 2004.

Upon his release, Labwani returned to politics, giving lectures on democracy and the Damascus Spring. This year, he announced the formation of the Liberal Democratic Union, a new political party advocating strong ties with the West. (Syrian law forbids the formation of new political parties.)

But in meetings with US officials, Labwani chose not to speak on behalf of his new political party, says his lawyer, but asked for US support of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for reform and was signed last month by a coalition of opposition leaders, including Islamists.

Labwani, who did not sign the declaration himself, was criticized by Abdel-Azeem, the spokesman for the Declaration, for taking it to US officials without being a signatory. "As for the arrest, we are against the arrest of any Syrian citizen under the emergency law," says Abdel-Azeem.

"I am not against Rice saying what she said," says Louay Hussein, an opposition figure and owner of a publishing house. "But I am not convinced of their sincerity. They do not care about human rights or the human rights of Kamal Labwani. This was only for their benefit, not the benefit of the Syrian people."

Riad Nakshbandi, an engineer who used to work on the Tharwa Project, a project on minority issues in the Middle East until it was shut down last month, is another opposition figure who is not opposed to reaching out to the US.

"But there has to be a framework in how we deal with the Americans - not just a single person," says Mr. Nakshbandi.
Kim Ghattas of the BBC has a good story entitled:
Syria's minority Alawites Fear for their Future
I am quoted saying, "Certain Alawites have been able to benefit from having an Alawite president, but [many] remain poor and don't have connections to the regime," says Joshua Landis. "They worry they are the ones that are going to eat all the revenge and discrimination, if the state falls, they are going to pay the price for the privileges of a few." (I was quoting JAM, so don't say I don't listen to the doubly heretical Alawite.)

One reader writes:

Mr. Landis: David Duke, the former head of the KKK of Louisiana, is in Damascus to express his support and solidarity to the Syrian government. I think they will form a perfect partnership! Also, he is discussing plans to open a branch and a local office of his movement, i.e., the KKK, in the Syrian Capital...God Bless, God Speed!!!! Oh, Happy Thanksgiving by the way.
UN chief: Arab leaders worried Syria could become the next Iraq
By The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who just returned from the Mideast, said Arab leaders are worried that Syria could become the next Iraq.

Annan said on Monday that the issue of Syrian cooperation with an investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri came up in every capital he visited.

"They're all concerned and anxious to see Syria cooperate and to see the issue settled diplomatically and not lead to a situation that destabilizes possibly Syria and Lebanon," Annan said. "They're worried if we are leading to another Iraq situation."

A UN interim report into the February 14 assassination implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services, and accused Syria of only limited cooperation. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on October 31 warning Syria of possible "further action" if it refuses to cooperate with the UN investigation, which has been extended until December 15.

Syria has objected to chief investigator Detlev Mehlis' request to interview six top Syrian officials about the assassination in Beirut. Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad reiterated Monday that Lebanon "creates problems, sensitivities and other issues."

Last week, Mekdad said Syria had proposed alternative venues including the headquarters of the UN observer force in the Golan Heights, at the Arab League office in Cairo, or at UN facilities in Vienna and Geneva.

Mekdad said the location issue was discussed at a meeting in Barcelona, Spain two days ago between Mehlis and Syrian officials.

Asked about reports that there was an agreement on Cyprus as a compromise venue, he replied, "not yet - there still needs to be some work."

Mekdad said Syria is insisting on a memorandum of understanding spelling out the kind of cooperation the UN investigating commission requires in its interrogation and investigation.

After Mehlis arrived in Lebanon, he signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in June, "and in Syria we want to do the same, so that we know how ... we organize our cooperation and work together," Mekdad said.

"It is not in our interest to delay things," he said. "I think it is against our interest and we hope that Mr. Mehlis and his team will expedite the work so that we can proceed directly to the investigation and the interrogation processes."

Annan refused to respond to reports of U.S. criticism for allegedly interfering in the Mehlis investigation, but he said "I have had the chance to assist him sometimes to push people along, encourage leaders in the region to urge Syria to cooperate and to cooperate fully."

"I have also had the chance to talk to Syrian authorities since the resolution several times urging them to cooperate with Mehlis - and I think it is my duty as secretary-general to do whatever I can to assist to make sure that everybody cooperates," he said.

Stressing the widespread concern in the region, Annan said he has made it clear to the Syrians that the Security Council wants "to get to the truth and then show that the culprits are brought to justice and a message will be sent out that impunity will not be allowed to stand."

In tandem with the suspicions about Syria's hand in Hariri's assassination, the United States, joined by the new Iraqi government, has accused Damascus of not doing enough to patrol its border with Iraq.

At the very least, argue Iraqi and U.S. officials, Syria is turning a blind eye to hundreds of so-called foreign fighters crossing into Iraq and who are believed to be behind some of the most violent attacks in that country, including the near daily suicide bombings.

Syria has disputed those claims, saying it is doing all it can, but that it would be impossible to fully patrol such a long and porous desert border.

Damascus has also repeatedly has denied any role in the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. But Syria's opponents in Lebanon accuse Damascus of ordering the slaying because Hariri had increasingly resisted Syria's control of Lebanon.

Syria withdrew its soldiers from Lebanon in April under intense international pressure, ending a 29-year presence in its smaller neighbor.

"We want to see a situation where the countries in the region respect each other's sovereignty and do not interfere in each other's affairs," Annan said.

"So if there is pressure on Syria, it's pressure for a behavioral change," he said. "That's the way I see it."

2 Syrians Shot at Border with Iraq

I made a terrible mistake this afternoon when I wrote that 20 Syrians had been shot at the border. It was actually two Syrian soldiers who were wounded and taken to Deir al-Zor hospital and then to Sham hospital in the capital. (Forgive me for the mistake. I called my friend in Deir al-Zor again and he corrected the story. I guess rumors were flying in the Northeast.

Also read the story by Abdullah Ta'i about the 14 year-old Syrian girl and her brother who were shot by Americans on November 4 in the town of Hirri.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Conspiracies, Detlev Mehlis and Regime-Change

As Detlev Mehlis remains in the spotlight, a number of conspiracy theories have been circulating. Here are three of the best. The first suggests that Mehlis has faked the charges against Syria as part of a neo-con plot to bring down the Syrian regime. It is a lot of bits and pieces cobbled together, but the interview with Ziad Abdel Nour, the President of the US Committee for a Free Lebanon, is worth the price of admission alone. Abdel Nour also puts out MEIB with Daniel Pipes whose "Campus Watch" organization selected a quote from my op-ed in the NY Times to feature on their "bad guys of the month" list.

The second theory was published in the New Scottsman, which reports that a both a Scottish constable and a CIA agent involved in the Lockerbie case are insisting that the vital piece of evidence linking the bombing to Libya was planted by the CIA.

The third "exposes CIA, Mossad links to the 1986 Berlin disco bombing" which Mehlis investigated. Enjoy.

Mehlis's Murky Past; US and Isreali Proxies Pushing the Next Neo-Con War
Faking the Case Against Syria
Counter Punch: November 18, 2005

Another slam dunk forgery is being used to convict Syria. The United Nations' Detlev Mehlis inquiry into the murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hairri depends on a central witness, Zuhir Ibn Mohamed Said Saddik, who has faced accusations of being a swindler and embezzler. Der Spiegel exposed Saddik's brags of "becoming a millionaire" from his testimony to the Mehlis Commission. Saddik was referred to the Mehlis Commission by Syrian regime critic Rifaat Assad, the uncle of current Syrian President Bashar Assad. Rifaat has been lobbying the Bush administration to become the president of Syria in the event his nephew Bashar is ousted.

The record of the UN's investigator Mehlis does not inspire faith in his credibility. As Senior Public Prosecutor in the German Attorney General's office, Mehlis investigated the 1986 LaBelle Discotheque bombing in Berlin. Relying on alleged National Security Agency intercepts of coded messages between Tripoli and Libyan suspects in Germany (later revealed by former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky as false telex signals generated by Mossad itself), Mehlis provided the 'irrefutable proof' of Libya's guilt that then justified Ronald Reagan's bombing of Libya.

In the case of the accusations against Syria, Mehlis's case revolves around a series of questionable phone conversations and intersecting calling card numbers allegedly dialled by the perpetrators. It contains no definitive forensics on the car bomb explosives used. Outside investigators have said it could have been RDX plastique, not TNT as Mehlis suggested in his report. The German Mercedes manufacturers were also perplexed at how Hariri's vehicle, reinforced by the heaviest steel-titanium alloy, was "melted by the force of the explosion," after-effects usually associated with high density DU munitions. The car bomb vehicle (stolen in Japan and never fully traced) was possibly driven by a suicide bomber, whose identity is still unknown. Mehlis's report then states: "Another only slightly less likely possibility is that of a remotely controlled device."

Mehlis conclusions on the case , due on December 15 could justify an attack on Syria, using the Hariri assassination as justification. But from Beirut to Damascus, the "Arab Spring" was a neocon forgery designed to destabilize the Levant and redraw the map of the middle east.

Near the Mohammad Al Amin Mosque of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut, I interviewed a founder of the Martyrs' Square tent city and asked about US-Israeli sponsorship of the 'Independence Intifadah'. Surrounded by red and white Lebanese flags, soldier Michael Sweiden of the Lebanese Forces emphasized he was Christian Lebanese.

"We love Israel", he told me. "Israel helps us. Israel is like our mother."
Years before its role in the so-called "Cedar Revolution" (a moniker coined by US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, a signatory to the Project for a New American Century), Israel awarded citizenship and grants of up to $10,000 to South Lebanon Army soldiers who collaborated with the Israeli Defense Forces during Lebanon's civil war. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed, "Senior officials at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office were in touch with Lebanese leaders even before the current crisis." Backed by American and Israeli neocons, a Christian Lebanese Likud is proxying Israel's second invasion.

One example is the Lebanese Foundation for Peace, a self-styled "Government of Lebanon in Exile in Jerusalem" founded by former Lebanese Forces' military intelligence officer Nagi Najjar. Najjar, a CIA consultant, testified not so long ago in support of Ariel Sharon's "complete innocence" in the Sabra and Shatila affair against charges by Human Rights Watch and regional governments. Najjar has also paired with Mossad agent Yossef Bodansky while lobbying the U.S. congress to intervene in Hezbollah-dominated south Lebanon. His NGO, The Lebanese Foundation for Peace, endorsed the AIPAC-sponsored sanctions against Syria, known as the Syria Accountability / Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. On his LFP website featuring an Israeli flag, Najjar's "government in exile" issued an official declaration; "We, the people of Free Lebanon, thank Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom for the campaign launched by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Afffairs aimed at ousting Syria from occupying Lebanon."

Another NGO of the Lebanese Likud is the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon. Its President, Ziad Abdel Nour is the son of wealthy Lebanese Minister of Parliament Khalil Abdel Nour. USCFL partners with designated "democratizers" such as the American Enterprise Institute (created by Lebanese-American William Baroody, Sr.), Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Republican Jewish Coalition, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Middle East Forum, the Hudson Institute and kindred pro-Israel lobbies.

The USCFL hails former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel for signing a peace deal with Israel in 1983. (According to the UAE's late president Sheik Zayed bin sultan Al Nahyan, Saddam Hussein agreed to leave Iraq before the war in 2003 to halt the invasion. But Amin Gemayel, the mediator between Saddam and the US administration, wrongly informed the US that Hussein had rejected all offers of exile). Abdel Nour's other links include the World Lebanese Organization, which advocates Israel's re-occupation of south Lebanon. In 2000, he and neocon Daniel Pipes composed the policy paper "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: the US Role" and together co-author the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. The bulletin is a project of the neocon Middle East Forum and is a frequent resource for American intelligence agencies. On November 2, 2005 Abdel Nour updated me on the Syrian crisis by phone.

Schuh: What is the future of Syria, of President Bashar Al Assad's situation?

Nour: Both the Syrian and Lebanese regimes will be changed- whether they like it or not- whether it's going to be a military coup or something else... and we are working on it. We know already exactly who's going to be the replacements. We're working on it with the Bush administration. This is a Nazi regime of 30 years, killing ministers, presidents and stuff like that. They must be removed. These guys who came to power, who rule by power, can only be removed by power. This is Machiavelli's power game. That's how it is. This is how geopolitics -- the war games, power games -- work. I know inside out how it works, because I come from a family of politicians for the last 60 years. Look, I have access to the top classified information from the CIA from all over the world. They call me, I advise them. I know exactly what's going on. And this will happen.

Q: So would they remove the entire Assad family?

A: Why not? Who is Bashar Al Assad?

Q: I didn't see forensic proof in the Mehlis report that would legally convict Assad of Hariri's death in a court of law.

A: I don't give a damn. I don't give a damn, frankly. This Bashar Al Assad-Emil Lahoud regime is going to go whether it's true or not. When we went to Iraq whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not, the key is -- we won. And Saddam is out! Whatever we want, will happen. Iran? We will not let Iran become a nuclear power. We'll find a way, we'll find an excuse- to get rid of Iran. And I don't care what the excuse is. There is no room for rogue states in the world. Whether we lie about it, or invent something, or we don't... I don't care. The end justifies the means. What's right? Might is right, might is right. That's it. Might is right.

Q: You sound just like Saddam. Those were his rules too.

A: So Saddam wanted to prove to the whole world he was strong? Well, we're stronger- he's out! He's finished. And Iran's going to be finished and every single Arab regime that's like this will be finished. Because there is no room for us capitalists and multinationalists in the world to operate with regimes like this. Its all about money. And power. And wealth... and democracy has to be spread around the world. Those who want to espouse globalization are going to make a lot of money, be happy, their families will be happy. And those who aren't going to play this game are going to be crushed, whether they like it or not! This is how we rule. And this is how it's going to be as long as you have people who think like me.

Q: When will this regime change take place?

A: Within 6 months, in both Lebanon and Syria.

Q: Some names of replacements?

A: It is classified. There are going to be replacements and we know who they are, but I cannot mention the names.

Q: Will this be done peacefully?

A: It doesn't matter. The end justifies the means. I don't care about how it's done. The important thing is that it is done. I don't rule out force. I'm not against force. If it's an option, it will be an option.

Q: But if it's just trading Syrian control for American or Israeli control?

A: I have -- we have -- absolutely no problem with heavy US involvement in Lebanon. On an economic level, military level, political level, security level... whatever it is. Israel is the 51st state of the United States. Let Lebanon be the 52nd state. And if the Arabs don't like it, tough luck.

US-Israeli intervention in Lebanon has a long history. In 1950's Beirut, The U.S. oil companies and the CIA paid bribes to Maronite Catholic President Camille Chamoun to buy allegiance against Lebanese Muslims, and the pan-Arab threat of Nasser. In his book Ropes of Sand, CIA case officer William Crane Eveland revealed, "Throughout the elections, I traveled regularly to the presidential palace with a briefcase full of Lebanese pounds, then returned late at night to the embassy with an empty twin case" to be refilled again with more CIA funds. Journalist Said Aburish recalled, "The convergence of interest between the Camille Chamoun government and CIA agents produced a bizarre atmosphere which altered Beirut's character. It became a CIA city..." frequented by such covert operatives as Kermit Roosevelt (who organized the Iranian coup against Mohammed Mossadeq). Soon the Israelis joined in, supplying weapons to Chamoun's son Dany, an arms trader. Dany's weapons sales to Maronite gangs created a precedent for the country's civil war militias. ( See Aburish's A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, 1997)

A more recent US-Israeli role commenced in mid-November, 2004. A demonstration was called by former Christian General Michel Aoun. (Aoun testified to the US Congress in 2003, and Congress favors him as a post-Assad Lebanese president). US diplomats coached a vanguard of unwitting Lebanese youth in CIA "Triple U" techniques (uncontrollable urban unrest). Opposition sources revealed that a downtown rally of 3000 mostly Christian student activists protesting "Syrians Out!" had been organized by the US Embassy in Beirut. The Associated Press reported on November 19, 2004, "One demonstrator appealed to the US president, holding a placard that read: 'Bush help us save Lebanon.' Another dressed up as Osama bin Laden but with the words "Syrian Terror" on his chest. He held a toy gun to the head of a protester who was wrapped in the Lebanese flag..."

Lebanese riot police allowed this unprecedented pre-Cedar rehearsal without arrests because of a deal worked out beforehand with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Feltman, closely linked to Ariel Sharon and Karl Rove, is an associate of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans that created the false evidence and "mushroom cloud" intelligence used to justify attacks on Iraq. This 2004 rehearsal demonstration was answered by a counter protest of 300,000 on November 30 against UN Resolution 1559. Continue.....

Police chief- Lockerbie evidence was faked

A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.

The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.

The police chief, whose identity has not yet been revealed, gave the statement to lawyers representing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, currently serving a life sentence in Greenock Prison.

The evidence will form a crucial part of Megrahi's attempt to have a retrial ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC). The claims pose a potentially devastating threat to the reputation of the entire Scottish legal system.

The officer, who was a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, is supporting earlier claims by a former CIA agent that his bosses "wrote the script" to incriminate Libya. Continued...

German TV exposes CIA, Mossad links to 1986 Berlin disco bombing By a German correspondent

Backgrounder on Detlev Mehlis
World Socialist Website: 27 August 1998

A documentary broadcast August 25 by German public television presents compelling evidence that some of the main suspects in the 1986 Berlin disco bombing, the event that provided the pretext for a US air assault on Libya, worked for American and Israeli intelligence.

The report, aired by Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF television), is of the greatest relevance to events of the past three weeks, in which attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania have become the justification for US missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan, and a shift in American foreign policy to an even more unbridled use of military force internationally.

With Washington declaring “war against terrorism” and arrogating to itself the right to use its military might unilaterally against any target anywhere in the world, the German TV report raises the most serious and disturbing questions. All the more so, since the US media and leading Republican politicians, within hours of the American embassy bombings, began citing Reagan’s 1986 air attack on Libya as an exemplary response to terrorist attacks, and pressed Clinton to carry out similar military action. Continued....

Director of Public Diplomacy at USAID the Honorable Walid Maalouf, said at Syracuse University on Thursday November 17, 05:

First American Official Signals For Syrian Regime Change: “The Time has come for change in Syria…The Assad Baath is like the Saddam Baath”

Monday, November 21, 2005

Article Round Up: Nov. 21 2005

"The United States had no evidence that Syria was involved in the infiltration of insurgents in Iraq," said A top U.S. Air Force general, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, Commander of the 9th U.S. Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces. "Our only concern with Syria is the number of terrorists infiltrating through porous borders with Iraq," he said.

Anton Efendi at Bayside has linked to a series of articles from in As-Siyassah in his post: Democratic Change in Syria. He also links to a number of articles dissecting Bashar's speech.

Youssef Ibrahim has an interesting article: VIEWPOINT: SYRIA ON THE RAILS in the Middle East Times.

In the United Nations' looming confrontation with Syria, it's hard to define the best strategy, but easy to identify the worst one - the imposition of general economic sanctions that would hurt the Syrian people while allowing the ruling clique to grow even richer. That's my strongest impression from a visit to Damascus.
Marlin Dick has written an excellent survey of The Mehlis Report and Lebanon’s Trouble Next Door
Marlin Dick
November 18, 2005
(Marlin Dick is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon.)

For background on the Lebanese elections, see Sateh Noureddine and Laurie King-Irani, “Elections Pose Lebanon’s Old Questions Anew,” Middle East Report Online, May 31, 2005.

The fall 2005 issue of Middle East Report focuses entirely on developments in Syria and Lebanon since the Syrian withdrawal. To order the issue or to subscribe to Middle East Report, visit MERIP’s home page.

The UN-authorized investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, now well into a second phase of heightened brinkmanship between Damascus and Washington, also has Lebanon holding its collective breath.

As expected, the first report of German investigator Detlev Mehlis, released on October 21, 2005, did not produce a “smoking gun” proving the involvement of Syrian officials or Lebanese proxies in the February 14 killing of Hariri and 22 others with a one-ton truck bomb in downtown Beirut. Rather, Mehlis wrote that “on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act” and that “it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge.” The public version of the report lays out a circumstantial case for these allegations, and cites the claim of a witness who worked for Syrian intelligence that “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate” Hariri in September 2004. A leaked, unedited version of the report names two of these officials as Mahir al-Asad, head of Syria’s Republican Guard and brother of President Bashar al-Asad, and Asef Shawkat, head of Syrian military intelligence and the president’s brother-in-law.

Mehlis has demanded that Shawkat and other current and former high-ranking Syrian officers be made available for questioning before his second report is due on December 15. Facing international pressure to comply, in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1636, Damascus has pledged to cooperate, while lambasting the first report for relying on hearsay and protesting the requested cession of Syrian sovereignty to a UN-appointed official. In a speech on November 10, Asad predicted: “We will cooperate, but in the end they will say that we did not cooperate.”

Whatever the resolution of Syria’s standoff with Mehlis, politics in Lebanon are paralyzed due to the lack of a resolution of the Hariri killing. From Lebanese politicians, Mehlis’ findings have elicited loud approval and calls to continue the investigation to the end, as well as outraged complaints that the entire process is politicized, a vendetta against Syria by France and the US. Some politicians have advocated both views simultaneously. There is a domestic angle as well: the report does not directly implicate President Emile Lahoud, but four of his security chiefs (and key allies) were arrested in late August under suspicion of having planned the killing. Lahoud, the extension of whose term at Syria’s behest in September 2004 was the backdrop to the political crisis culminating in the Hariri killing, has refused to resign. Due to shifting alliances entangled in the web of apprehension about the Mehlis investigation, his opponents have not yet compelled him to.


The assassination and subsequent Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon happened to precede Lebanese parliamentary elections that had already been scheduled for May and June. The elections were held under roughly the same election law as 2000, when Hariri and his allies scored important victories but failed to win control of Parliament because of a cohort of Syrian-backed deputies. In the 2005 round, the “March 14 opposition,” so named for the date of a million-person demonstration demanding “the truth” about Hariri’s death and an end to Syrian influence in Lebanon, won a slight majority of seats. This alliance was led by Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain premier and heir to his heavily Sunni Future Movement, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, along with Christian MPs from the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, the Lebanese Forces, several mainly Christian groups and the Democratic Left Movement. However, victorious Christian MPs from this camp had what, in the sectarian logic of Lebanon’s confessional system, is seen as a political liability. All of Lebanon’s electoral districts are multi-member; an MP who wins election does so thanks to the votes of the entire district, not just her own sect. The sectarian logic also means that when an MP wins a race without securing at least a plurality of votes from his own sect, he is subject to charges that he lacks legitimacy as a spokesperson for the sect. In opposition, many hailed the March 14 coalition as multi-confessional. In electoral victory, the coalition was widely seen as dominated by Sunni and Druze politicians who had to court the Shiite parties to get business done. Anything dramatic like the fate of the president would require full consensus, namely support from the leading Christian politician whose credentials were not “tainted” by having won his seat on the strength of non-Christian votes.

That person was former general Michel Aoun, who returned to Lebanon in May from 14 years of exile in Paris. .... Continued

Michael Young writes, "Asad of Syria: No More Mr. Nice Guy," in the INternational Herald Tribune. He concludes:
Assad might survive such trials if he deems the "resistance" route necessary. However, Syria would also be irremediably damaged. It is ironic that the Syrians, who legitimately fear seeing their country transformed into another Iraq, may be led by leaders who somehow regard pre-2003 Iraq as a model for emulation

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Readers Comments Nov. 21 2005

I have received a number of interesting comments on my recent post about rising nationalism in Syria and Why the US Should not Push Syria to the Wall. Many readers objected to my calling the Syrian opposition "immature." I did not mean this as a description of particular opposition members, who are courageous and fighting the good fight. It was to describe the movement as a whole, which is unprepared to run the country and is unable to win the active backing of a significant portion of the Syrian public, which might make the opposition an alternative to the regime. There seems to be a large gap in thinking and policy recommendations between Syrians living outside Syria and those living inside. Many Syrians outside Syria recommend US led regime-change. Those inside, by and large, reject this. I do not believe the anti-American position of resident Syrians is primarilly due to their fear of the government. I believe it is because they see the world through the eyes of the local media, which is distrustful of the West; they fear chaos as a real possibility; many minorities believe Bashar is a shield to Islamists; others are just naturally conservative and risk averse - they see what has happened in Iraq.

"a grassroots Republican activist" writes:

Just read your most recent post about rising nationalism in Syria. Interesting, especially as it relates to the political climate here.

The Jack Murtha resolution has caused a big stir. The public mood is turning more and more anti-war by the day. Even rank-and-file Republicans are beginning to jump ship on Iraq. I expect that some moderate GOP members of Congress, especially Senators (who tend to be more vulnerable in re-election efforts), will shortly begin to join up with Murtha's sentiments.

While I agree with Murtha on Iraq, he is my party's worst nightmare for 2006 because his conservative "street cred" blue-dog Democratic leadership, as opposed to the whinging liberal coastal Kerry-Pelosi elitism, is what can turn the tide away from Republican domination in Congress.

So the best bet for the GOP (and for America) is for Republicans to steal Murtha's thunder and champion a staged withdrawal, thereby saving their hides for 2006.

Anyway, the point of all this is that it strengthens Bashar's hand. If Americans can't even agree to stay in Iraq, they're definitely not going to want to expand to Syria.

Consider also that even one of the most anti-Syria members of Congress, Robert Wexler from Florida, who sponsored the recent resolution slamming Syria after the Mehlis report, was one of only 3 congressmen out of 400+ to vote YES on Friday for an unconditional immediate withdrawal from Iraq. So aside from that silly vote and any additional toothless anti-Syria legislation forthcoming, Congress is absolutely schizophrenic as far as the Middle East goes. Shouting matches erupted on the House floor on Friday. There is no concensus at all on what Bush is currently doing, has already done, or wants to do in the future.

"a grassroots Republican activist"

Maureen Thomas, who has worked tirelessly to bring Kamal al-Labwani's arrest to the attention of the British Parliament and European Union and who has been in constant contact with Kamal's family, advocating for them and giving them hope that authorities outside Syria will provide some protection for Kamal, has written the following note.

Dear Professor Landis,

I read your posting this morning with interest and distress. My first reaction was that the Syria you describe today reminded me strongly of the China I experienced in 1988 and, to a lesser degree, in 1993.

My main concern today, though, is my dear friend Dr Kamal al-Labwani. Everybody who met him while he was staying here in England commented on his palpable honesty, shining integrity and love for the Syrian people. His chief reason for going to the US was to persuade the government there NOT to punish the people of Syria by imposing sanctions or using force, but to give the Syrian opposition parties enough support for them to have the space and time to introduce reforms from within Syria. He is a great advocate of democracy and has stated time and time again that democracy cannot be imposed on a nation from outside - it must come from within. That is why he chose to return to Syria in spite of the personal risk he was running

He knew perfectly well that he would be arrested on his return, but I do not believe that he contemplated being incarcerated in a cell with 40 convicted criminals. During his previous imprisonment he was kept in solitary confinement, partly to stop him communicating his ideas to others. Why now, then, are they putting him in a cell with so many others? It seems clear to me that, in these circumstances, it will be so easy for an anonymous criminal "someone" to do him serious harm for which nobody will have to take the blame.

I, too, am angry at the way Bush used Kamal as a stick with which to beat Bashar, but I am also disappointed that support for Kamal from the European Parliament is so slow in coming despite the best efforts of Amnesty International and politicians here.

I am at a great disadvantage because I do not speak or read Arabic and am so far removed from the situation in Syria. I do not know how the ordinary Syrian citizen can be persuaded of Kamal's good faith or that their apparent current approval of Bashar is mistaken. I dare say that this is not achievable and that I, and others like me, must watch impotently while this tragedy for Kamal and for his country unfolds. If only enough people in the world had the honesty and courage of Dr. Labwani.

Yours sincerely,
Maureen Thomas

Dear mr. landis,

As an avid reader of your website i am saddened that you continue to defend
the regime with even weaker points. While i understand that your
surroundings/marriage to an allawi woman from a milatary family slants your
point of view of syrian society , to invoke ali el dik music (a convicted
alawi smuggler) as patriotic music really makes you think something is wrong
when this is the kind of people considered "patriotic".

You have no right to continue to tell the world that we syrian people are
not ready fro democracy many more hamas and rami makhlkoufs do we
have to endure before u gave us ure stamp of approval?

p.s. for the record i come from the Ismaili community in Salamie and thus am
an ardent liberal and anti islamist BUT most importanly i believe in the
will of the people and democracy ,something sadly i seem to understand from
your writings you dont care much for.

And for the record i have nothing but respect for Alawis or any other sects, Aref Dellila i hope one day will be in charge of syrias economy, not this
dardari who serves to make the regime look better and little else.
By Anonymous

JAM writes:
Decent Alawis are suffering from the regime as much as any one else. This is more like a Mafia rule than a government with any legitimacy. They intimidate every one, and every one is suvjected to the rules of fear that exist in syria.

I welocome the Iraqi scenario if necessary. The Iraqis, and despite this atmosphere of killings and violence have returned to be human beings again, not dead and sheep as Saddam had made them to be. The Iraqis are happier than most of you know about. I have met Iraqis who have returned and retiurning right now to Iraq. They do prefer this post Saddam situation a million times than Saddam's rule. So do I when it concerns Syria. I want this regime out, and the likes Manaf Tlas to shut up for ever. Let the Syrians become human beings again, with brains, and dignity, and let them kill each other for a while for if this is what they are made of, this will happen now or in 100 years later. let it happen now, and let the Syrians leave their Sheep status as described by Josh himself few times. We need to see Syrians regain their humanity, even if this will lead to some blood shed, and I bet you all, and I know that this will not happen because Syrians are the most pacifists among all Arabs, and among all people. Take away the real thugs and criminals who are the mafia of the regime, and this nation will stand tall again, most civilised among all nations. Syria was the example to the world in keeping the specific traits of any population that migrated to it. Take the Armenians, the Cherkess in modern times, and see how Alawis, Druz, Assyrians, Kurds, etc.,... all were not forced to abandon their ways of life throught hundreds if not thousands of years, and see how Syria had Christian PMs, Druz Ministers of Defense many times, when Druz do not even count 1% of Syria. All of that before this Thug Hafez Assad took over and made it dividied as Josh sees it now.

The solution for Syria in Josh's eyes is to keep thugs like Manaf Tlas for "years" as Tlas wants.. This subhuman sold the Syrian people bad meat he imported and knew it was bad, just to make few extra millions on top of his already made billions. This is a man they interviewed above and wanted to present as a witness that Syria needs him and his ilks for "years" as he put it.

Get out of this crap, mr. Landis!

EHSANI2 writes:
America supports Israel. Israel mistreats the palestinians. Syria is targeted".

"With this CD playing over and over since 1948, Arab regimes used this music to subject their populations to any amount of indignity and sub-standard economic well being they though justifiable. Abu Arab, for example, finds it very hard to take the sound of this CD out of his pre-programmed brain. Let us not lose sight of what all this is about. The Syrian leadership is accused of killing a prime minister of a neighbering country. As I suggested in my comment above, we ought to be spending our time answering this question:

If the evidence is fabricated as Bashar claimed to his 18 million people, why doesn't he pack his files and taped conversations, take his officers, invite CNN and Al-jazeera on the flight (ala Air force one), land anywhere the Mossad agent Mehlis wants, and go on embarrasing America and its leaders by exposing thei lies and conspiricy against his country in front of worldwide Tv and for the world to see. Dr. Landis, I, for one, would love for you to post an article to answer this question for your readers.

Dr. Landis should not be criticised for thinking that the Syrian people are not ready for democracy. He has been living in Syria and seeing the real Syrian people and not you inteliggent people reading and writing on his post. What Dr. Landis sees is 18 million people who can hardly speak a single foreign language, who are made up of 60% below the age of 18 wandering in the streets of Damascus seemingly oblivious to the world outside and perfectly content that this is the way it is supposed to be. After all, they have heard the famous CD above since they were born. They are convinvced that this is the best they can do, and if other countries improve and prosper, then this is either a lie or unimportant. After all, believing in the CD brings them honor. For them, they are born to believe in a higher cause. Democracy and improving standards of living is not for them. They are incable to practice it like others and their country is not ready for it. The CD is more important for their honor and dignity. The fact is that this regime and party has been a master at this game. They have convinced Dr. Landis and their own 18 million people that they are not ready for any better. In a way, they are right. Dr. Landis, how can you have an opposition when you have draconian emergency laws which are in place supposedly because of the CD but in truth exist to crush any chance of opposition and democratic tendencies. Sir, I can guarantee you that if you send our Baath, Mukhabarat and emergency laws to Sweden you will have that country look like Syria in 40 years. When you keep on repeating the mantra that Syrians are not ready, have you ever asked yourself the question of WHY? Do you think it is genetics? I know you cannot help it. You see 18 million improvished men and women, and you don't see in them an alternative leadership to Assad and the Baath. You ask yourself who else can lead this nation? Sir, if you could see them, touch them and feel them and if they were credible as an opposing force, then our security system and emergency laws would failed to work or do a job they perfect over 40 years. Trust me, sir, they work and work better than your own CIA/FBI.
EHSANI2 [end]

Atassi writes
Mr. Assad in his last speech shows that he has more aggressive stance and willing to fight back, He knows and we all know this aggressive stance will hurt the Syrian people, I truly believe now that his untested, inexperience and ill prepared policy leading the county into a dangerous environment domestically and on the regional level too.

This Forum needs to Voice the need for the county to:
1- The dominant role of the Baath party needs to be reduced to allow the real oppositions groups can participate in a program of transition to a democratic and free society to facilitate a free and fair election “even to the presidency itself”.
2- Syria now is in uncharted territory, Mr. Assad needs to show the county that he is on the helm of the job at this difficult time. He needs to act and remove any elements opposing the need for institutional reform.
3- Abolishing Decree No. 51 “state of emergency”, in which Mr Assad himself admitted that mistake and abuse were made with Decree No.51. He must reinforce the independence of the judiciary system maybe by removing the office of the president form the higher council of the judiciary.
4- Syria in needs of justice system to fight corruption and enforce transparency in the county public entities for fair and allow a fair and transparent biddings process.

"Bayanouni and the Muslim Brotherhood" by A. Shadid

I have been meaning to post Anthony Shadid's article for some time to keep on the record.
Inside and Outside Syria, a Debate to Decide the Future

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; A25

LONDON -- The man who may help decide the future of Syria sits in a tidy, two-story house at the end of a drab street of a London suburb, about 2,200 miles from home. Upstairs is his office. Downstairs is a television tuned to the Arabic-language network al-Arabiya, broadcasting another news bulletin on his country, from which he was forced to leave 26 years ago.

"I live here like a stranger," said Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni, the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful opposition movement in Syria.

Bayanouni's years of exile, though, are tempered by the modern world. Each day, dozens of e-mails arrive from among 300 addresses in Syria, keeping him abreast of the latest at home. He stays in contact with his fellow Brotherhood leaders, flung across Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Europe. His British cell phone is inundated with text messages. Over last week's Muslim holiday, he received one he called especially memorable. The well-wisher said that, next year, he hoped Bayanouni would be in Damascus. "This regime is probably going to collapse," Bayanouni said bluntly. "It could happen in a week, it could take a year."

For Bayanouni and other exiles, and for Syrian officials and activists inside the country, these days are unlike any in a generation, perhaps any in Syria's modern history. Together, they are retooling ideologies, staking out visions and positioning themselves for a place in Syria's future, even as its present remains opaque amid the crisis over a U.N. investigation that implicated Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February.

The debate goes to the heart of questions that have remained unanswered since Syria's independence in 1946: What is the nature of Syrian society, religious or secular? How is its identity best represented? And will Syria's combustible diversity lead to its disintegration?

After 42 years of Baath Party rule, Syria is often portrayed as a country shackled by dictatorship. But in the debate over its identity is a more nuanced portrait of a country every bit as complex as neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. It also reflects the same forces reshaping the rest of the Arab world: tensions between Islamic and secular activists, attempts by government reformers to salvage ideologies many see as obsolete, and moves toward civil society that are frustrated at almost every turn.

In Syria, some of those currents have converged in an unusual way in Middle Eastern politics: Secular and religious figures, still tentatively, are adopting the same language to press for change in the face of authoritarianism.

Both spectator and participant in the debate, Bayanouni sits over a small cup of Turkish coffee and a plate of pastries for which Syria is famous. He interrupts a conversation to watch an al-Arabiya report on possible involvement of President Bashar Assad's relatives in Hariri's death.

"Syrian society today is destroyed," he said. "The primary aim right now is to transform society into a new era where political and democratic life will be rebuilt." He describes himself as optimistic, but says it almost as if he were reassuring himself.

Plotting a Return

Bayanouni is a rare figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world's oldest Islamic organizations. Founded in 1928 in Egypt, chapters are spread across the Arab world, answering in name to the Egyptian Brotherhood but operating on their own. Syria's Brotherhood was founded in 1945. Bayanouni entered the leadership in the 1970s. As its leader since 1996, he has tried to reform its positions, winning unlikely accolades from other opposition figures, including secular activists who have spent their careers trying to stem Islam's growing influence in Syrian life.

At 67, Bayanouni defies the image of a religious scholar. A father of seven, he is a trim, athletic man, fond of tennis, volleyball and swimming, with a knack for table tennis. He has the probing mind of a sharp lawyer, with a political sense that has helped him navigate the ebb and flow of the Brotherhood's fortunes over decades of sometimes violent activism.

In the early years of Syrian independence, the Brotherhood built support in cities such as Homs, Hama and Aleppo, populated by Syria's majority Sunni Muslims. Long in competition with the secular Baath Party and Communist Party, it proselytized with the slogan, "Islam is the solution," insisting that the ills of the modern world could be treated by a renewed faith.

In the 1970s, the struggle brought the group into conflict with Hafez Assad, a military leader from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Brotherhood and splinter groups assassinated Baathists and Alawite officers and launched attacks in Damascus and elsewhere. The government responded with brute force, leading to what some describe as a civil war, culminating in the crushing of an uprising in 1982 in Hama where estimates of the dead range from 10,000 to 30,000. The movement's leadership was killed, jailed or exiled, its organization inside Syria dismantled.

"The organization made a mistake by being dragged into this battle with the regime," Bayanouni said.

Since then, Bayanouni has been engaged in a process of trying to lay the groundwork for the Brotherhood's return to Syrian politics. His effort is still shadowed by fears that the fall of Assad's government would inaugurate conservative Islamic rule, reversing decades of state-sponsored secularism. The effort, over the objections of some in his group, also marks one of the most decisive shifts in Syrian opposition politics in recent years.

"The organization is not going to be an alternative to this regime," he said. "The alternative will be a broad-based national government to which the Muslim Brotherhood will contribute, as does any other political force."

Among the various Syrian political factions -- Islamic activists, Arab nationalists, Syrian nationalists, communists and other leftists -- nearly every party has abandoned the revolutionary, generation-old notion that it alone can serve as the agent of change. The Baath Party has not; the constitution still declares it "the leading party of both the society and the state." In Bayanouni's words, and in a spate of declarations, the Brotherhood has forsworn that role, mirroring reforms of the group in other countries including Egypt and Jordan.

In 2002, Bayanouni published a national charter that called for a democratic state and rejected violence. In 2004, the Brotherhood disavowed the idea that "we consider ourselves to be the movement that represents all Muslims." In the same document, it endorsed women's rights and said it would seek only the gradual introduction of Islamic law, leaving the actual legislation to elected representatives. (Requiring women to wear the veil, segregating education or banning alcohol "are not a priority at this point," Bayanouni said in the interview.) A year later, in a National Call for Salvation, the Brotherhood disavowed revenge for past crimes and called for political parties and free elections.

Last month, it joined secular and minority opposition groups in endorsing what was called the Damascus Declaration, a four-page manifesto hailed by a still-feeble Syrian opposition as a blueprint for an alternative to Assad's government and a first for cooperation between secular and religious activists.

"The Muslim Brotherhood," Bayanouni said, "is ready to accept others and to deal with them. We believe that Syria is for all its people, regardless of sect, ethnicity or religion. No one has the right to exclude anyone else."

While the moves have won Bayanouni respect among Syria's opposition, fears still run deep that a chasm remains between the Brotherhood's promises and intentions. Anxiety is particularly strong among Syria's minorities -- Christians and Shiite Muslim offshoots such as the Ismailis, Alawites and Druze. To many, the Brotherhood remains an instrument for domination by Syria's Sunni majority. The same fears originally gave rise in part to the Baath Party's Arab nationalism, which was offered as a more encompassing identity than narrow religious sectarianism.

And in Bayanouni's home, his words can still carry an edge. He says the Brotherhood is only one of many Islamic groups, and he claims the government exaggerates his organization's power to frighten secularists and minorities. But in the same moment, he insists the Brotherhood is the only group representing the Sunni majority and the one with the most support. "Everyone recognizes this," he said.

A Militant Undercurrent

In Damascus, Mohammed Habash, a member of parliament and representative of what he calls the liberal trend in political Islam, speaks with a calm that belies the iconoclasm of his words. His ideas are unusual for a Muslim scholar: Islam is not the only path to salvation, he insists, and the prophet Mohammad made mistakes. Reinterpretation is mandatory, he said. The veil, for instance, is not an obligation.

Habash's worry is not the secularism that has dominated Syrian life, but the example of neighboring Iraq, where a more militant brand of Islam filled the void after the collapse of 35 years of authoritarian rule. "I believe we're headed for black days. Let's be honest. You can't put sugar on death," he said, quoting a proverb.

While the Brotherhood's words have assured some in Syria, others worry that the Brotherhood itself may be overshadowed by more militant Islamic groups that would feed off the growing religiosity of Syrian society. That trend is often expressed in outward signs of piety. The spread of the veil is the most striking manifestation. So are men's beards and the burgeoning crowds that turn out for Friday prayers, even in such ritzy Damascus districts as Malki and Abu Rommaneh.

No one knows the strength of the more militant current, whose voice remains largely unarticulated. But reports of the emergence of militant cells -- Jund al-Sham, for instance -- have sent a chill through secular Syria.

"I do not fear the Muslim Brotherhood of the 1950s," said Nabil Sukkar, a former World Bank economist in Damascus. "Moderate Islamists are welcome. I don't think they pose a threat whatsoever. The fear is the extremist Islamists and whether or not they are the majority. I don't know the answer."

Habash estimated 50 percent of Syrians to be religious. Of those, 10 percent are liberal, he said; the rest are inclined to a more traditional or militant reading of Islam. Their influence in the event of change is what worries him. "Conservative Muslims are sleeping now in political life," he said.

Echoing the official line, Habash added: "There's no chance for radicals under the government of Bashar Assad. But if he is gone, the radicals maybe have a chance to do something in Syria."

Political Alternatives

Bouthaina Shaaban has a vision for a secular Syria, an alternative to Habash's fears. A government minister, she is seeking to modernize a ruling ideology deemed by critics to be obsolete and perhaps irredeemable.

As a 16-year-old girl, Shaaban joined the Baath Party when it was still imbued with the ideals of Arab unity and socialism as a means of development. Her loyalty to the Assad family runs deep: After a personal plea to the elder Assad, he revised a law that made it possible for her to attend college. Her fear of the family's demise runs deep.

"There's nothing wrong with the theories of the Baath Party. The Baath Party is a secular party for a start." the 52-year-old minister said. "It says equality between men and women, it gives every Syrian from any social, or religious or political background the right to join the Baath Party. But there were many things that were not done right by the Baath Party, there are many things that need to be fixed. Now the Baath Party is at a stage that if it wants to survive, it has to reform itself."

She has her prescription: a new law for political parties, a market economy and, eventually, free elections. Her model, she said, is Syria in the early 1970s, when there was a sense of economic development, not the 1940s, with its semblance of democratic life. Her remark suggested that the government is dedicated to development over liberalization, modernization over democratization. But the question remains as to what degree of tolerance it will provide.

"I'm not optimistic at all," said Maen Abdul-Salam, a 35-year-old, soft-spoken activist and writer, who smiles rarely. He, too, has a secular vision: the emergence of a vibrant civil society, despite the government's efforts to prevent it. "I'm not optimistic for one simple reason: I hear every day the Syrian authority is willing to change and reform, but I haven't heard one comment that we made a mistake. You can't reform if you don't admit mistakes. You can't go forward if you don't say 'I'm sorry.' "

Abdul-Salam had his own encounter with promises of reform. With another activist, he began planning a conference on women's rights in Damascus in 2001. He went to the minister of social affairs, who promised permission in two days. Two years later -- after more than 100 additional visits, sometimes sitting for six hours at a time outside the minister's office -- he was still waiting. He finally held the conference in 2003 at Damascus University, whose well-connected president provided the facilities.

With little money, Abdul-Salam runs a publishing house, Etana, a name taken from Assyrian mythology. The house is an alternative to starting a nongovernmental organization, which is next to impossible. He was politicized by the "Damascus Spring," a brief period in 2000-2001 that saw a flourishing of long-repressed dissent. And now he sees his mission as creating more space for openness.

"It's like breaking through the wall," Abdul-Salam said. "It's saying to people you have the ability to do something. You can change, you can force change, you can push the red lines the authorities have put in front of you. They can fall."

But he worries about the legacy of decades of authoritarianism that have depoliticized society, wrecking the lively civic culture of the 1940s and 1950s. There is no representation, no rule of law, and in that vacuum, he said, people identify themselves according to their sect and ethnicity -- Sunni, Alawite, Christian and so on. To him, identity has to be based on citizenship, equal rights under one law.

"I'm hoping that change will come from society itself," he said.

'Accept the Other'

At his home in London, Bayanouni talks about returning to the alleys of Jubaila, the quarter of Old Aleppo where he grew up. His father died while in prison in 1975, his mother after he went into exile in 1979. But, he said smiling, he will visit the rest of his family. "There are relatives I don't even know," he said.

For some Islamic activists, years in the West radicalize them, reinforcing their alienation in a culture that's not their own. Not Bayanouni. He said his time in exile helped him reconsider his beliefs.

"One of the things I learned," he said, "was to accept the other."

And in that is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Arab politics today. To a remarkable degree, albeit with different inflections and still untested, some secular and religious activists are speaking a common language of citizenship and individual rights in the face of authoritarian governments. Bayanouni, echoing Abdul-Salam, said he wanted to see "a civil state based on democratic institutions."

"The religion of the majority is Islam, and the ethnicity of the majority is Arab," he said. "Those are facts on the ground, but citizenship is the base on which people should interact. Whatever is the result of the democratic process should be accepted."

Economic Sanctions Assessed by Andrew Tabler

"Syria Today," November
By Andrew Tabler

US sanctions on Damascus have been largely ineffectual, writes Andrew Tabler. UN sanctions, however, could have serious implications for everyday life in Syria.

On October 31, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1636, which demands Syria's full cooperation with the UN investigation of the assassination of Former Lebanese Premier Rafik al-Hariri. The resolution warned of possible “further action” in case of Syrian non-compliance. While Damascus has promised to cooperate with the investigation, and has launched one of its own, it is now important that Syria take a hard look at the possible sanctions looming on the horizon and their implications.

Sanctions are nothing new to Syria, as it has been on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1979. These restrictions were tightened in May 2004 with the implementation of a series of measures under the Congressional ‘Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act’.

The measures include a ban all US exports to Syria (other than food and medicine) and already non-existent Syrian flights to the US, an investigation into the Commercial Bank of Syria as a potential money laundering institution, and the seizing of assets of certain Syrians - including the late Ghazi Kanaan, the former head of Syria’s intelligence services in Lebanon and his successor Rustom Ghazali - in the United States. So far, these measures have had limited impact because they are fairly easy to circumvent. US products can be substituted, or re-exported from places such as Dubai, Syria now has private banks, and Syrian officials probably do not save their money in US institutions.

UN sanctions are an entirely different matter, however. Resolution 1636 was enacted under Article 7 of the UN charter, which involves “use of force.” Russian and Chinese pressure prevented the resolution from being passed under Article 41, which deals with sanctions. Nevertheless, press reports coming out of the United States and Europe indicate that UN pressure on Syria will likely be in the form of “smart sanctions” – tailor-made measures targeting the Syrian regime and not the Syrian people. Practice shows, however, that no matter how “smart” sanctions are, they can have a profound impact on a country’s economic development.

The first measure is likely to include an air and arms embargo similar to those placed on Libya in 1992 over the Lockerbie bombing incident. This could be accompanied by a travel ban or some other kind of restriction of movement on members of the Syrian leadership. Both measures will certainly make it difficult for Syrians, as well as the Syrian regime, to communicate with the Arab World and beyond. Isolation will make negotiations with the international community that much harder.

The second measure could include a ban on foreign involvement in Syrian energy, either in terms of vital components or company operations. As pressure from Washington has increased and US energy companies have departed, Damascus has relied on a host of Croatian, Russian, and Chinese energy companies for exploration and field development activities. At the same time, Anglo-Dutch Shell and French Total companies have continued to help keep Syrian oil flowing.

Should the UN restrict foreign energy companies in Syria, energy activities would then be increasingly in the hands of the state-owned Syrian Petroleum Company (SPC). While the SPC is involved in all Syrian energy projects in one way or another, it would likely find it difficult to employ the kind of technology necessary to make new discoveries and develop Syria’s already declining fields. Syrian oil production would certainly be negatively impacted, precisely when it needs to boost output the most. Development of Syria’s sizeable natural gas fields would slow considerably.

These measures could be followed by a ban on Syrian oil exports. Currently, Syria produces around 480,000 bpd, of which some 200,000 bpd are exported. Currently, oil proceeds account for around 50 percent of the state budget, and high oil prices over the last few years have helped Syria build up foreign currency reserves approaching $18 billion. With a ban, the Syrian state’s ability to fund its large public sector and development plans would be seriously curtailed, even if the state introduces austerity measures to survive what is in effect a siege. Tax rates and their enforcement would increase, with deep implications for the country’s business community. Financing of imports, which in 2004 amounted to $6.199 billion, would also become difficult.

This would almost certainly restrict the availability of machinery and transport equipment, electrical power machinery, food and livestock, metals, chemicals, plastics, yarn, and paper.

The growing role of Syria’s private sector and its ability to finance imports from Lebanon and elsewhere, however, could help keep the country running. But it might not be that easy. Should Beirut restrict Syrian trade financing through Lebanese institutions, the private sector’s ability to trade could then be put at the mercy of a possible ban on financial transactions with Syria. Such a measure would not only impact Syria’s public sector banks – which the international community is targeting – but its budding private sector financial institutions as well.

The ability of Syrians to finance trade is therefore key to promoting overall economic growth. Any restrictions on financial transactions would therefore cut off a vital lifeline to private banking at a key moment in the sector’s development, with negative implications for the country’s troubled reform process as a whole.

Here are the new monetary measures to stabilize the Syrian Pound.

For Syria's latest GDP figures see: Global Investment House - Syria Economic & Strategic Outlook I - Gross Domestic Product and Public Finance
Syria: Saturday, November 19 - 2005

The economy of Syria has witnessed a moderate growth over the last few years as can be depicted in the real GDP growth rate which grew at a CAGR of 3.5% over the last fives years.

In 2004, nominal GDP grew significantly by 12.8% to reach SP1,203.5bn up from SP1,067.3bn in 2003. This was the highest growth recorded by the country over the last few years. It achieved a real GDP growth rate of 2% in 2004 and the IMF has forecasted a growth rate of 3.5% for the year 2005.
Also see Ferry Biedermann's article in the November 14 Finacial Times,UN inquiry spreads fear through Syria’s elites

British Foreign Secretary: "A military strike against Syria is not on the agenda of any party"
By Mina Al-Oraibi

Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Foreign Office Secretary Jack Straw spoke to journalists on return from his visit to Bahrain about Syria, his recent visit to Iraq and the failure of the signing of the Bahrain Declaration.

Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat correspondents, Straw said, "A military strike against Syria is not on the agenda of any party. Syria must be given time to implement Resolution 1636," before judging the level of its cooperation with the international inquiry commission, which deals with the investigation of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri...

Secretary Straw emphasized that the few weeks after the passing of the international resolution is not enough time to judge Syria. He added that it is international investigator, Detlev Mehlis, who will decide whether Syria is cooperating with the inquiry commission.

He dismissed reports that he encouraged a meeting of the UN Security Council at the end of this month to discuss Syria's cooperation. He said, "I am not pushing for a Security Council meeting." However, he noted, "Syria said it will cooperate, and I believe that it may cooperate."
Kaan Atac writes from Turkey about FM Abdullah Gul's visit to Syria.
Turkish FM Abdullah Gul made a surprised visit to Damascus to meet with his counterpart Al Sharaa and Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad yesterday. This visit is important for two reasons:

First, it just happened a few hours after a crucial cabinet meeting, in which Turkish government and top military and security officials discussed the incidents that have happened during the last few days in the southern and the eastern part of Turkey. According to some, terrorism has been raising due to unstable and uncontrollable conditions in the whole region, namely in Iraq and Syria. Last terrorists attacks has claimed dozens of lives both civilian and security forces. The Turkish government is worrying that if Syria would be dragged into the conflict already enflaming the Middle East, Turkey will undoubtedly suffer greater uncertainty.

Second, The Bush administration probably wanted to send a “strong signal” via Turkey to the Syrian regime that Asad should cooperate with the UN Commission led by Mehlis. In the second Forum for the Future meeting hold in Bahrain last week, the US Secretary of State Rice urged Damascus to cooperate. According to Turkish media, FM Gul has warned Damascus about Turkish anxiety that if Syrian regime does not settle with Mehlis, Bashar's end will be the same destiny as former Iraqi leader Saddam’s.

Same media sources claimed FM Gul urged Syrian authorities about 3 additional issues 1) Don’t support terrorism 2) Don’t support Palestinians terror groups and 3) Don’t interfere Lebanon and Iraqi internal affairs.

Turkey’s main concern is that it does not want to suffer anymore from both internal and international terrorism which has caused Turkey thousands lives and billons dollars. Most importantly Turkey could not cope with the burden of more American military invasion just happening south of Turkey.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why US Should not Push Syria to the Wall

Nationalism is on a dramatic rise here following the President's speech. Many people are getting into the act. There were several "street parties" organized near my home in the Italiani section. Local streets were blocked off in the evening and young people gathered with music blaring from special trucks, banners hanging overhead, and people dancing the debke and partying. They were block parties, a new development clearly inspired by the Lebanese Cedar revolution, but appropriated by the Syrian state. The radio stations are full of nationalist songs, (listed in the article below.) Ali Deek, the Alawi country singer who has had many number-one hits in the past, is number one on the charts again with his song, "I am Syrian and I invoke Syria." But all the other local artists are getting into the act with their own songs.

The President's speech, published in the form of a handsome pamphlet, is being handed out in the stores for free, and people are reading it. The newspapers are full of denunciations of the America-Israel plan to enslave Syria, chop it up, rip out its Arab heart, and turn it into another Iraq. The Lebanese government has become the new punching bag for local journalists and taxi drivers.

The Syrian opposition has also been bitten by the nationalist bug. They denounced Kamal Labwani on his return to Syria after he met with high American officials. Even though the government arrested Kamal at Damascus airport, following his return from Washington, which should have raised his stature with the opposition, he remained radioactive to most Syrians. They accused him of going over to the enemy. If Bush thought he was going to score points by using Labwani against the Syrian government, which he clearly thought he was doing by mentioned him in a national address as a symbol of the oppressed Syrian and proof that Syria was undemocratic, the strategy failed.

The West will criticize the Syrian opposition for not taking sides with democratic America against undemocratic Syria and the Asad regime, but that is the way it is here. Many of my intellectual friends, both Alawi and Sunni, were not sympathetic to Labwani. They said that keeping a distance from the American government was the basic barometer of national good taste, whether one likes the government or not. Syria must stick together, they said. "We will not accept America determining our future." This sentiment is wide spread and demonstrates how few tools America really has in trying to turn the Syrian street against the government.

There are dissenting voices. One friend told me that the Syrian opposition is likely to look back at the past five years under Bashar as the "lost years," because it failed to develop a "foreign strategy." Instead it clings to its old Arab nationalist ways and refuses to make common cause with foreign powers against the strong Asad regime. "So long as the Syrian opposition insists on facing the regime alone," he said, it will fail." He was dismayed that the leaders of the Damascus Declaration had cold shouldered Labwani.

He may be right, but the common stand of the Syrians is quite remarkable and has surely given the regime a great boost of confidence. The spirit of the people has begun to lift since the President's speech. Much of the anxiety has been transformed into corporate solidarity. Most important is that the government and Mehlis are negotiating over venues and a memorandum of understanding, people are beginning to think the government will find a way out of its quagmire and may not have led them into a dead end after all. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, who is becoming a star along with Foreign Ministry Legal Council Daoudi was on TV again today, this time on al-Jazeera. He was professional and kept insisting that Syria has every intention of "cooperating fully with the investigation within the context of a legal framework that does not impinge on the sovereignty of the state and the honor of the nation." He refused to be provoked into repeating Baathist slogans or invoking conspiracy theories. He was excellent.

America should also take note of the strong nationalist solidarity, because it will lose if it pushes Syria too hard with economic sanctions. It can win tactically, meaning it is more powerful than Syria and surely can strangle the country if it imposes far-reaching sanctions. It can drive the poverty rate through the roof, which will eventually cause the state to fail and people to turn against Asad and the government. But strategically, it will fail. There will be not democracy as a result. Chaos will most likely be the outcome in the medium term, after Syria strangles slowly in the short term. In the long term, a regime that is more radical, more unstable, and more prone to violence will take the place of the Asad dynasty. Syria will need years before it is ready for American style democracy or more probably Lebanese style sectarian republicanism.

Syria is not ripe for the kind of transformation that President Bush is calling for. It has no mature opposition and a depoliticized population. If Bush pushes Syria to the wall, he will break it, rather than transform it in a direction he hopes for. He will only get mud on his face and possibly another Iraq - that is what many Syrians think.

Pressing for greater democracy in Syria is an important and noble foreign policy goal. America must not relinquish it, but it will have to get a lot smarter about doing it. It will have to build bridges to the Syrian public and win them over the old fashion way, through hard work, foreign assistance, and buying more and more sectors of the government bureaucracy and public into the things westerners like, such as capitalism, efficiency, the rule of law, and ultimately, political freedoms.

The Iraq debacle has driven American legitimacy as a democracy-exporter - and, even more so, as a justice exporter - though the floor. Add the Iraq experience (500,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria) to America's Palestine policy (400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria)and one can be little surprised that Syrians are giving Bush the middle finger. Syrians still love and admire America more than any other Arab population - except perhaps the Lebanese. (There are 7 to 9 million Syrians living abroad, most in the Americas. They send home good news and money.) They love it for its freedoms, wealth, and culture, but they aren't buying its foreign policy.

David Ignatius, in his op-ed, Careful With Syria," touches on many of these themes. He was just in Damascus and we had an interesting talk. I will copy the entire article below after this interesting piece on the new pop songs of Sham.


Damascus, 18 Nov. (AKI) - The latest song of Syrian pop star, Ali Deek, strikes a sour note against Detlev Mehlis, the UN-appointed German judge whose probe has linked top Syrian officials to the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. "Your report, oh Mehlis, is not worth a (Syrian) pound - it's a political move, you just want to put us out on the road, behind bars or kill us," are some of the lyrics contained in the song, entitled "I am Syrian and I invoke Syria". The track which appears in the singer's latest record compilation, is one of many politically-charged songs being aired in recent days on Syrian radio.

Deek's song, which is in Arabic, appears aimed as much at Lebanese listeners as to the singer's compatriots. "The Syrian stands next to you, oh Lebanese, and things are going bad for both of us... if misfortune strikes it will be for both me and you.... So awake, listen and be on guard!," say the lyrics accompanied by lush, melodic strings and percussion.

But despite the pop tune, the message becomes increasingly macabre: "If you want war from us then we will take to the trenches.. but we want to live... yet if we have to perish, for us to fall in battle will be like a wedding feast."

Amid growing international pressure on Damascus to co-operate with Mehlis' investigation, Deek is but one of a batch of Syrian pop stars who have recently released songs with strong patriotic overtones. Others include Kanana al-Qasir, Linda Barakat, Hussam Madaniyya, Muhannad Mushlih, Husayn Duwayri, Ali Dawli, with most of the tracks aired on the Damascus-based radio, FM al-Madina.

"We play the 'political' songs at least 40 times a day, and to date we have never been censored," says the station manager, Mizar Nizam ad-Din.

"We ourselves have produced eight new patriotic songs and on our 'top ten' playlist just behind Deek's song which in top spot there's a song by Hussam Madaniyya which goes like this: "For you oh Sham (Syria) we and God are your sons and for all the fury of the storm from the West, we shout the voice of justice for you our abode."

Careful With Syria
By David Ignatius
Washington Post
Friday, November 18, 2005; Page A23

DAMASCUS -- In the United Nations' looming confrontation with Syria, it's hard to define the best strategy but easy to identify the worst one: the imposition of general economic sanctions that would hurt the Syrian people while allowing the ruling clique to grow even richer.

That's my strongest impression from a visit to Damascus. Broad-brush sanctions would disrupt Syria's contact with the West at the very time it's most needed and would alienate ordinary Syrians who need reassurance. They would undermine a process of political and economic change here that, if it continues, will gradually create a new Syria. "If you want to save the Syrian regime, then use economic sanctions as in Iraq," a European diplomat told me. A Syrian intellectual confided that in his view, "The regime is dying for sanctions."

You can feel the tension building here after President Bashar Assad's defiant speech last week about the U.N. investigation of Syria's alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The Syrian leader said he would cooperate with the U.N. probe led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, but his tone was so strident that several Syrians said he was almost daring the United Nations to impose sanctions.

Until Assad's speech, there had been hope that he would break with an inner clique, including his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat, whom Mehlis suspects was involved in Hariri's killing. French diplomats here spoke of a "Juan Carlos option" -- in which Assad would assume a benign role as head of state, in the model of the Spanish king, while a new government reformed Syrian political and economic life. Those hopes were never very realistic. Assad is in effect the chief executive of a family business, and he's hardly likely to throw his relatives overboard.

It's hard to find a Syrian who doesn't want Assad to remain at least as a figurehead. He's a symbol of stability for a country nervously watching the carnage in Iraq. Sami Moubayed, a Syrian analyst, is probably right when he tells me that "the president would win in a landslide if there was an election." But I doubt that Syrians will permanently ransom their political futures to an Assad clan that doesn't deliver economic and social change.

I talked with one of Assad's friends, Col. Manaf Talas, a senior officer in the Republican Guard and son of the former defense minister. He agrees that Syria wants reform but insists: "You need time. You need years. There's a generation you have to push forward." He argues that Assad is still the reformers' best bet, but many Syrians have given up on Assad as a change agent.

Syria is a country in ferment. People talk politics here with a passion I haven't heard since the 1980s in Eastern Europe. They're writing manifestos, dreaming of new political parties, trying to rehabilitate old ones from the 1950s. Internet cafes are scattered through Damascus, allowing people to constantly share news and gossip. The security forces have been arresting dissidents, but that doesn't stop people from talking. Indeed, the only thing that could really put a lid on this society would be the strangulating effect of sanctions.

You never quite know what's behind someone's front door in Syria. That's part of the mystery of this country. Take the tiny eight-room hotel where I stayed in the Old City. There's not even a name on the door to mark the entrance to the Beit al Mamlouka, as the hotel is called. But inside is a 16th-century Oriental jewel box -- frescoed-ceiling rooms gathered around a courtyard of marble fountains, fishponds and flowering trees. And the place has wireless Internet service, to boot.

The right policy for this ripening nation is one of engagement -- not of the regime but of the Syrian people. The United States should send its ambassador back to Damascus, despite the government-organized demonstrations taking place almost every day near the U.S. Embassy. America and France should broaden their outreach to Syrian dissidents, human rights groups, artists, professors -- indeed, almost anyone who's willing to talk with outsiders. They should convey the message that the West is standing with the Syrian people as they move into the future. When Syria is truly ripe for change, these helping hands can ensure a safe passage.

More pressure on Syria will be necessary if the Assad regime openly defies the United Nations, but it should focus on individuals targeted by Mehlis -- so that they can't travel abroad, can't draw on their foreign bank accounts, can't strut on the global stage. This time, sanctions should punish the criminals, not the victims.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fighter Infiltration from Syria into Iraq" by Abdullah Ta'i

Fighter Infiltration via Abu Kamal, Syria into Iraq
By Abdullah al-Ta’i
November 15, 2005
Written for “Syria Comment” thanks to the Apamea Fund
Translated by Maha Kashour

When the United States declared war on Iraq on 19 March 2003, Muftis in several Arab countries announced that jihad in the defense of Iraq was a direct obligation (fard ayn) for each and every Arab Muslim. Syria was the first Arab country to declare jihad, when Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Kaftaru issued a fatwa proclaiming that “Jihad in Iraq is an fard ayn for every Muslim.” His motive was political for it coincided with the opening of the Syrian-Iraqi boarder to whoever wanted to fight in Iraq.

Fighters from all regions of Syrian and most Arab countries gathered in Abu Kamal because it has the closest and easiest access to Iraq. Some mosque preachers and religious sheikhs assumed the role of organizers, ensuring the fighters entry to Iraq and providing them with religious and practical guidance before they left. Since fighters knew little about the geography of the region this guidance was important.

A friend of mine who lives near the Syrian-Iraqi boarder in Abu Kamal told me that he once went for dawn prayer at a mosque close to his house and noticed that the mosque was full of people, which was unusual in such a small town. He wondered why there were so many worshipers. Next morning, he learned they were a group of fighters who had gathered in Abu Kamal on their way into Iraq. This situation continued until the collapse of the Iraqi regime. Since then, Abu Kamal has become infamous as the passageway to Iraq. Later on, it became the Qa’aba for fighters who found security and hospitality in it due to religious and social considerations. The closest Iraqi village is two hours walking distance from Abu Kamal, which is not the case at any other point of the Syrian-Iraqi border.

However, the situation did not continue this way much beyond the first months of the invasion. The American pressure on Syria with regard to controlling the border increased and it became a security and political burden on Syria, especially after the tension in the region resulting from the war on Iraq. This motivated the Syrian Government to intensify security surveillance at the border areas (Abu Kamal), which was noticeable to me as an inhabitant of the area.

The Syrian Authorities established two checkpoints at Shamyah and Al-Jazeera points in Abu Kamal because the Euphrates River divides it into two areas. Today, the number of security agents and employees in Abu Kamal almost equals the number of inhabitants of the town. They have frightened the people and enter into every aspect of social and political life in the border towns. It is not an exaggeration to say that they have stopped the infiltration of foreigners into the border region as well as restricting the infiltration of local Syrians across the border. Many correspondents have also been coming to the Abu Kamal over the months of October and November 2005. I have visited Abu Kamal three times since the beginning of Ramadan and each time, I have been stopped and interrogated by the mukhabarat with great care. It is impossible to make a move in the region these days without stirring up the interest and suspicion of the local police.

In the past there were corrupt government officials However, the problem is not with the Syrian Government’s measures but with the involvement of some inferior intelligence elements, who engage in corruption without the knowledge of the central authorities.

Attraction of money

Money plays an essential role in such cases. I personally have never seen corruption and the spread of bribes in Syria more than what I have seen in Albukamal, especially the intelligence elements that you can buy with only small amounts of money. These elements are bribed by illegal merchants (smugglers) between Syria and Iraq. And those smugglers export fighters to Iraq and this way the illegal trade and exporting fighters is mixed up and intelligence elements are lost in this maze without trying to differentiate between smuggling and exporting fighters.

The central problem in policing the border region during 2004 and until recently is that Abu Kamal is very far from Damascus, not only geographically, but also administratively and economically. Traditionally there has been very little central authority in the region, which has meant that resources do not reach the Jazira and there has been minimal administrative oversight. The people feel like the government ignores them and they ignore the government accordingly. Very few resources are invested in the region, which has caused disrespect for central authority. In the past many people felt closer to Iraq than to Syria. Intelligence officers in the region developed the habit of running their own show, with few controls. Before the war, there was a long history of smuggling and ignoring the border, not only by the local population, but also by the various branches of the security apparatus. The spread of corruption made it very difficult for Damascus to impose its will on the region through orders from the capital.

The government banned non-Syrian Arabs from entering Abu Kamal, without specific permission, but this did not mean that they couldn’t get through. Smugglers could often find a way to help fighters in return for large sums of money. These people can ensure the entry of fighters to Baghdad either via the Euphrates River, or via the desert far from any observation. Both ways are easy for the inhabitants since they know the geography of the area. The river route is easier as it is an unofficial point of entry and empty of any checkpoint and far from civil observation. Swimming for two hours is enough to cross the border.
Local Feelings
I would like to add a new and important thing at the end. People in Abu Kamal are Muslim Sunni and they have a tribal belonging. In addition, they are attached to Iraq and have a high sense of belonging to it, which played an important role in pushing them to fight in Iraq. Many believed sincerely that Saddam Hussein as an Arab hero, who belonged to their tribes and traditions and who championed their interests. He spoke in their dialect and took special care with their tribal concerns, which Damascus often did not. Sneaking across the boarder for a person from the area is much easier than going to a Deir El-Zur, the capital of the Governorate, which is 125 km from Abu Kamal. When you enter some of Abu Kamal shops, you see photos of people from Abu Kamal hanging on the walls. They are even posted in the streets. They are people who died in Iraq, fighting along side their cousins.

Is Syria to Blame for Suicide Bombings in Iraq
Americans and Iraqis have always accused Syria of encouraging foreign fighters to go into Iraq across the border. Last week, the Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi claimed that Syria was providing training camps for Jihadists and helping them to cross the border with booby–trapped cars. He insisted that nine-tenths of all suicide bombers in Iraq were foreign fighters and that most came through Syria. Two days later, 6 Iraqis from his own clan of the Dulaimi confederation of Ramadi blew themselves up in three Jordanian hotels, killing and wounding 200 innocent Jordanians and Syria’s most famous movie producer, Moustapha Akkad. To Syrians it is clear that Iraqi officials are trying to blame Syria for their own failings and an internal Iraqi situation that they have no means of controlling and do not seem to understand. They cannot even control their own families.

Time Line of Syrian Cooperation
This does not mean that Syria has been totally innocent. If we are to draw a time line of Syrian cooperation on the border, we can say that during the first months of the war, Syria did actively encourage militants to go to Iraq. By May and June of 2003, this policy changed, due to American pressure and Syria's realization that it would not itself be invaded by America. During much of 2004, there was no active support by the government, but local officials did little to hurt the local smugglers and population who were sympathetic to the cause of the Iraqi resistance or involved in corrupt practices. Some local officials were also involved in this corruption, making it difficult for the government to bring it under control.

By 2005 and particularly after the murder of Hariri, when US pressure intensified, more and more security officials were sent to the Abu Kamal region to set up road blocks and to police the corrupt officials. Many people from the region who traveled to Iraq to fight during the first months of the war, and subsequently returned, have been arrested or are followed and scared by the secret police.

Over the last four or five months, the security presence in the region has been vastly increased and the local population has become too scared to even think about smuggling people into Iraq. During the spring, one still heard people in the region boast about the money they had made by helping foreigners get to Iraq. This is no longer the case. Everyone is frightened and the tribal shaykhs have warned their people to follow the law and be careful.

We cannot say that there is absolutely no infiltration across the border by foreign fighters today, but what does take place must be done very secretly and with great skill. It also must cost the fighter many thousands of dollars. The American campaign on the Iraqi side of the border during the last several months has also created much fear among the Syrians of the border towns. A number of local inhabitants have been killed by American fire across the border. People from the region are scared of the Americans and of their own secret police.

The Syrian measures have stopped many from sneaking across, but it requires cooperation and liaison at the American end. There are still almost no Iraqi or American border guards and this is two and a half years after the American invasion. America has many more resources than Syria. Many believe that if the US really believed infiltrators from Syria were a major source of the violence in Iraq, they would have found a way staff their side of the border and would cooperate with Syrians. Nothing is impossible, and these things are can be accomplish.

Today, Syrians are frightened that their country will become like Jordan, a target for Iraqi terrorists and extremists; they are also frightened that more Syrians will be killed by Americans soldiers. Even worse, they worry that their government is being targeted by America though the Security Council and this will eventually increase the instability in the region. When Americans say that Syria is not cooperating on the Iraq border, this is not true. Either the Americans do not know what is happening at the border or they refuse to admit that Syria is helping them. If there are still fighters infiltrating into Iraq through Abu Kamal, they must be very few, smart and rich.

Abdullah Al-Ta’i

Also See "Living, and dying, for one's country," by Sami Moubayed on a smiliar topic. He ends his article with this:

The fact the suicide bombers in Amman were all Iraqi citizens proves that Iraq is no longer an importer of terrorism, as Bush accused it of being under Saddam Hussein. It has now become a leading manufacturer and exporter of terrorism. As with Afghanistan under the Taliban, it is a base from which al-Qaeda can train troops, launch operations and destabilize both Iraq and its Arab neighbors.

In April 2004, a group of terrorists who had been to Iraq crossed the border into Syria and launched a terror attack at a UN building in Damascus. In June this year, Kuwait caught militants trying to smuggle explosives into the country from Iraq. After meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this month, Iraqi National Security Advisor Mouwafaq al-Rabii accused Damascus of facilitating the influx of foreign fighters through its borders to fight the Americans in Iraq. He said, "We don't have the slightest doubt that nine out of 10 suicide bombers are Arabs that cross the border from Syria."

Yet Iraq is in a shambles because some Iraqis, Saddam's leftovers and Zarqawi's terrorists, do not want Iraq to become a pro-Western democracy. Syria happens to be located at the crossroads, and happens to share very long borders with Iraq (605 kilometers). The number of eloquent Syrians who can convincingly defend its stance and plead innocence is very limited, and given that Damascus is still ruled by the Ba'ath Party, it's even easier to accuse Syria of working with ex-Iraqi Ba'athist officials.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Syrians Killed at the Border: al-Tharwa Closed

7 Syrians killed by US troops.
The Syrian Ministry of Interior has told foreign reporters in Damascus that 7 Syrians have been killed by American soldiers shooting across the border. This is in the last two months.

Abdallah Ta’i, a resident of Abu Kamal, which is on the Syrian border with Iraq, told me yesterday about two Syrians who were shot by US soldiers. They lived in the Syrian border town of Hirri, which is the last Syrian town on the Euphrates, near the Syrian-Iraqi border and situated opposite al-Qaim. Shooting broke out on the Eid, Friday 4 November. A girl of about 13 or 14 was shot in the head. When she began to scream, her brother ran to help her; he was also shot in his shoulder. Both were taken to the hospital and are still alive. "I visited the town on the second day after the Eid," said Abdullah, "and spoke to people who said that they were too frightened to leave their houses or go to work for fear of being shot at by the Americans. The campaign is on-going on the other side of the border. They also said that not only Iraq was being hurt, but we too are paying a price for America’s occupation. On the 3rd of October, two mortar shells fell in the village without hurting anyone."

The family of one Syrian peasant who was shot in 2004 while tilling his field is trying to sue Donald Rumsfeld and the US ambassador to Syria. Abdullah showed me the court papers.

Helena Cobban at Just World News posts a note from Dr. Samer al-Ladkany, the assistant director of Tharwa explaining that the Tharwa Project has been closed down permanently. He writes:

I must ask you to put everything on hold for right now. I am very sorry, but we are having some problems here in Damascus. I am not completely sure what is going on, but I went to work today, just to find out that we have been closed down...permanently. The worst part is, I have not been able to contact the director here in Damascus.
I also spoke to Raed Nakashbani yesterday, who works with al-Tharwa. He was despondent because of the closing. Al-Tharwa played an important role in educating Syrians about minority affairs in Syria. Amar Abdulhamid, the founder of al-Tharwa is now visiting at the Brookings Institute. He was persuaded to leave Syria late this summer because of restrictions placed on him for speaking out against the government. One of my former students is presently a volunteer at al-Tharwa. Free discussion about minority rights and identity is largely forbidden in Syria. Discussion of minority rights in Syria is perhaps the single greatest political taboo because the regime's legitimacy is built on Arab nationalism.

British MP George Galloway at Damascus University to Support Bashar Al-Assad: If the U.S. Invades Syria, The People will Fight the U.S. Occupation Like the Brits Were Ready to Fight the Nazis. Excerpts by MEMRI.

Al-Hayat: Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari on Tuesday withdrew his envoy to Damascus in protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's allegation that Iraqi officials "are not the final authorities" in their own country (implying that they are American puppets.)

The Internet in Syria / Stateless Kurds

Human Rights Watch just published there first report on "Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa." They wrote me to say:

Dear Josh -
We launched the report yesterday at WSIS. The full text is being translated into Arabic now. In the meantime, the full English text is here. The English press release is here. And the Arabic version (blocked in Tunisia, as with the French version) is here. The Syrian part is here.
Refugees International Bulletin on Stateless Kurds in Syria has just been released by Maureen Lynch. It is a overview of the problem. President Asad has anounced that the Syrian government will soon be granting 80,000 of the stateless Kurds nationality. It is not yet clear who exactly will be getting it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Syria Readies for Sanctions

Syria appears to be readying for sanctions
By Nicholas Blanford, Special for USA TODAY
Posted 11/13/2005 8:53 PM

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be preparing his country for economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations, which is demanding that Syria do more to cooperate with investigators looking into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister.

Assad used an unusual, nationally televised address from Damascus University on Thursday to call for "national cohesion" in the face of the U.N. demands. He told Syrians to "surround the country with a wall of immunity to face the difficulties and challenges."

The 40-year-old Syrian leader "was preparing the whole nation for possible sanctions," says Ibrahim Hamidi, who follows Syrian affairs for Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London.

Syria and officials close to Assad have become the focus of a special U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed Feb. 14 when a bomb ripped through his motorcade in Beirut.

Lead U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis has accused Syria of stonewalling the inquiry and "misleading" his team. A preliminary report by Mehlis implicates Syrian security forces in Hariri's murder. Assad's brother, who is head of the presidential guard, and brother-in-law, who heads Syrian military intelligence, were named in the report, though not accused of plotting to kill Hariri.

Protesters filled Lebanon's streets after the killing, and Syria withdrew its military from Lebanon.

The U.N. Security Council has given Syria until Dec. 15 to demonstrate it is cooperating with the investigation or face unspecified "further action" — probably sanctions.

"Whatever we do or say to cooperate, the response is going to be in a month that Syria is not cooperating. We have to be realistic. Syria is being targeted," Assad said in his speech to the nation.

International sanctions against Syria could have a crippling effect on the economy, further impoverishing this country of 18 million, 20% of whom are considered poor.

The Bush administration is pushing a tough line against Assad. It has accused his government of aiding Palestinian terrorist groups in Israel and doing little to halt the flow of foreign fighters moving through Syria to join the Iraqi insurgency.

Hard-liners in Washington will "have Syria at their feet" if the United Nations imposes economic sanctions against the Assad regime, says Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert living in Damascus.

International restrictions on travel and trade with Syria could weaken support for Assad's regime.

"They can raise (the poverty level) to 40% or 50% or 60%," Landis says.

Assad alluded to the pressure on his government — and its options — in last week's speech: "Resistance and steadfastness or chaos. There is no third choice. ... If they believe they can blackmail Syria, we tell them they got the wrong address," he said.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called Assad's remarks "appalling."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria's intentions were unclear. "I just know that it, at this point, doesn't look like cooperation," she said.

French President Jacques Chirac said that if Assad "continues to refuse to listen, or understand, then it will become necessary to move to another level, which is that of sanctions."

Syrian officials believe they can absorb the impact of U.N. sanctions for more than two years because of foreign cash reserves and self-sufficiency in food and oil, Hamidi says.

"The regime thinks that if sanctions are imposed on us and we survive for 2½ years, Bush will be (leaving office), Jacques Chirac will have gone and there could be a better situation," Hamidi says.

Syria is in a poor position to ride out serious economic pain, says Nabil Sukkar, a Syrian economist. "Sanctions will have a very negative impact on the economy, especially if it is a broad range of sanctions like those imposed on Iraq," limiting its oil shipments and sharply curtailing its ability to buy goods from other countries.

On Saturday, Rice kept up the pressure by criticizing political repression in Syria and calling on it to release political prisoners.

"We continue to support the Syrian people's aspiration for liberty, democracy and justice under the rule of law," she told an audience in Bahrain.

UN on Hariri Murder: Syria has no Option but to Co-operate

Iraqi officials again accused Syria of training Jihadists and sending them across the border in cars rigged with explosives. They insist that suicide bombers in Iraq and foreign. The 6 Iraqis who blew themselves up in Jordan the other day, disprove this Iraqi conceit. There is almost no proof for these claims.

Iraq Says Syria Harbors Foreign Killers
Training Camps Cited; Most Suicide Bombers Are Saudis, Top Official Asserts

By John Ward Anderson and Hasan Shammari
Washington Post: Monday, November 14, 2005; Page A15

BAGHDAD, Nov. 13 -- Top Iraqi defense officials on Sunday accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to operate training camps on Syrian soil and sneak into Iraq to commit suicide bombings.

"We do not have the least doubt that nine out of 10 of the suicide bombers who carry out suicide bombing operations among Iraqi citizens . . . are Arabs who have crossed the border with Syria," the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, told journalists in Cairo, the Reuters news service reported.

"Most of those who blow themselves up in Iraq are Saudi nationals," he added.

Iraqi Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi also criticized Syria.

"We have more than 450 detainees who came from different Arab and Muslim countries to train in Syria and enter with their booby-trapped vehicles into Iraq to bring destruction and killings," Dulaimi said after meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran in Amman, according to the Associated Press.

"Let me tell the Syrians that if the Iraqi volcano explodes, no neighboring capital will be saved," Dulaimi said, warning that the aim of terrorists was "to kill tolerance and destroy coexistence in Arab and Muslim cities."
BARRY SCHWEID, adds this: Thu Nov 10:
Ereli added: "It‘s up to the commission to decide what it wants and it‘s up to Syria to respond positively to the commission. It‘s not up to Syria to negotiate terms."

At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said, "What we want are not speeches or words. We want cooperation, full and complete, and immediate, with Commissioner Mehlis."

En route to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed as a stalling tactic an offer by Syria to conduct its own investigation.

A unanimous vote by the Security Council demanding Syria‘s cooperation with U.N. investigators "couldn‘t have been clearer," Rice said, adding that Syria is expected to provide whatever the U.N. inquiry requests.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac warned Syria it could face sanctions if it refused to cooperate with the investigation.

"The regime of President al-Assad just doesn‘t get it and doesn‘t understand where the rest of the international community is on this very important issue," Ereli said.

Human rights groups said Labwani, a physician and founder of the Democratic Liberal Gathering, was arrested Tuesday night upon his arrival at Damascus airport. Labwani had just returned from the United States, where he met with the president‘s deputy national security adviser, J.D. Crouch, at the White House.

"We stress that the United States stands with the Syrian people in their desire for freedom and democracy," the statement said. "The Syrian government must cease its harassment of Syrians peacefully seeking to bring democratic reform to their country."

The statement said Bush also calls on Syria to release all political prisoners and specifically named Arif Dalilah, Riad Seif, Mamun al-Homsi, Walid al Bunni, Habib Issa, and Fawaz Tello.

Condoleezza Rice's interview with al-Arabiya is recorded here. This is the beginning"
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Manama, Bahrain
November 12, 2005

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks for joining us on Al Arabiya News Channel. First, we are going to start with the Syrian issue. The 1636 resolution reminded the Arabs, actually, in this situation, of Iraq before the invasion. Is Syria now going in the same path of Iraq before the invasion?

SECRETARY RICE: Syria has an opportunity to put forward the path that it wishes to put forward. The UN Security Council demanded only one thing, and that is cooperation, full cooperation, with the Mehlis investigation, because the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has got to be solved and justice has got to be done for that.

The Lebanese people are acting bravely in seeking their political freedom after years of occupation and I think everybody has been inspired by the Cedar Revolution. But in order for Lebanon to have closure and reconciliation and to move forward, the Hariri assassination really must be solved and those who are responsible must be punished. So that is the road for Syria and it needs to be taken, and taken immediately.

QUESTION: And if Syria doesn’t cooperate?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the UN Security Council has said that it will come back to determine what further steps or measures might be necessary. But the key here is that cooperation is in the hands of the Syrians. The entire community, international community, is united in demanding that this cooperation be offered. The vote was 15 to nothing. And so Syria needs to take the message.

And it’s not helpful for the Syrians to make accusations about the nature of the investigation or to rant and rave against those who are against Syria. You know, the people of Syria also deserve to know what has happened here and we stand with people all over the Middle East who are trying to make a better future, a better and more prosperous and more democratic future.

QUESTION: There is public opinion in the Arab world saying that America is going to military action against Syria whatever the Syrian opinion is, if it’s cooperation or not.

SECRETARY RICE: America is united with the members of the UN Security Council in demanding cooperation on the Mehlis investigation. That’s what this is about.

Obviously, we also want to insist that Syria live up to the terms of Resolution 1559 because Lebanon should be free from foreign interference, Lebanon should not be threatened and intimidated by what is being said by assassinations that go well beyond what happened to Rafik Hariri.

And of course, yes, we have concerns that the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, that the Palestinian rejectionists not use those camps or their offices in Syria to frustrate the hopes of the Palestinian people. And yes, it is important that Syria cut off the infiltration and penetration of the terrorists into Iraq who are killing innocent Iraqis.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Time for change" by Sami Moubayed with Commentary

Sami's latest article is right on. Syrians will put up with sanctions lite if the government moves ahead purposefully with internal reform designed to free the economy. Of course, it is hard to do this when being isolated. All the same, there is a tremendous amount that can be done to the economy with or without Western support. Syria is not a hostage on this issue. Sami is urging the government to move more quickly, but there is no reason to believe it will. The President did not present a compelling reform agenda in his speech. He could have use his speech, which gave adamant political support for his family and state security structures, to make clear that the price of that support would be real economic reform. He did not. In many ways, that was the most depressing part: the silence on reform.

Pressing ahead with reform will create short term instability and internal wrangling at a time when the president believes he can least indulge such divisions, but doing nothing is worse. Syrians must be compensated by forward movement on the domestic front if they are to accept backward movement and increased isolation on the foreign front. Bashar must show them that he has a plan.

The defiant tone of Bashar's speech may turn out to be good in some respects. The UN had given Mehlis a carte blanche to diddle around with the most important officials of Syria with no limitations. The presidency was clearly targeted. No country could allow such liberties to a foreign power - not even a country as weak as Syria. It would have opened the door for America and the West to carry out agendas well beyond finding justice for the death of Hariri. It is clear that the West does not know exactly what it wants from Syria and is making up its policy as it goes. Most thinking people suspect contradictory agenda's would quickly surface, i.e. differences between France and the US and between the UN and France. Bush's Nov 11 demand that Syria "start importing democracy" is a case in point. We moved from a Qaddafi deal to democracy over-night. Syrians may want more democracy, but few want it dictated by the US or implemented through the most recent UN resolution and by Mehlis. Maybe some day they will decide that only Washington can instruct them in democracy building and that sticking with their government is damaging. That day has not arrived. The US should pressure Damascus for more democracy, to observe important international protocols on human rights, and to follow due process in the law. Trying to subvert the state will not advance this cause or reassure most Syrians.

The big mistake in Bashar's speech, to my thinking, was his ferocious attack on Lebanon’s leadership. Here is the excerpt:

The truth is that today Lebanon has become a passage, a factory, and a financier for all these conspiracies. In other words, Mr. Al-Siniora could not make good on…or maybe he was not allowed to make good on (his commitment), because he is the slave of a slave. What is happening now has nothing to do with Al-Hariri’s assassination.
The accusation that Lebanon has become a factory of conspiracies against Syria exacerbated justifiable Lebanese fears. It has given the US a real opening to claim that Syria is hatching plans to intervene in Lebanon through more than legitimate political and economic persuasion. President Asad must make it perfectly clear in the future that Syria does not contemplate the use of force in Lebanon. The "slave of a slave" insult was damaging and suggests that Syria has yet to understand the full implications of Lebanese independence. He will have to use diplomacy to help his allies in Lebanon, not undermine them with outlandish insults to their Lebanese partners. He placed Hizbullah and Amal in a terrible fix, not to mention the many Sunnis who are uncomfortable with the way Lebanon has given western ambassadors such latitude to influence internal policy in the country. There are many Lebanese who value good relations with Syria. Bashar must get them on his side. He cannot ask Lebanese to be either with him or against him on the Lebanon issue. They will choose Lebanon and not Syria. The lesson of resolution 1559 was that no Lebanese party wanted Syria to remain in Lebanon. Hizbullah gave Syria a kiss good-bye at the door, but it didn't give the traditional Arab entreaty: "Lissa bakir. Shrib kaman Ahwey" [It's still early. Drink another coffee.]

On Iraq and Palestine, Bashar was very moderate. In fact Ibrahim Hamidi pointed out to me that Bashar actually moderated Syria's traditional position on both countries. In Iraq he condemned all terrorism, whether carried out against civilians or state targets. He asked for good diplomatic relations with the Iraqi state. He did not talk about legitimate resistance. As for Palestine-Israel, he said he would support Abu Mazen and made no reference to Palestinian resistance groups. How much one should take these statements as an indication of policy shift is not clear, but there is a potential opening, which will undoubtedly go unnoticed.

Time for change
Damascus launches an internal reform programme in a bid to appease the Syrian street, Sami Moubayed reports from the Syrian capital
Sunday 13 Nov. 2005 from al-Ahram Weekly

The Damascus government believes that the only way the Syrians will firmly reject the impact of UN Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis's report and Security Council Resolution 1636 is if it creates a timely, thorough internal reform programme. Judging from the Iraqi precedent, the Syrian government realised that a population that is dissatisfied will not defend its government in times of crisis.

But the fact is that the majority of Syrians are dissatisfied not because of the lack of political freedoms or because of Syria's current standing in the international community. On the contrary most Syrians today are rather apolitical. Rather they are dissatisfied for reasons that merely cosmetic change will not rectify.

Many of the promised socio-economic and political reforms were originally expected in June 2005 following a Baath Party conference.

The new reforms are two-fold: on the one hand political, and on the other socio-economic and educational. The political reforms are intended to satisfy the intellectuals, activists and politicised Syrians who have been complaining that political change has been slow since 2000. These people, however, represent a minority of Syria's 18 million.

When he came to power in 2000, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad promised economic changes and regime officials said that political change would follow. The argument was that political reforms would not be appreciated by a population that, first and foremost, demanded better schools, higher wages, lower real estate prices and better hospitals.

And Al-Assad promised to live up to these demands. In 2003-2004, 5.1 million Syrians -- around 30 per cent of the population -- were declared to be living below the UN poverty line, while in 2005 it was announced that two million Syrians could not even meet their basic economic needs. It was these people, rather than the politicised Syrians, who were declared to be the priority on the agenda of the government.

In 2000, Al-Assad took over a stagnated economy with a growth rate of 2.4 per cent. The population, however, was growing at a rate of 2.7 per cent. The economic measures taken by the new president paid off initially and by 2003 -- mainly because of trade with Iraq -- the economic growth rate increased to 3.4 per cent.

But when Iraq was invaded things fell apart not only in Syria but through much of the Middle East. In 2004, the economic growth rate dropped to 1.7 per cent. Oil production -- which accounts for 75 per cent of Syria's exports -- reached 604,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 1996 (the highest point in years) but declined to 450,000 bpd in 2005.

One of the earliest decrees passed by Al-Assad concerned the privatisation of banks, breaking the government monopoly over the banking sector that had been in force since 1963. This reform has not been effective since to date credit loans to individuals have not been issued by private banks. Instead loans are given only to influential businessmen whose reputations guarantee repayment. Meanwhile, transferring money out of Syria continues to be complicated and highly regulated while transactions are slow. As one observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "the only reform private banks has given citizens is that they wait for a shorter time in queues, they carry out transactions in rooms with air conditioning and better furniture, and they deal with employees who are better dressed and more eloquent than their counterparts in the government banks."

Meanwhile, wages have been raised by the regime since 2000 by more than 50 per cent, and ambitious plans have been declared to help combat unemployment, estimated officially at 11 per cent but is close to 20 per cent in reality. The Anti-Unemployment Commission signed an agreement with the Industrial Bank in 2005 for SP1 billion to help develop 2,000 small projects in Syria, providing around 40,000 new jobs.

But for now things remain stagnant and problematic for most Syrians. A survey carried out by the Central Statistics Bureau in cooperation with the Anti-Unemployment Commission put the total labour force in Syria at 4.475 million workers. And at least 300,000 new Syrians enter the work force each year. Due to a decrease in investment -- due to the political climate -- work opportunities are also decreasing and currently, around 30 per cent of university graduates in Syria are unemployed.

Private schools have opened in Damascus and private universities have mushroomed since 2000, again, ending the government monopoly over education in place since 1963. Among the most prominent is Al-Kalamoun University in Dayr Atiya, 100 kilometres away from Damascus, which among other things is the first independent school in Syria to teach political science and international relations. Many Syrians see that the only real reform worth noting since 2000 has been in the educational sector but it takes a decade for this reform to start affecting society as a whole.

Other recent declarations include the promise to increase wages in the public sector by 20 per cent in early 2006 and to increase investment. The government has also lifted a ban on importing clothes and medicine, which should help create new businesses in Syria, increase competition for Syrian clothes and medicine factories, and put an end to smuggling that usually takes place from neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Overseeing the government programme is Abdullah Al-Dardari, deputy prime minister for economic affairs.

Politically, the regime issued a general amnesty on the last day of Ramadan, setting 190 political prisoners free. A hundred-and-one of the released prisoners are members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The rest were a combination of dissidents from different Islamic groups.

The amnesty was welcomed by activists and politicians but criticised because it did not include the famous three dissidents arrested in September 2001 -- parliamentarians Riyad Seif and Maamoun Al-Homsi and the economics professor Aref Dalilah. They may, however, be released in another amnesty, probably on 16 November, marking the 35th anniversary of the Correction Movement that brought former president Hafez Al-Assad to power in 1970.

Other positive indicators include a new lack of harassment of activists. Likewise the tone of Syrian activists in online articles and articles published in the Lebanese and Arab press has grown more heated and many are expressing their views more openly.

Finally, a new cabinet is expected to be formed later this month. The number of seats allocated to the Baath Party will be reduced and according to All-4- Syria, an online bulletin run by the reformist Baathist Ayman Abdul-Nour, the Regional Command of the ruling party has recently met to discuss an alternative to Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa, whom many consider to be responsible for Syria's current isolation. In addition the post of Ghazi Kanaan, former interior minister, has been vacant since he died on 12 October.

With regard to the Kurds, Syria has announced that it will soon grant citizenship to 90,000 members of this often persecuted minority. And finally, the multi-party law -- promised by Congress in June -- is expected to be passed by the end of the year. If fully implemented, it would dramatically change the climate in Syria and end the socialist monopoly over political life.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Asad's full Speech at Damascus University Nov. 2005

I just returned from a wedding in Latakia, where people were very torn about President Asad's speech. There is great anxiety among most Syrians but they aren't talking about it a lot. My barber - a Christian in his 30s - was categorical. He said, "Why don't they give up the people who killed Hariri instead of making the people suffer. We want a future." Others were more long winded and seemed to agree with the President about Syria being targeted no mater what it does. Many don't really believe Syria is guilty. All the same, no one relishes a fight with the US and international community. Some remarked that Syria was looking a lot like Iraq when it was isolated. Others, insisted Syria is different than Iraq because it is not so bad and its leaders more flexible. The lovely Christian family that runs the grocery next door think this government is about the best Syrians can hope for. They are frightened of Syria becoming like Iran or Iraq, with fundamentalists running about, and, "anyway," they say, "Middle Eastern people like dictatorship. They aren't ready for anything else." But quickly add that the people want more freedom and need reforms. It is a confusing picture over all. No one has any fight in them. They want to be part of the world, but cannot see how it is going to happen.

The speech of President Bashar al-Asad at Damascus University given on November 10, 2005 as translated by Sana, the official Syrian news agency. VIDEO: Bashar Speech Nov. 10 2005

Ibrahim Hamidi has a good op-ed, "It's time for Syria to take the advice it proffered to Iraq." in the Daily Star.

al-Nahar writes:

Perhaps the most illuminating rejection of Assad's intransigence has come from Gebran Tueni, one of the leaders of the March 14 anti-Syrian revolt touched off by Hariri's assassination, who labeled Assad's speech as an outright declaration of war against the new Lebanon.

"We are bent on preserving our national unity, Christians and Muslims, to consolidate our independence, and are also bent on getting to the truth of Hariri's assassination to bring to punitive justice the perpetrators of this terrorist crime," legislator Tueni wrote in An Nahar page 1 editorial on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria has no right to argue or negotiate how it should cooperate with the Hariri probe in line with U.N. resolution 1636, expressing 'disgust' over rejection in his speech to cooperate without pre-conditions.

"The U.N. Security Council couldn't have been clearer and, in fact, more detailed about what was expected of the Syrians," Rice told reporters in a briefing aboard her plane en route for the Middle East on Thursday.

"They are expected to answer affirmatively, positively, yes, to whatever Mehlis needs to complete his investigation. And I do not believe that the U.N. Security Council resolution contemplated the Syrians negotiating how they would say yes," Rice said.

In Paris, President Chirac was clearly irate about Assad's defiant stance, saying Syria should face international sanctions unless it cooperates fully with the Mehlis commission.

If President Assad "continues to refuse to listen, or understand, then it will become necessary to move to another level, which is that of sanctions," Chirac told a press conference.(Naharnet-AP-AFP photo shows Lebanese tuned in to Assad's speech in Beirut ) Beirut, Updated 12 Nov 05, 09:46
President Bush also spoke about Syria in his Veterans' Day speech. He stressed that Syria must import "Democracy," which will undoubtedly become his new line with Syria. Now there is no longer a Qaddafi deal. It must be democracy, which means effective regime-change. He also mentioned Kamal Labwani by name. This is new. Until today, the President has ignored the Damascus Spring prisoners.
The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They've been sheltered by authoritarian regimes -- allies of convenience like Iran and Syria -- that share the goal of hurting America and modern Muslim governments, and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West, on America, and on the Jews. This week the government of Syria took two disturbing steps. First, it arrested Dr. Kamal Labwani for serving as an advocate for democratic reform. Then President Assad delivered a strident speech that attacked both the Lebanese government and the integrity of the Mehlis investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

The government of Syria must do what the international community has demanded: cooperate fully with the Mehlis investigation and stop trying to intimidate and de-stabilize the Lebanese government. The government of Syria must stop exporting violence and start importing democracy. (Applause.)......

The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East. This is difficult, and it's a long-term project, yet there is no alternative to it. Our future and the future of the region are linked. If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery while radicals stir the resentment of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, in our generation and for the next. ...

America is making this stand in practical ways. We're encouraging our friends in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take the path of reform, to strengthen their own societies in the fight against terror by respecting the rights and choices of their own people. We're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow. We're making our case through public diplomacy -- stating clearly and confidently our belief in self-determination, and the rule of law, and religious freedom, and equal rights for women -- beliefs that are right and true in every land and in every culture. (Applause.)

As we do our part to confront radicalism and to protect the United States, we know that a lot of vital work will be done within the Islamic world itself. And the work is beginning. Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing Chapter 5, Verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all humanity. (Applause.) After the attacks July -- on July 7th in London, an imam in the United Arab Emirates declared, "Whoever does such a thing is not a Muslim, nor a religious person." The time has come for responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles a noble faith. (Applause.)
Bush Tells Assad: 'Stop Trying to Intimidate and Destabilize' Lebanon

Rice Blasts Syria's Crackdown on Opposition Leaders

Here is Kais's commentary at "Beirutbeltway" on the speech from a Lebanese point of view. It is entitled:"Bashar Declares War on Lebanon."

11/12/2005 - Deputy Secretary General of Lebanese Hizbullah Party, Sheikh Naeem Kassem has called the Lebanese officials to draw a clear programme for restoring good relations with Syria as stipulated by Taif Agreement. In an interview published by Lebanese daily , AlSafir , on Saturday Kassem called on for emancipation from the rhythm of the foreign priorities which aim at diverting Lebanon from its fundamental priorities under the sword of the international resolutions or under the title of preparation for international aid and preservation of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. In another interview broadcast by Qatari Aljazeera statellite TV channel, Kassem stressed that the international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will not be allowed to be used as a gate to enforce the American or international mandate on Lebanon and the region.

Anthony Newkirk in his article, "Syria in the Crosshairs: Constructive Engagement or a New Tonkin Gulf?" in Counter Punch charts the shift in Washington's policy toward Syria.

Robin Wright explains how the "Middle East Democracy Summit Ends in Rancor" because Egypt refused to endorse America's plans for funding NGOs.

By all accounts, the notorious "shift" in policy with Syria occurred in
2003. On April 30, J. Cofer Black, State Department Coordinator of
Counterterrorism, gave a press conference on the just-released report,
Annual Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002. A CIA veteran with Middle East,
South Asia, and Latin America experience, Black made an intriguing comment:

We designate Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism despite some cooperation
on al-Qaida. Syria continues to host and support terrorist groups, including
Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad There are some good things.
Syria quickly condemned the attacks of September 11th, and has provided
valuable information on al-Qaida that has helped save American lives.
Nonetheless, we want to make absolutely clear to Syria that nothing short of
full cooperation against all terrorist groups is acceptable.

Then, on September 16, 2003, Under-Secretary of Arms Control and
International Security John R. Bolton appeared before the International
Relations Committee. The infamous neoconservative ideologue had a dire
message about what were, in the words of committee chairwoman Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, "Syria's nefarious activities."

Bolton announced that the Syrians backed Hizbollah and other anti-Western
factions in Lebanon, and let foreign terrorists enter Iraq from Syria.
Bolton stressed that Syria had a weapons of mass destruction program, which
put it among the ''rogue states'' led by Iran and North Korea.

Friday, November 11, 2005

US Press Briefing in response to Asad Speech

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 10, 2005

* * *
MR. ERELI: Let's go to our friend from France.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have -- I would like to go to another subject.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the speech of President Asad and
his answer to the accusations on the Hariri murder?
MR. ERELI: Well, we saw the speech. We think it is appalling. Let's
remember, first of all, that the international community has made it clear
to Syria that it must, first, fully cooperate with the Mehlis investigation.
And second, cease all interference in Lebanese domestic affairs. That's the
clear and unmistakable message of three UN Security Council resolutions:
1559, 1565 and 1636. Asad's remarks today can only be seen as a defiance of
those resolutions.
As the Secretary said, it doesn't constitute cooperation by any stretch of
the imagination. And I think it is something that is just outrageous and
appalling that he would threaten Lebanon like that, especially in light of
the three Security Council resolutions and it shows that the regime of
President al-Asad just doesn't get it and doesn't understand where the rest
of the international community is on this very important issue.
QUESTION: What is it that you perceive or where is it that you perceive him
threatening Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: Well, I would refer you to the speech where he says that Lebanon
is a platform and a factory for conspiracies, where he insults the Prime
Minister of Lebanon. These are not the remarks of a country and a neighbor
that is respectful of Lebanon and Lebanon's sovereignty and Lebanon's
QUESTION: It's a pretty long way, isn't it, from not being respectful
towards a country to actually threatening them? I mean, a threat normally
involves -- if you don't do this or -- and we're going to do that. It's
something along those lines rather than, wow, that's a really bad place with
lots of conspiracies and we don't like the Prime Minister --
MR. ERELI: Let me put it this way. The remarks of President al-Asad are
clearly inconsistent with the substance and import of three UN Security
Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Could I try something else if we're --
QUESTION: Would you (inaudible) on the threat with (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: I've said what I'm going to say.
QUESTION: No, well, hold on, so -- hold on. Are you -- you can't stop me
asking a question when I'm just trying to elaborate your own word. I wonder
if your second answer means you're now trying -- you know, you want to --
you could move away from that word or it is that you do perceive that he is
saying, we will do something bad against Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: I will say this. The remarks that -- President Asad's speech --
that he made in his speech, and its implied approval of interference in
Lebanese affairs, is not consistent with three UN Security Council
resolutions that have all demanded that Syria refrain from interfering in
Lebanon's affairs and have ordered Syria to respect Lebanese sovereignty.
And that's not what we heard in the speech and that should be of concern to
all of us.

* * *
QUESTION: Can I try something else -
QUESTION: (Inaudible).
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Or maybe two if (inaudible).
Syria seems to want to organize, negotiate some kind of memorandum of
understanding for the Mehlis investigation. I think I can predict what your
answer is, but I'd like to hear it. Does Syria have any right to condition a
UN investigation? Shouldn't they just cooperate, cooperate 100 percent and
that's it, and not actually put any conditions on it?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think you should look at what 1636 calls for. It calls
for Syria to make individuals requested by the commission fully available to
the commission. And it also gives the commission authority to determine the
location and modalities for the interviews. So it's up to the commission to
decide what it wants and it's up to Syria to respond positively to the
commission. It's not up to Syria to negotiate terms.
So our view is that there shouldn't be anything that is placed above the
mandate of the Mehlis Commission. And if Mehlis wants something, he should
get it, and he should get it without delay and without complication and
without obfuscation. And if Mehlis doesn't get it, the resolution provides
for him to report to the Security Council, certainly no later than December
15th, but before that if he thinks it's necessary.
QUESTION: So if it's necessary, what do you think is the next step?
MR. ERELI: Well, it is up to Mr. Mehlis to determine whether the
circumstances warrant a report to the Security Council or not. I'm not going
to prejudge that.
QUESTION: Will you ask for sanctions?
MR. ERELI: Let's see what the facts are first.
# # #
Full transcript here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"We Must Fight," Bashar's Speech, Nov. 10 2005

President Asad just gave his speech to the nation at the University of Damascus. It was tougher than anyone could have imagined. It was a declaration of war.

He said that Syria and the region had only two choices: to resist or chaos. Resistance is the least costly option.

We will play the game of Mehlis that they have set out for us – and he stressed that the investigation is but a game – but we will resist the larger plan that “They,” America, has set out for us.

In the end we are going to win, even if this struggle lasts a long time.

“President Bashar,” he said, “will not bow his head to anyone in the world.”

For years the strategy of America has been to insist that either Syria” kill itself” or “we will kill you.” It is not a real choice, he insisted.

President Asad introduced these fighting words by explaining that “this is an attack on our national identity and values” as Arabs. They want to destroy our Arab identity as they destroyed Iraq’s Arab identity. They call Arabism and nationalism a racist ideology, but it has nothing to do with race. It is about a shared history, a desire to cooperate, shared interests, a shared language and past. Syria is a mosaic of peoples and religions – each one partakes in this Arab culture and history. It is not racist. They want to destroy our identity, divide us, and subjugate us.

He explained that America’s strategy would be to try to separate the Syrian people from the state. They will attack my reputation and try to denigrate the government accusing us of making mistakes and being weak, but there was no correct way to respond to this American plan, which is designed to destroy us and which is built in the interests of Israel.

He called on the Syrian people to stick together as one family. He explained that some countries of the region fall apart and shatter when they confront external pressure – in a reference to Iraq. Others will find more solidarity and pull together. Syria will pull together and find itself stronger as a result of this foreign attack.

He explained that when a smaller and weaker person is confronted by a big bully, the smaller person tries to move away and avoid conflict, as did Syria over the last several years. Then the bully follows the smaller person to attack him again. The small guy retreats to his house among his family members. But the bully pursues him to his home and begins to attack his family, one by one. This leaves the smaller person with no choice but to fight.

President Asad made the simile between his own self and family and the nation and Syrian family very clear. He implied that they must stick together as a family and fight.

He then set out very briefly an agenda for internal reform claiming that the government would open up greater dialog with the people and be more transparent so that the Syrians will understand what is going on.

He spoke specifically about the Kurdish issue, and said they would get their nationality. He referred to the recommendations of June’s Baath Party Congress as bold and courageous. He said they would be pushed through the political process.

He said almost nothing about how Syria would deal with the Mehlis investigation other than that it would “play the game.”

He explained that some Syrians would repeat the foreign criticisms, attacking the government and Syria when the foreign press did. He explained that this would be a sign that they were agents of the West. He was referring to the Syrian opposition and made it clear that they will be attacked as traitors if they try to divide the nation. He called on the young generation to build its future and not to give into despair or apathy. He said nervousness is natural and good if it leads to hard work and awareness. But getting scared is bad. Syrians will not give into fear. They will be strong and rise to the foreign challenges that confront them.

He explained that Syria is in a great battle, not just to protect itself but to protect the entire region. America will go after each Arab country one by one. The Arabs should stand together to avoid being divided. They must resist this overarching plan to destroy them, erase their identity, and undermine their unity.

My mother-in-law
called after the speech to say how excited she was and that Syria had no option but to fight. My wife is of the opposite view. She is filled with anxiety and wonders how little Syria can take on the world. She foresees very dark days ahead for her country. "Thank God we are going back to America," she allowed. A businessman from Deir az-Zor just called to ask me what I thought. He said he never expected such a tough speech. "It was very hard," he said. He had wanted Syria to get with the program to cooperate with the West and go through "radical change from top to bottom," opening up the economy and getting rid of the security state and corruption. Not much likelihood of that now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Imad Mustafa - Syr. Ambassador in DC is a Real Person

Imad Mustafa, Syria's Ambassador to the US has a "Weblog of a Syrian Diplomat in America: The journal of the envoy of Syria to the USA." It is the real thing. It is not a political blog, but it is very human. Full of culture and a tribute to his many friends - among them are Sami Moubayed, Ibrahim Hamidi and many more. Well worth visiting.

Thoughts on the Current Situation from a Grassroots Republican Activist

Here are Some thoughts on the current situation: by a friend who describes himself as a "grassroots Republican activist"

“Introduce new products?”

Does anyone in America really care about Syria? Foreign-policy nerds like me and anyone else reading this certainly do, but we may have lost perspective.

Let me explain. The other day, I was renting a car from a 3rd or 4th generation American of European descent. Typical American citizen. In conversation, he asked me about my origin, I told him that my family originally came from Syria. He then asked, "now where is Syria again?" answer: "between Iraq and the Mediterranean Sea." 2nd question: "and they're on our side, right?" This lack of knowledge is typical.

That is why Andy Card (Bush's Chief-of-Staff and a very clever guy) warns about when you should "introduce new products."

It took daily front-page coverage for months and months for Americans to learn 3 new words: “Shiite, Sunni, Kurd”. And that was after a decade plus of vilification of Saddam Hussein. I don't see the stakes being high enough for us to learn en masse the new vocabulary of "Alawi, Shawkat, Kanaan", especially when the right-track, wrong-track number is well below 50, people are planning to stay home for Thanksgiving because gas is too expensive, and congressional Republicans are running a bit scared because the Democrats think they can make 2006 their version of 1994 (though the Dems still have no cohesive message so they will probably fail.)

Plus, it will be difficult to sufficiently vilify Bashar al-Assad. War hawks and their media allies can try all they like, but at the end of the day, the average American is going to spend about 30 seconds thinking about him, and figure: “Well, the guy speaks English so he can’t be evil. He smiles. He’s tall, dark, and handsome (don’t laugh, I have heard women with no political stake in the matter say this). He’s got lovely kids from a beautiful wife who speaks with a British accent so therefore she’s intelligent so therefore she couldn’t have married a mad tyrant, so he must be okay.” If that seems overly superficial, that’s because it is. The average American doesn’t have enough at stake to spend mental energy actively hating Bashar al-Assad, or even remember who he is.

I would bet that Rice and whoever else is driving the policy at this point have figured this out and combined with all of the other obvious reasons (new Euro honeymoon, bad taste from neo-con Iraq style, etc.) they will continue to work this through diplomatic pressure. Syria will likely not be introduced as a “new product”.


Rice can steer the actual policy, but frankly I’m surprised that Congress hasn’t taken matters into its own hands as they did with the Syria Accountability Act. After the Hariri assassination there was a flurry of anti-Syria bills and resolutions put forth. I expected to see a whole new batch post Mehlis, but there was only one, on October 25, on which no real action has been taken. It basically demanded that Syria cooperate with Mehlis in Stage 2, however the first article read: “(1) condemns the Government of Syria for its apparent involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri”. So much for innocent until proven guilty. Interestingly, though, the 6th clause mentioned an “international tribunal”. (see

The usual congressional spearheads of the anti-Syria movement, Elliot Engel and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, did not co-sponsor this piece of legislation. Coincidentally (or not), last year, these 2 in particular raised a significant amount of money from Lebanese Americans with an axe to grind against Syria. So far this election cycle, no cash from those individuals. However, each seems to have found a new supporter: Farid Ghadry, whose family has donated $6,000 this year (just go to and type in his or any other name). “Want more Bashar-bashing in the House, Farid? Show me the money!” they will say.

“Mwarne and Likudim sitting in a tree”

Sounds like a bad remix of an even worse one-hit wonder from the 80s. For now, the “brave and courageous Lebanese people” as Ms. Rice refers to them, are everybody’s heroes. Just wait. The more Lebanon asserts itself as self-governing and sovereign, the less they can blame their ills on Syria. Again, what’s the endgame here? Has anyone thought that far ahead? It’s only a matter of time until AIPAC and their allies exploit this. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if they begin pushing to have Lebanon added to the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. After all, Hezbollah is now fully integrated into the Lebanese political system – it has more MPs than ever plus a cabinet position for the first time. The Likudniks may see the Maronites as cute little clean-shaven Arabs that they can deal with, but they’re not that cute. They’ll get sold right down the Litani River.

Israel & Regime Change

As for the true Israeli position on the Baath regime, any serious debate in Israel will likely yield the conclusion that the status quo is just fine. Despite a technical state of war with Syria, there have been just a handful of military incidents on the border in several decades. I doubt my Israeli friends employed at banks and consultancies in Tel Aviv would relish taking time away from work for reserve duty in the Golan should uncertainty develop in Damascus. Any regime change talk coming from Israel is just hot air.


Food for thought: yesterday was Election Day here in the US. I happened to be working the polls in a very economically depressed urban area. Turnout was low. One of the local residents said to me, “People don’t vote here. They don’t care. They don’t want things to change. Because if things did change for the better, they wouldn’t be able to cry and complain anymore.”

Syria signals it is ready for "regional behavior change," by Ibrahim Hamidi

Ibrahim Hamidi's article yesterday in al-Hayat is important. His title is "Syria is sending signals to Arab and western countries that it is ready for "regional behavior change" and internal reform: Lebanese sovereignty, studying drawing the border, supporting Abu Mazen, and security for Iraq." I have posted the Arabic below. I suppose President Asad will discuss this during his speech tomorrow. Will it be more than the warmed over package he has been talking about for some time? The UN wants action and not words. Evidently the new elections law he will announce, and which has been talked about for more than half a year, does not remove article 8 or the sovereignty of the Baath Party. In effect it will only allow the proliferation of more Arab nationalist parties, which Syria already has many of in the Progressive National Front.

The real question is whether Bashar will allow Syrians to be questioned in Beirut. On this he is still asking for Mehlis to come to Damascus to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, something Mehlis does not have to do and may well refuse. How much more time does Syria have to prevaricate?

Ibrahim Hamidi
al-Hayat: November 11, 2005

بدأت سورية بإرسال اشارات مختلفة تظهر فيها استعدادها لـ «معادلة جديدة» في ملفات العراق ولبنان والمنظمات الفلسطينية ومفاوضات السلام مع اسرائيل، والاستعداد لـ«التعاون الكامل» مع فريق التحقيق الدولي في اغتيال رئيس الوزراء اللبناني السابق رفيق الحريري برئاسة القاضي الالماني ديتليف ميليس، والسير نحو اتخاذ «اجراءات اصلاحية» داخلية في المجالين السياسي والاقتصادي.

لكن يبدو ان دمشق لا تزال تتريث الى حين وصول ردود الفعل الدولية على التوجه الجديد في السياستين الخارجية والداخلية لسورية. وهذا ما يفسر تزامن جولة نائب وزير الخارجية السفير وليد المعلم في شمال افريقيا، وقيام الرئيس اليمني علي عبدالله صالح وكل من الكويت وقطر بنقل «التوجه الجديد» الى اليابان واميركا وفرنسا، مع قدوم وزير الخارجية الايراني منوشهر متقي الى دمشق في 13 من الشهر الجاري للقاء الرئيس بشار الاسد ووزير الخارجية فاروق الشرع.

وبحسب معلومات توفرت لـ «الحياة»، تضمنت خطة التحرك الجديدة النقاط الآتية: اولا، تعديل في الخطاب الاعلامي الرسمي. ثانيا، تفعيل عمل اللجنة القضائية السورية الخاصة باغتيال الحريري واعطائها صلاحيات اضافية. ثالثا، اطلاق 190 سجينا سياسيا والسير نحو اصلاحات اخرى بينها «تقييد» قانون الطوارئ. رابعا، ارسال اشارات باتجاه سياسة معتدلة في الشرق الاوسط.

وبدأت اشارات «التوجه المعتدل»، بعد صدور القرار الدولي الرقم 1636 الذي يحض سورية على التعاون الكامل ومن دون اي شروط مع ميليس، وإدراك دمشق مدى الاجماع الدولي ضدها و»مدى سوء» هذا القرار. وكان لافتا ان وسائل الاعلام الرسمية انتقلت من التركيز على مساوئ القرار ووضعه في سياق «مخطط صهيوني»، الى التركيز على «التعاون الكامل» مع الفريق الدولي مع الاشارة الى الانتقادات القانونية.

ويمكن القول ان»خطة التحرك» التي وضعتها القيادة السورية نقلها السفير المعلم خلال جولته العربية واللقاءات الرفيعة بين قادة الدول الخليجية ومسؤول سوري للمرة الاولى منذ شهور. كما وضعت وزارة الخارجية عددا من الدول الاجنبية الصديقة مثل الصين وروسيا وتركيا، والشقيقة مثل الجزائر والكويت في أجواء هذا التوجه مع «شكرها على جهودها ودعمها» لدمشق لإجراء بعض التعديلات على مسودة القرار 1636.

وقام رئيس مجلس الشعب السوري محمود الابرش باتصالات مع نظرائه، فيما عقدت القيادة المركزية لـ «الجبهة الوطنية التقدمية» (أعلى هيئة سياسية تضم الاحزاب المرخصة برئاسة البعث) امس اجتماعا، اكد فيه الوزير الشرع «حرص سورية على التعاون الكامل مع اللجنة (الدولية) ووضع الآليات المناسبة لذلك، وان يكون عمل اللجنة مهنيا يتوخى جلاء الحقيقة». لكن اللافت قول الشرع ان «سورية معنية في المساهمة في استقرار المنطقة ومتعاونة في جميع القضايا المطروحة ومتخذة الاجراءات والتدابير المناسبة في هذا المجال».

ويمكن القول ان المؤشرات الجديدة في السياسة الخارجية السورية تضمن رغبة الحكومة السورية بـ «اقامة علاقات ايجابية مع حكومة لبنان في اطار المصالح المشتركة مع احترام سيادة كل منهما واستقلاله». وعلمت «الحياة» ان دمشق تدرس مع الحكومة اللبنانية مسألة ترسيم الحدود بينهما، الامر الذي تطالب به حكومة فؤاد السنيورة، مع تأكيد ان دمشق لا تريد «التدخل في الشؤون اللبنانية وانها نفذت القرار (الدولي) 1559 (الذي يطالب بانسحاب كامل القوات السورية من لبنان)، وانها اكدت دائما ان لا وجود لعناصر امنية في لبنان وسبق ان نفت تهريب اسلحة الى المخيمات الفلسطينية».

وعن العراق، تشدد سورية على ان «استقرار المنطقة اساسي بالنسبة الى سورية» وان دمشق اتخذت اجراءات لضبط الحدود مع العراق وهي «جاهزة للتعاون الامني مع السلطات العراقية لضبط الحدود».

كما سيجري التركيز على «دعم السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية للحفاظ على الوحدة الوطنية ودعم المحادثات على اساس خريطة الطريق» وعلى استعداد سورية لـ «استئناف مفاوضات السلام على اساس المبادرة العربية ودعم سورية»، مع نفي وجود نشاط عسكري او شبه عسكري للمنظمات الفلسطينية على الاراضي السورية.

ويتضمن التوجه المطروح أمورا اصلاحية داخلية لـ «تعزيز نهج الاصلاح والتحديث وتكريسه». اذ يتوقع اضافة الى العفو الرئاسي الاخير الذي شمل 190 سجينا سياسيا، صدور تشريعات اقتصادية للوصول الى «اقتصاد السوق الاجتماعي». وقالت مصادر رسمية ان القيادة المركزية لـ «الجبهة» بحثت امس في «تشريع قانون للاحزاب يسهم في تعزيز قاعدة المشاركة الشعبية في العمل السياسي وفي تعزيز الممارسة الديموقراطية وفي تصليب الوحدة الوطنية».

Badran and Landis slug-fest over how hard to push Syria

Some required reading has been posted by Tony Badran at "Across the Bay:" Read his posts on "Bashar and Brookings" and Syria and the Mehlis Vise and It's the Flynt-stones. He slams me and takes on Flynt Leverett for misunderstanding Syria and not appreciating the full horrors of a "thugocracy." The only solution for Syria, Tony implies, is to break the regime.

Tony begins his post on "Bashar and Brookings" this way: (but read the whole thing)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Martin Indyk's FT op-ed where he lambasted Bashar. Last week, Indyk was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Indyk piled it on. Commenting on Syria's talent of misreading developments (exemplified by the brilliant Farouq ash-Sharaa), Indyk said:

The one thing I regret about this process of getting the Security Council resolution, is that somebody seems to have bragged beforehand about how sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, was going to be in there. That appeared as you know, in the New York Times Monday morning. But to get unanimity, the threat of sanctions was dropped. There is only the threat of further action if Syria does not cooperate.

That’s an inevitable result of the negotiating process in the UN Security Council, but what it does, I’m afraid, is send the wrong signal to the Syrians, who are chronically prone to misreading the map. They may conclude that the United States failed in this resolution to get a reference to sanctions and therefore they don’t have to worry about it, which would be a big mistake on their part, but I’m afraid that’s how they’ll read it... continued

One must read Tony's three posts. He has an excellent understanding of power politics in this case. My major complaint with Tony is that he poopoohs the possibility of chaos and refuses to consider that things could get worse if the confrontation between the West and Syria is driven too quickly.

Tony was a big fan of the way Bush boxed Saddam Hussein in and took him down. I was not. Tony believes the US must do something similar with Syria - box it in and leave no escape route for Bashar al-Asad. Tony believes he is the source of evil and must be excised because he is the head of the thugocracy.

My own thinking about Iraq is closer to that of Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to George H.W. Bush. In an important article in "The New Yorker" by Jeffrey Goldberg, Brent Scowcroft explains why he disagrees with the neocons. The full article has been nicely summarized by Steve Clemons. Here is the first bit:

Brent Scowcroft on the War in Iraq and the Bush Administration
In "Breaking Ranks" (p. 54), in the October 31, 2005, issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg reports on the growing divide between the Bush Administration and its Republican critics. The criticism from Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to George H.W. Bush, has been particularly pronounced, Goldberg writes. Scowcroft recalls advice he gave the first President Bush at the conclusion of the first Gulf War, when there was pressure to remove Saddam Hussein.

It would have been easy to reach Baghdad, Scowcroft said, but what then? "At the minimum, we'd be an occupier in a hostile land. Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don't like the term 'exit strategy' -- but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?" Scowcroft then said of Iraq, "This is exactly where we are now. We own it. And we can't let go. We're getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there's a fair chance we'll win. But look at the cost."...

"For Scowcroft," Goldberg writes, "the second Gulf war is a reminder of the unwelcome consequences of radical intervention, especially when it is attempted without sufficient understanding of America's limitations or of the history of a region." Scowcroft says, "I believe in the fallibility of human nature. We continually step on our best aspirations. We're humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will."
The question Tony refuses to answer about destroying the Syrian regime is what will be the cost if we succeed? Even if we do not destroy the regime, which is unlikely, but only succeed in placing sanctions on Syria, what will the cost be?

By pushing Syria too hard, too fast, we risk a real mess. I am all in favor of pressure, but one cannot drive Syria to change its character beyond a certain speed. The society itself must be capable of responding to the need for change in an organized and controlled fashion. One cannot just pluck off the regime or close it down with sanctions and isolation and expect society to do the right thing to replace it and grow another regime. My fear is that Syrian society is not mature enough or organized enough to deal with serious regime failure. If one squeezes a boil before it has come to a head, one risks spreading the infection internally, causing greater pain, and permanently scaring the surrounding flesh. That is why doctors prescribe hot compresses and time in order to bringing the boil to a head. One can speed along this process with the application of heat, but ultimately one must wait for the body to reject the infection on its own.

The last five years have seen Syrian intellectuals go through an enormous change of thinking. The Damascus Declaration issued two weeks ago was important. So is the emergence of a significant body of liberals within the government who are advocating real change and a democratic opening. All the same, much of this thinking has yet to seep into the minds of the masses, who are not connected to the intellectual opponents of the regime. Many too many people in Syria remain in thrall of their imams, who see the world in the old Baathi-Islamist way of conspiracies and Western-Zionist evil. That attitude will have to dissolve much further before a clean break can be contemplated. It is far from dissolved - no matter how often the West tells us that Arab nationalism is dead, etc. It is very much alive here - even if it has been dressed in Islamist cloths. An increasing number of Syrians are taking up the notion of Syrianism and Syria first, but they have not captured the imagination of the masses.

Tony, and those of his thinking, will no doubt argue that the masses will never be ready for liberal reform so long as the regime remains in power and is able to brainwash them with anti-Westernism and anti-Zionism ideas. I don't think this is true. I think the forces working on Syrian society are much greater than the regime. Globalization, seeing neighbors succeeding, watching al-Jazeera, etc. are a tremendous force. The regime cannot arrest these changes no matter how hard it tries. And the regime is not monolithic. There is serious debate going on within the government.

Syrians are smart and they don't want to be left behind by the world. They will organize themselves and change their outlook on the world with time - and perhaps faster than many think, but it won't be tomorrow. Pushing the process too quickly has real dangers. How quickly is too quickly? That is an important question. It should be debated.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

News Round UP (Nov 8, 2005)

Kamal Labwani was arrested at the Damascus airport yesterday when he flew back from Washington where he had met with senior American officials and asked for US support for the Syrian opposition. It was covered on al-Arabiyya.

U.N. Seeks to Question 6 Syrians in Killing of Lebanese Ex-Leader
Published: November 8, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria, Nov. 7 - A United Nations team investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, has formally requested that six Syrian officials travel to Lebanon for questioning, Syrian officials confirmed Monday.

Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor leading the investigation, sent the request last week in a letter to the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan. The Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that it had received the demand through the United Nations in New York, but it made no immediate comment about whether Syria would comply.

The names of the six officials have not been released.

But the list is believed to include Asef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad and chief of military intelligence, who was identified as a prime suspect in a preliminary report on Mr. Hariri's death.

Syria has repeatedly said it would cooperate with the investigation. But Mr. Mehlis's request that the officials travel to Lebanon poses a serious problem for the government.

There are fears, for example, that the officials could be arrested on foreign soil. While Mr. Mehlis does not have the authority to issue arrest warrants, he can recommend that the Lebanese police do so. It was on his recommendation, in September, that the Lebanese authorities arrested four generals with ties to Syria in connection with Mr. Hariri's death.

Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus correspondent for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, which first reported on the letter on Monday, said in an interview that the demand was causing anxiety in Syrian political circles.

"At the very least, they will want a guarantee from Mehlis that these men won't be arrested," Mr. Hamidi said, adding that in addition to Mr. Shawkat, the list of six is believed to include Rustom Ghazaleh, director of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon at the time of the Hariri assassination, and Bahjat Suleiman, a former chief of internal intelligence.

Syria had previously offered Mr. Mehlis the opportunity to select sites in Syria at which to interview officials under a United Nations flag. Parliament also ratified a presidential decree for Syria to conduct its own investigation into the killing.

Georges Jabbour, a member of Parliament, said the United Nations investigators should accept Syria's offer to allow them to conduct the interviews in Syria. But he said he did not believe the Syrian government would ultimately refuse the request to transfer officials to Lebanon, "provided Mr. Mehlis behaves in a collaborative and gentlemanly fashion."

Joshua Landis, an American historian of Syria who is spending the year in Damascus on a Fulbright research fellowship, said the establishment of an independent Syrian investigation represented a partial attempt to regain control of a process that, in Syrian eyes, is rapidly spiraling out of control.

Sharon: Israel Will Not Return the Golan By Amihai Zippor: Nov. 8, 2005 - infoIsrael

(IHC News, 08 November 2005) Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Israel will never relinquish the Golan Heights in a peace agreement with Syria. His statements came at the latest meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

“Discussions on the possibility of withdrawal from the Golan Heights in the past constituted a grave mistake,” he said. He added he has no intention of negotiating a treaty with Syria if it means giving up the Golan.

Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz described Sharon as being very adamant on this issue. “I will not negotiate with Syria,” Steinitz quoted Sharon, “because I will never leave that area.”
Also see the story in Haaretz with Syrian Min of Interior Dakhlallah's response: "Syria: Israel using pressure on Damascus to reject peace talks."

Sharaa briefs Syrian cabinet on latest political developments
DAMASCUS, Nov 8 (KUNA) -- Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa on Tuesday briefed the Syrian cabinet about the impact on his country of the latest local and regional developments.

Speaking during a cabinet meeting, which was headed by Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otri, Sharaa said that Damascus was "ready to fully cooperate" with a UN-backed investigation committee into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.

In a related development, Syria re-iterated its right to liberate the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation.

Meanwhile, Syria dismissed on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's latest statement in which he said that his country would not enter into a peace dialogue with Syria.
President Bashar snubbed byForeign Secretary Jack Straw who said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday that the bloc had invited Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara instead of Assad. Britain is the president of the current EU session.

Amr Moussa arrived last night in Damascus for talks with the government aimed at clarifying Syria and other Arab nations' response to the UN Security Council's Resolution 1636. Moussa will hold meetings in Damascus with top figures from the regime, including Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and its foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa. Moussa is expected to relay the outcome of his talks earlier in Cairo earlier this week with UN secretary general Kofi Annan, and to discuss how the Arab League may be able to intervene and prevent serious political fall-out for Syria and the entire region.

Syria keen on full cooperation with UN probe
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al- Shara said on Monday that Syria is willing to cooperate fully with the UN probe into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the official SANA news agency reported.

"Syria is keen on cooperating fully with the international investigation committee and installing the appropriate mechanisms to do so," Shara said in a political report at the meeting of the central leadership of the National Progressive Front.

"Syria is concerned in achieving stability in the region and shows cooperation in all the proposed issues," he added.

US limits contact with Syrian leader
Frustration grows over border control
By Farah Stockman and Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe November 8, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The United States has cut off nearly all contact with the Syrian government as the Bush administration steps up a campaign to weaken and isolate President Bashar al-Assad's regime, according to US and Syrian officials.

The United States has halted high-level diplomatic meetings, limited military coordination on Syria's border with Iraq, and ended dialogue with Syria's Finance Ministry on amending its banking laws to block terrorist financing. In recent months, as distrust between the two countries widened, the United States also declined a proposal from Syria to revive intelligence cooperation with Syria, according to Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, and a US official.

The new era of hostility flows from American frustration at what it considers Syria's failure to effectively control its border with Iraq and continued support for radical Palestinian groups that threaten the chances of peace in Israel.

The US-Syrian confrontation has sharpened just as Syria is also facing pressure from many Arab and European governments -- as well as the United States -- over Syria's suspected role in the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Oct. 31 that ''the Syrian government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior" or risk becoming an international pariah.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Farid Ghadry, Head of Syrian Reform Party
Manuela Paraipan - 11/6/2005

Rumsfeld tells Mofaz: We'll kick Assad out

The following two articles ratchet up the pressure on Syria. It is very hard to believe that this is more than bark or that the US is still capable of biting Syria militarily. Neither the military, nor public are in the mood for opening another front. Most likely, the talk of war is an effort to scare Syria into taking some tough decisions. It may well be directed more at Europe than at Syria. We have heard nothing about what sanctions are being developed to punish Syria should it be accused by Mehlis of non-cooperation. Perhaps this silence is because Europe is reluctant to impose more than the lightest of "smart sanctions." In this case by threatening military action in Syria, Washington may actually be raising the pressure on its European allies to get serious about sanctions or America will go crazy in Syria. America cannot actual abandon Europe and the UN again to launch a unilateral military strike. It would undo all the relation-mending that has gone on between the two. On the other hand - Who knows?

Yedioth Ahronoth
Nov. 8, 2005 (Thanks to Timur Goksel)

The American administration is determined to punish Bashar Assad and remove him. This is what Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz heard from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last Friday in Washington.

People who were at the meeting said Rumsfeld and his advisers blame Assad for letting terrorists cross the border into Iraq and help kill American soldiers. The Israeli side said it is better to let Assad stay, along the lines of better the devil you know. But people at the meeting said the Americans showed no interest in who would replace Assad, and their goal is to remove him from power, and used the word "devil" to describe him.

It was learned yesterday that Assad's brother Maher is not suspected of taking part in Hariri's murder, contrary to previous reports. Top Israeli intelligence sources say that the assessment is growing that Shawkat is the man who planned the murder alone with a group of close advisers, without informing the president.

Sharon also related yesterday to the situation in Syria. "I do not intend to sign any agreement with Syria. Talking about leaving the Golan Heights is a serious mistake and I've said this in the past," Sharon told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Sharon replied to a question about which is better for Israel: a weakened Assad or an Assad removed from power. Sharon replied: "It doesn't matter to me. I don't intend to hold negotiations with Syria even though the Syrians definitely want this.

Wag the Damascus?
"Eary Warning" By William M. Arkin
Washington Post: November 7, 2005

Last year, U.S. intelligence agencies and military planners received instructions to prepare up-to-date target lists for Syria and to increase their preparations for potential military operations against Damascus.

According to internal intelligence documents and discussions with military officers involved in the planning, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa was directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prepare a "strategic concept" for Syria, the first step in creation of a full fledged war plan.

The planning process, according to the internal documents, includes courses of action for cross border operations to seal the Syrian-Iraqi border and destroy safe havens supporting the Iraqi insurgency, attacks on Syrian weapons of mass destruction infrastructure supporting the development of biological and chemical weapons, and attacks on the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Though Syria was never mentioned by President Bush as a charter member of the "axis of evil" for developing weapons of mass destruction and support international terrorism, it has long been on the administration's radar screen.

The January 2002 Nuclear Posture Review levied requirements on the military to conduct planning for potential use of nuclear weapons against Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea.

On April 1, 2002, almost a full year before the invasion of Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld accused Iran, Iraq and Syria of "inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing."

On May 6, 2002, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil," Under Secretary of State John Bolton identified Libya, Syria and Cuba as countries that were attempting to procure weapons of mass destruction. "States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort. But those that do not can expect to become our targets," he said.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom itself, according to Gen. Tommy Franks' book, American Soldier (p. 510), U.S. intelligence reported that Iraqi Ba'athist leaders and their families were fleeing to Syria in convoys of Mercedes and SUVs. Secretary Rumsfeld publicly accused Syria of being engaged in "hostile acts" by delivering military equipment to Iraq. Later, according to Inside CENTCOM (p. 121), a slim autobiography of Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, Franks' deputy as CENTCOM, the US discovered "that Syria had been shipping military supplies, including night vision goggles, to Iraq."

On April 9, 2003, the day that U.S. military forces flooded into central Baghdad, Bolton again warned Iran and Syria that those pursuing weapons of mass destruction should "draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq."

While planning for Afghanistan and Iraq, and while the Iraq war was going on, the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Requirements, Plans and Counterproliferation Policy was leading a top to bottom review of war plans, revising the Presidentially-approved Contingency Planning Guidance (CPG) to account for "emerging threats." The draft CPG for 2003 mandated 11 prioritized families of plans at four levels of detail, due to Rumsfeld by mid-2004. The April, 2004 CPG draft for President Bush's signature further refined post-Iraq planning requirements.

Months after the draft CPG for 2004 was circulated, according to the internal documents, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was directed to beef up its Syria work. The Military Forces Analysis Office of the Directorate for Analysis established a special task force preparing order of battle (OB) and military forces analysis for Syria. Order of battle is an intelligence term that refers to characterizing the force structure, equipment, capabilities, and key military leadership.

DIA is responsible for maintaining the Modernized Integrated Database (MIDB), the repository of ground, air, naval, and missile order of battle for foreign countries. The MIDB also serves as the basis for developing target lists for a military campaign.

One novel element of new planning for Syria, according to the documents, involves the work of the IO [information operations] Fusion Support Center of DIA's Directorate for Analysis. To support target "options" development, analysts have been directed to evaluate the vulnerability of critical "nodes" in Syria, including:

1. "human factors analysis" regarding the identification and behavior of Syrian regime leaders and other important decision-makers in Syria

2. design and vulnerabilities of Syrian communications and information infrastructure, and

3. "electric power generation, transmission and distribution facilities and systems."

Military planning for Syria was thus initiated long before the United Nations report implicating the Syrian regime in the February assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a vocal critic of Damascus. And it should be pointed out that much of the new military planning is also related to Syria's overt and clandestine support for the Iraqi insurgency, as well as its continued harboring of former Iraqi Ba'athists and their families.

But when the UN last Monday endorsed a resolution demanding Syria fully and unconditionally cooperates with the UN investigation into the February assassination, new international confirmation was given to Syria's mantle as a rogue state. The resolution warns of possible "further action." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution "made it clear that failure to comply with these demands will lead to serious consequences from the international community."

In some ways, military officers involved in the high-level planning efforts say Syria has eclipsed Iran in CENTCOM's play book as much because of practicality as imminent threat. Iran is four times larger than Iraq with three times the population. Syria is in a difficult geographic position, especially with U.S. bases and forces in Iraq and its proximity to U.S. military strength in the Mediterranean. U.S. forces have also been operating along the Syrian border since early 2003, and there have been numerous reports of clashes between U.S. and Syrian forces on Syrian soil, as well as reports of U.S. special operations forces operating inside Syria on select missions.

Though Syria's possession of WMD was the early justification for contingency planning for the country -- even for American nuclear weapons planning -- I imagine that in light of the Iraq intelligence failure and the current scandals, the administration would now have an impossible time selling WMD charges to the international community. But now all of the pieces could easily fall into place without even any mention of WMD. Political genius Karl Rove would be proud.

By William M. Arkin November 7, 2005; 10:00 AM ET

Syrians on the Potential for Radical Change

See "From Beirut to the Beltway," which is hosted by Kais. He gives an excellent summary of Kamal Labwani's interview on al-Hurra Friday. Here is a bit of his brief summary, but go to the longer version:

Al-Labwani said the Syrian regime has two options to get Syria out of its rut and avoid war. The first is to share power with the opposition and allow political pluralism in the country. The second is to resign.

He said that Syria's main problem is not so much the Baath party's ideology as much as it is the one-party rule. Breaking the one-party monopoly over power and organizing multi-party elections would bring democracy to Syria, he argued. He envisioned a scenario where the current regime would open up the system by giving key portfolios in the cabinet to the opposition and begin a 2-year transition to a democratic system. Bashar could keep the control of the army, al-Labwani argued.
Camille-Alexandre Otrakji has build a wonderful site - "Creative Syria" - The advertising reads:
Learn about Syria’s past, its people, and its heritage. See Syria today through a large database of quality photographs. Meet some of Syria’s most talented artists. Discuss Syria’s future through our discussion forum.
Sami Moubayed has written an important article on the deep rooted nature of Arab nationalism in Syrian culture. He writes that the "stubbornness vis-à-vis Arab and Syrian nationalism is something that the US will simply not be able to change." Although most foreigners see Arab nationalism as a dead or dying identity in the Middle East and often compare it to fascism, the fact of the matter is that Syrians remain deeply wedded to their Arab identity. It will shape the outcome of the US-Syrian confrontation. America expects Syria to abandon its Arabism outright in order to make a "Qaddafi" type about-face on foreign policy. Most Syrian officials invoke Arab nationalism when asked about whether Syria can copy Libya. Then they shake their heads and add, "Bashar al-Asad would lose his legitimacy and be laughed at by the people if he tried to do this." Although many opponents of Asad denigrate him, inside Syria he retains the loyalty of most of his people, in part, because he is seen to be upholding Arab principles. Even if Syria has failed to uphold or advance those principles over the last 50 years, the adherence to them in public has always been seen as a must and has become second nature. Syria may give a lot to the US under the table, but above the table, there is little chance that it will throw away the kufiya as Qaddafi did when he decided to wear the Dashiki as his preferred dress and adopt an African identity. Syrian leaders are stuck with Arabism for better or worse. A small minority demands that Syria build a uniquely Syrian identity and abandon its Arabism, but it remains a small minority. Here is Sami's article:

A brand name called Syria
By Sami Moubayed
Nov 8, 2005: Asia Times

Several indicators are coming out of Damascus showing that Syria is about to initiate long-awaited reforms to please the Syrian street. Damascus has been boiling with rumors on what the reforms are going to be.

Some speculate there will be a lifting of martial law, in place since 1963. Others want a general amnesty to set free all political prisoners, including three famous dissidents - ex-parliamentarians Riyad Sayf and Maamoun al-Homsi, and economist Aref Delilah.

On November 2, 190 political prisoners were granted an amnesty, including human-rights activist Mohammad Raadoun and writer Ali al-Abdullah, who was arrested in mid-2005, but excluding the three mentioned above. Another amnesty is expected on November 16, which marks the 35th anniversary of the "correction movement" that brought Syria's former president, Hafez Assad, to power in 1970.

Other reforms under consideration by President Bashar Assad and promised by the ruling Ba'ath Party are citizenship for 90,000 Kurds and a law to permit parties not affiliated with the Ba'ath Party to operate in Syria.

Another expected reform is a cabinet reshuffle, expected in mid-November, which would reduce the number of seats allocated to the Ba'ath Party. Syria has also refrained from harassing or even questioning any of the dissidents who drafted an opposition document called the "Damascus Declaration" in October.

All of these measures are Syria's way of responding to the latest escalation in its "cold war" with the US following the October release of the United Nations-sponsored Mehlis report into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (which pointed fingers at Syria) and the subsequent passing of UN Resolution 1636, which urges Syria to cooperate with the UN commission investigating Hariri's death.

Syria wants to mobilize its street and create a united front to ward off international pressure and show the world that its people are not disgruntled, but rather are standing firm behind the government and the president.

The government wants to reduce, in anticipation of eliminating, any reason for dissent inside Syria. And to some extent this has worked, with its recent moves being welcomed by politicians, activists and intellectuals, although they demanded more in the months to come.

The Syrian street, however, has welcomed these political reforms with mild enthusiasm at most. The majority of Syria's 18 million people are not interested in political reforms. Syria is composed of young Syrians, mainly below the age of 35. This young generation has more pressing needs that it wants the government to address, such as better schools, better universities, better jobs, cheaper real estate, cheaper automobiles, and cheaper private hospitals.

Political pluralism and general amnesties are low priorities for people struggling to just survive. It is tangible necessities that the government needs to address before political freedoms can have real meaning.

This is something that the Syrian opposition has failed to seize on. While they carry flashy and honest slogans about political freedoms, they ignore the real demands of the Syrian street. Discontent among the masses at the grass-root level is not because of a lack of political freedoms; it is about corruption in the civil service and judiciary, unemployment and other such matters. To the dismay of the average Syrian, and to the pleasure of the government, the opposition has failed to touch Syrians at a grass-root level.

Concentrating on domestic issues
Yet although the street might be opposed to corruption in government, it is by far more opposed to Americans and what is perceived as their "cold war" against Syria.

The Syrian street believes that the Mehlis report is biased and and that it unjustly targets the people of Syria. Syrians would be willing to rally, rank-and-file, behind their government if it would give them the reforms they really wanted - and needed.

For a start, the government could end forced conscription into the army, which has antagonized generations of Syria's youth. Any able male above the age of 18 who is not studying has to spend two-and-a-half years in the military. The pay is only symbolic, and recruits are indoctrinated, drilled and forbidden from travel or from taking up another job.

Many youngsters evade service by fleeing to the Gulf. If conscription were abolished, thousands of talented young men might be encouraged to return. Others would be encouraged not to leave.

Other reforms that go hand-in-hand with this step would be to dramatically improve school and university education by relaxing government restrictions and paying higher wages to teachers. Corruption and unemployment, too, will have to be addressed. Unemployment is estimated at 30% among university graduates and officially at about 11% among all Syrians.

Currently, there are an estimated 17 million Syrians in the diaspora, many being second and third generation emigrants. According to al-Thawra newspaper, their money is estimated at $80 billion. Rigid economic laws, compulsory military service and maltreatment at Damascus Airport are among the few reasons that prevent them from returning to work or invest in Syria. [1]

Once these measures are addressed, the government should prohibit the intelligence services from interfering in the lives of Syrians. Then political freedoms could follow.

A brand called Syria
As they work on reforming themselves from within, Syrians should re-read their history. Essentially, the West never cared for the well-being of Arabs, and certainly not for the well-being of Syrians. This is something that in recent weeks the government has been strongly trying to remind the Syrian street.

There is a uniform conviction in Syria that the US does not really care for who murdered Hariri, but is just using the affair to pressure Syria to comply on other issues, in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.

Why did the French colonize Syria in 1920? Because they saw a lot of potential in this small Middle East country that they wanted to exploit, and did, until evacuating in 1946. Why did the Americans launch the first coup d'etat of the Arab world in 1949 in Damascus? Because they realized that the Syrians, government and public alike, were a hard-headed and stubborn people who would not fulfill US interests in the Middle East.

Why did the Americans try to launch two coups in Syria in the 1950s? Again, because the Syrians were acting too independently from US interests in the Arab world and cozying up to the Soviet Union.

This is the reality of Syria's history with the Western world. Syrians, under global scrutiny today because of the anti-Syrian media campaign, are actually a proud people who never wanted their lives or actions to be dictated by a Western power, be it London, Paris, Washington or Moscow. They may be politically indifferent to reforms at a grass-root level inside Syria, but they remain vigorously anti-American and anti-Israeli.

A strange combination of Syrian and Arab nationalism comes to a confluence in the Syrian street. Contrary to what the West believes, this nationalism was not created by the Ba'athists when they came to power in 1963. It existed under Shukri al-Quwatli in the 1940s, under Adib al-Shishakli in the 1950s, and under the early Ba'athists in the 1960s.

It is part of Syria's national identity. The Americans cannot expect to change that overnight. The issues on which the US government has been haranguing Syria since 2003 happen to be the issues where there is a consensus between the street and government, and these issues mainly concern Lebanon, Palestine and the Iraqi resistance.

The Americans cannot expect to dictate their demands to Syria and immediately find a majority - or even a minority - of Syrians saying: we want Hezbollah to disarm, we want the resistance in Palestine to end, and the insurgency in Iraq to be crushed by the Americans. And more importantly, we want to replace our government with a pro-American one that will cooperate with Washington.

Syrians are not like that. Actually, because they are not like that they are being made to pay a price for their nationalism. This is the mood that prevails in Damascus today. This "cold war" with America is not about Hariri. It is not about Bashar Assad. It is not about supporting or opposing Iraq. It is about the stubborn and arrogant people of Syria.

Defiance is not new to the presidents of the Syrian Republic. Shukri al-Quwatli was defiant. That is why he was ejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1949. Adib al-Shishakli was defiant. That is why the US did not lift a finger to defend him when his regime was toppled in 1954. So were Hashim al-Atasi, Nazim al-Qudsi, Amin al-Hafez, Nur al-Din al-Atasi and Hafez Assad. In fact, the only common denominator in every ruler in Syria was a strict commitment to Syrian nationalism and the Palestinian cause, which is part of a broader commitment to Arab nationalism.

Each of these leaders worked towards this end in a different and often conflicting manner, but each lived by his principles and died defending them. Many exploited the Palestinians, but in the end they could not declare a break from the Palestinian cause.

They were all committed to principles of national pride, which automatically put them at odds with a great power, be it Great Britain, France or the United States.

Quwatli was punished in 1949 because he refused to crush communism in Syria, sign an armistice with Israel and grant passage rights to an American oil firm wishing to pass through Syria. Atasi was punished for stubbornly antagonizing France and refusing the annexation of the Sanjak of Alexanderetta to Turkey in 1939, and again in 1949 for passionately pursuing a union between Syria and Iraq.

Shishakli was punished in 1954 for refusing to tone down his brinksmanship with Israel and offer unconditional acceptance of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which aimed at crushing communism. Qudsi was punished in 1963 for his commitment to Syrian nationalism at the expense of both Western and Arab interests.

Bashar Assad falls in line with this long list of people who ruled Syria. Strip him of his presidential powers, and you will find a Syrian citizen who thinks, feels and acts like his countrymen towards US interests in the Middle East and Israel.

A Syrian expatriate in the US expressed his views to Asia Times Online in a manner that mirrors what the Syrian street is thinking today. Basically, the Syrians believe that Syria is a small country with a big brand, a brand that rejects Israel and the new world order being created by the US. No country in the Arab world, not even Egypt or Iraq, carries the rejectionist brand like Syria. This is a common denominator that unites all Syrians, government and opposition, men and women, young and old, secular and religious. It is the only thing all Syrians have agreed on since 1948. They may disagree on religious issues, reforms, politics, ideologies, but not on Israel and the US.

This Syrian observer added that the Syrian regime "can do everything asked of it but the [great] powers won't be pleased because the real target of the attack is not the Syrian regime, but Syria's no-compromise brand".

Veteran Lebanese writer and philosopher Munah al-Sulh once said that unlike any other nationalism, Arab nationalism is measured by the answer to one question: how does one feel about Israel and Palestine?

Today, more than 50 years into the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria is the only country, apart from the Palestinians themselves, which is still overwhelmingly Arab nationalist. This does not apply to Libya, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sudan or Lebanon. It no longer applies to Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

This stubbornness vis-a-vis Arab and Syrian nationalism is something that the US will simply not be able to change.

[1] Syrians began immigrating in large numbers during the socialist years of the Syrian-Egyptian union (1958-1961), during the early Ba'ath years (1963-1970) and in the early 1980s. A report issued by the United Nations Development Program and the State Planning Commission in Syria in 2005 said that only 20% of Syrians who received a PhD from a foreign university returned to work in Syria. Brazil, for example, has 5 million Syrians and Argentina has 1.5 million. The US has 750,000 Syrians and Germany has 59,000, of whom 18,000 are doctors. In the Arab World, two thirds of teachers are Syrian.

Monday, November 07, 2005

News Round Up (Nov. 6, 05) & Opposition Report

Ibrahim Hamidi reports in al-Hayat that

German Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis has summoned six senior-most intelligence officers, including President Assad's brother-in-law Gen. Assef Shawkat, for interrogation at the Monteverde headquarters northeast of Beirut of the U.N. commission investigating the assassination of Lebanon's 5-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

But the Assad regime seems reluctant to allow Syrian witnesses or suspects to be interrogated outside Damascus, offering to let the U.N. commission question any Syrian it picks in venues to be chosen by Mehlis in or around the Syrian capital with the U.N. flag hoisted overhead.

Mehlis passed the summons to the Assad regime in Damascus through the U.N. secretariat in New York on Wednesday, using the powers given to him by Security Council Resolution 1636 to question any Syrian he wants at the location and modality of his own choice.

In addition to Gen. Shawkat, who is the overall chief of Syria's military intelligence service, Mehlis has summoned to Monteverde Maj. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman, former chief of Syria's internal intelligence apparatus and Brig. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, who headed Syria's military intelligence in Lebanon when Hariri was murdered in Beirut Feb. 14, according to Al Hayat. Ghazaleh's assistant in south Beirut, Brig. Gen. Jameh Jameh, also was listed on the Mehlis summons along with Abdul Karim Abbas, who served with the Palestinian branch of Syria's general intelligence service, and telecommunications and Internet expert Zafer Youssef, Al Hayat said.

Syria denies receiving request to interview Syrians on Hariri case Xinhua

Walid Jumblat: "I'm against a regime change in Syria that hawks in the U.S. administration want," he said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says: "President Bashar announced, after my latest meeting with him in Damascus, a number of positive steps and stances." "I trust that his wisdom will lead to a breakthrough in the current situation," said Mubarak, who has acted as a mediator between the embattled Syrian leader and western powers turning on the heat on Damascus in order to catch Hariri's assassins. Mubarak and Assad discussed the Hariri murder probe in Damascus on October 28 with the Syrian president pledging after the meeting that his government would cooperate with the U.N. inquiry.

Moussa to visit Syria amid international pressure on Damascus

President Chirac has renewed his call for Syria to show "full and complete cooperation" with the U.N. inquiry.

Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani said, "According to what President Assad told me, they are ready to give positive and total cooperation,"

Piling on the pressure
by Massoud A. Derhally
Arabian Business
November 6, 2005

"I consider that the UN Security Council resolution is a warning to Syria to cooperate with the investigation committee and this means that if Syria insists on not cooperating or stalls … then sanctions can be rationalised," Riad Al Turk, a veteran politician and Syrian opposition activist jailed for 18 years by the Baathist regime, told Arabian Business....

"The resolution puts the Syrian government in a bind, either to surrender to the Mehlis process, as Lebanon has done sometime in April, or remain under a political ban, which is likely to grow," says Chibli Mallat, an international law professor currently a fellow at Yale University.

But in an interview with Arabian Business last week, Abdullah Dardari, the deputy prime minister says: "The original draft of the resolution was very harsh.
It was toned down. Toning it down and taking out the threat of specific sanctions is an indicator that there are countries on the security council who see at least partially, or fully, the Syrian point of view.

"One maybe has to adopt new tactics or a new approach to ensure that full cooperation is reflected in the next report."

To some extent the prevailing anxiousness surrounding Resolution 1636 is reminiscent of Resolution 1441 and the mounting pressure on Baghdad in the run up to the Iraq war.

"The resolution is bad news, buts its good news that America didn't get its main terrorism article," says Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria who is currently in Damascus. "But," he adds, "they stuck it in the back door," in reference to the number of times the word terrorism was used
in the resolution.

"The people, who wanted the maximum pressure on Syria got their way. They had to sacrifice on the terrorism stuff, but they got the majors. They are going to manage to destabilise Syria this way. The fear [in Syria] is that the West doesn't know what it wants; it doesn't have an endgame," Landis explained.

The fact remains that president Assad has not been implicated in the Hariri investigation, but there are clauses in the resolution which suggest that it could go up to the president. "If they decide he's responsible or in the know then he could be swept up in this whole thing. Now if you change Bashar, Maher and Assef Shawkat, then that is regime change," says Landis. "You can't really separate this investigation and let the chips fall where they may on the Mehlis report and not call this regime change in this situation. That's what has this government in complete chaos right now."

But Dardari is entirely dismissive of such scenarios. "Regime change or no regime change, this is a question for the Syrian people to decide," says the deputy premier.

"Syrians are realising that Syria is targeted; its role in the region is targeted. The language that we hear sometimes in Lebanon that we don't want sanctions on the Syrian people and we want good relations with the Syrian people, but the Syrian regime is a different story. Not many people are buying that in Syria," he adds.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice "was talking about things that have nothing to do with the Mehlis report", Dardari said in reference to Rice's speech at the UN. "She was talking about regional issues; Iraq, Palestine and terrorism. The politicisation is there," he adds.

Asked what he would tell Rice if he had the opportunity to meet with her, Dardari says: "I would tell her there are so many interests in common between Syria and the US, if the US puts American interests first rather than Israel's interest. Dialogue between the two countries is the best means for dealing with the issues that maybe still problematic between them."

Palpably clear is Syria's recognition it is gradually being cornered and that the case against it is mounting. And while it proclaims its innocence, it has nonetheless begun or announced its intension to adopt a number of measures as part and parcel of what it says is its cooperation with the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) of German judge Detlev Mehlis leading the probe into Hariri's assassination.

"We have to define what is cooperation and make sure that whatever we provide is agreed upon and approved by the commission because last time we had a gentleman agreement with Mr. Mehlis; with very good intentions we thought that we did provide the necessary cooperation," Dardari explains.

"We don't count on a radical change in the American position. But one can say that there are countries that are willing to help. They believe in Syria's innocence and it's our job to give them more evidence," he added.

The French don't have the same agenda as the Americans, said the deputy premier who has been touted as possibly the next prime minister in Syria. "If we can demonstrate that our cooperation is full, candid and transparent, this would influence the French position to our favour and would definitely strengthen the position of Russia and China who are trying to defuse the crisis."

Hours and days before the Security Council convened, Damascus signalled it would be looking into expediting the naturalisation of 80,000 Kurds residing in the country, in addition to forming its own investigative committee to look into suspects that may be implicated in the Hariri assassination. President Assad has also indicated he would push forward a new party law, which he promised at the Baath conference last June.

There are also rumours spreading in the Syrian capital that prisoners referred to as the three of the Damascus Spring; Riad Saif, a 55-year-old MP, Aref Dalilah, a university professor, and Maamoun Al Homsi, a Damascus MP, will be released.

"Assad is clearly making some gestures towards the opposition and towards society in an attempt to win their backing in what is going to be a big a fight with the West," said Landis.

The opposition, which has largely been fragmented, clearly sees this as an opportunity. The Damascus Declaration for Democratic and National Change, a document signed by several Syrian parties and individuals days before the Mehlis report was released on October 21 is testimony, according to observers, of the closing of ranks of the all the different splinter groups.

But the disunity of the opposition in the past stems from two reasons, according to Riad Al Turk, the godfather of the Syrian opposition. It's because of "the terror of the regime who imprisoned, killed and exiled and so forth, the constraint of political activism, and the main reason which is that this regime has been in power for three or four decades. The world has changed and it is imperative that political parties change," Turk explains.

The great fear of the government is that Riad Saif will emerge as the leader of a united opposition party. For many in and outside of Syria he has been the great martyr of the Damascus Spring. A Sunni, a successful businessman, and a member of parliament who can speak for the Sunni merchants — Saif certainly represents more than a thorn in the side of the present regime.

"The question is whether the opposition can brand him as a spokesperson and turn him into a Nelson Mandela," says Landis. "They have been very bad at this because they are all jealous of each other, they all have different interests and they don't want any one person to become the man. That's their great weakness."

But while some in Syria hope for Saif's release, others are pessimistic. Anwar Al Buni, a major human rights lawyer who is defending Saif, believes talk of his client's release is a result of conjecture by people who wish to sway government behaviour.

"I don't foresee the release of Riad Saif because the situation does not permit it, given that the authorities are not allowing any kind of gathering, no matter how small it is. If there is a will to release Riad Saif it will part of a wide release of [people]," Buni told Arabian Business.

"If there is a release it has to be inclusive of everyone in prison and without any exceptions allowing political expression of everyone. The human rights situation is in a state of deterioration and there are a lot pressures on activists."

Riad Al Turk, the veteran politician and Syrian opposition activist, was unequivocal in his condemnation of the Assad regime in an interview with Arabian Business, calling on the president to resign as part of his plan to transform the embattled country into a democracy.

He has devised and presented (on television) a detailed plan for change: it begins with the resignation of president Assad; the head of parliament then assumes power in accordance with the constitution, and the army is responsible for maintaining security and all security services are frozen. The heads of these services
are removed and brought under the control of the military headquarters.

Under Turk's plan, the interim leader will then cooperate with the Security Council and agree to hand over suspects and those accused. Then an interim government is formed and arranges for elections to take place to form a new parliament. This will be done under democratic principles.

Turk tells Arabian Business: "I embrace anyone who is able to rid me of this regime."

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe has written an excellent article on the Syrian opposition. He gets it right.

In Syria, a sagging opposition
Dissidents see no gain in a fallen regime.
November 6, 2005

DAMASCUS -- Authoritarian Syria has so thoroughly quashed organized opposition that even the most committed dissidents find themselves in a depressing bind: They're willing to risk prison by speaking out against the regime but are so convinced of their own weakness that they don't want the regime to fall, fearing that only chaos would follow.

Haitham al-Maleh, a 74-year-old human rights lawyer considered one of the most influential opposition leaders, neatly sums up the plight. ''We have a problem: The opposition is weak," he said.
Despite his visceral anger at the government he calls a fascist dictatorship, he doesn't want to see it collapse, because he doesn't think there's anything to replace it.

''We believe in change step by step," Maleh said. ''We don't want to jump and break our necks."

The opposition's state of disarray and powerlessness testifies to a successful Ba'ath Party strategy under the Assad family dynasty, which after 35 years in power has left Syrians with no real political alternative. The dictatorship outlawed competing political parties and also all social and political institutions not under its direct control, from labor unions to sport clubs.

Such a dispirited opposition poses a great challenge to Syrian dissidents, internal party reformists, and US policy makers, who espouse a policy of changing the regime or its behavior but have no powerful partner in Syrian society. Proponents of regime change in Syria would have to look elsewhere -- perhaps in Syria's ruling elite, in the military, even in the underground Islamist Muslim Brotherhood -- for a strong hand to replace the Assad family clique.

Under the loose surveillance of Syria's secret police, those dissidents who aren't in prison or were recently released talk in public and on the record with surprising candor about the corruption of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Syria's dissidents have spent long terms in jail for speaking out, but despite their new high-tech tools -- cellphones, e-mail, and web logs -- they languish virtually unknown to the Syrian public and the outside world.

Dissidents are allowed to talk to the international media but not to hold meetings, organize political parties, or publish criticism inside Syria's borders.
Syrian intelligence agents tap their phones and watch their homes. But the dissidents think the government allows them to talk to the foreign media because it considers the opposition harmless and wants to present an image of political openness to the international community.

The opposition includes Ba'ath Party insiders who moderate critical websites and forums; television actors renowned for their starring roles on daytime soap operas and their veiled references to the social decay of the calcified Ba'athist culture; teenage bloggers and bearded musicians, human rights lawyers, journalists, and satellite television commentators. Continued...

Also see this interview with Anwar al-Bunni,"Dissidents despair at the end of Damascus Spring," in the Daily Telegraph by Harry de Quetteville(23/10/2005).

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Two New Books on Syria: Moubayed and Lesch

One can sense the tension in the air as America closes in on Syria. I received my first piece of hate mail yesterday indicating that nationalism is on the rise. On the other hand, both taxi drivers I spoke to today were as kind as could be, going out of their way to assure me that Syrians like Americans, etc. It is amazing how little anti-American sentiment is directed at individual Americans in Syria.

Mr Landis:

When will you leave Syria? I really don't want you to be sitting in my home country with your American imperialist self.

No offense, you are an American and all Americans look to Arabs and Muslims, and Syria in particular with rather, or actually absolute, a malignant way. This is your right as our enemy, and we have our right to look at you as our enemy. And I really hate to see my enemy in my home. So are you gonna be in Syria long?

Yazan Sayed []

A petition is being circulated by "Friends of Syria." It doesn't say who the authors are. It reads:
The people of Syria are caught in a complex political game outside of their control. Having suffered for decades from internal oppression and external threats, they now stand powerless in the face of the Bush administration's latest campaign to change the Middle East, according to its own interests only. Friends of Syria wish to show our solidarity and support, and let the world know that Syria does not stand alone. If you are a friend of Syria, now is the time to show your support. Please add your name to the List of Supporters.

Two new books have appeared this last month, which are worth noting.

1. The first is by Sami Moubayed, "Steel and Silk"

Dr. Moubayed has compiled profiles of the 351 leading men and women who shaped Syria during the 20th century. As the advertisement claims, "you will meet the nationalists who led the independence struggle against the French. You will meet the statesmen who made Syria a central player in the Middle East. You will meet poets, painters, dramatists and thinkers as well as diplomats, journalists, and civil servants. Over 160 black & white photos. Includes a workshop for students, journalists, and researchers that includes an annotated timeline of 20th Century Syria, and lists of Syrian officials since the fall of the Ottomans in 1918."

I have had it on my desk for only a month and already I have referred to it many times to help me figure out who is who of Syria. It is a labor of love. Nothing else rivals it in either English or Arabic. Everyone who is serious about understanding Syria will want to buy this book.

2, The second is "The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar Al Asad and Modern Syria," by David Lesch Here is the blurb from the cover: "Is Syria a rogue state? How important is it to the fates of Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Lebanon? Based on unique and extraordinary access to Syria’s President Bashar al-Asad, his circle, and his family, this book tells Syria’s inside story."

This is the first biography of Syria's new president to rely on interviews with the President, his wife, and other family members and friends. Although Lesch gives a sympathetic portrait of his subject, he also depicts his weaknesses and the many challenges he must overcome.

DAVID W. LESCH is professor at Trinity University in Texas and an expert on Middle Eastern studies. His many books include The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Rami Khouri on Resolution 1639 and Syria's Woes

Here are two articles by Rami G. Khouri, who just returned from the US, where he spoke with high-ranking officials at the UN and within the US government.

Resolution 1636 increases Syria’s woes

THE UNITED NATIONS, New York: I was at the United Nations in New York Monday when the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1636 demanding Syria’s full cooperation on the investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, where it was very clear that Syria is in much deeper trouble than it seems to acknowledge. The significance of Monday’s vote is that the United Nations Security Council took the unprecedented step of taking specific action to support an international investigation into the actions of individuals and organization in one country (Syria) related to a capital crime committed in another country (Lebanon).

Bashar Assad and the Syrian government are being squeezed into a diplomatic corner, isolated and pressured politically, and are having their sovereignty slowly whittled away. This important trend was manifested by five key aspects of the resolution: it was adopted unanimously, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that requires mandatory compliance and authorizes enforcement measures, in the presence of the foreign ministers of most council members, repeatedly affirms a concern about possible Syrian involvement with the Hariri murder terror attack, and demands specific Syrian actions, including detaining officials and individuals who are part of the inner circle of power and are considered as suspects in the attack.

Damascus does not seem to realize that its traditional responses to foreign pressure – delaying, denying, giving in just enough to prevent the worst threats from materializing, pointing out the contradictions between how the world treats Syria and Israel – no longer work. The world is unimpressed, unconvinced and unmoved. It has responded by making Syria the international test case and example of a political dynamic that has heretofore been a purely American enterprise – demanding changes in Arab states’ behavior in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as a means of “draining the swamp” and reducing the threat of extremism and terror from our region.

An intriguing element in the proceedings Monday was the disdainful manner in which the U.S. and U.K. foreign ministers personally criticized Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa after his comments on the resolution. The U.K.’s Jack Straw called the Syrian remarks "grotesque and insensitive" and "at best, absurd," and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later referred to Sharaa's comments as a "really unbelievable tirade" and “a truly strange presentation."

The combination of the political pressure and the aggressive rhetoric against Syria reflect less a genteel diplomatic process and more an exasperated attempt to discipline an unruly adolescent or wayward family member.

The unanimous nature of the resolution also must be seen in the light of another important development that is very clear here at the UN headquarters in New York: in the first year of George W. Bush’s second term, the United States has started to scale back on its unilateral military approach to changing the world after 9/11, and instead is selectively using a much more multilateral approach, anchored in working with the Europeans and through the Security Council.

As such, Resolution 1636 is as much about affirming a legitimate form of international intervention in the internal affairs and external behavior of individual states as it is about addressing the specifics of the Hariri murder investigation. Respected American analysts in Washington who follow these things closely believe that “realists” in the U.S. administration are implementing policies that still aim to achieve the same goals that were first defined by the neoconservatives a few years ago, but on the basis of the lessons of America’s troubles in Iraq.

“We can only do one Iraq at a time, because it’s all-consuming” one respected analyst-columnist told me, “so there is a deal to be done with Syria, where the U.S. wants behavior change, not necessarily regime change.”

The Iraqi link in the Syrian situation is a critical one from the American perspective, as Rice made clear in her remarks at the UN Monday. She specifically singled out Syria’s “…false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East. Now the Syrian government must make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior."

Many analysts in Washington seem to agree that the U.S. has limited military options in Syria while it is bogged down in Iraq, does not want to risk chaos in two large Arab countries at once, and is concerned about who might replace Assad should regime change be attempted. This suggests again that a deal is there to be made, whereby the Syrian regime complies with demands to change its regional behavior in return for retaining power inside Syria. This is so especially since Rice and other American officials tend not to stress Syria’s domestic policies, but focus instead on its regional links, to Iraq, Palestinians, Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The steady stream of UN resolutions pressuring Syria will continue, with another one expected soon on Syria’s compliance with previous UN resolutions demanding that it stop interfering in Lebanon. The demands being made on the Syrian president and regime are increasingly difficult for them to meet, but the demands are only getting more severe with each new resolution.

If a deal can be made, its outlines will have to be made clear in the coming six weeks, before the mid-December deadline set by Monday’s resolution. The chances of this happening are good, I suspect, but it will probably require significant internal changes that modify the bases of the Syrian regime’s legitimacy and incumbency, somewhat akin to what Mikhail Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union shortly after he took power.

Why Lebanon and the UN May Transform the Middle East
by Rami G. Khouri

UNITED NATIONS, New York -- Syria and Lebanon have received center-stage attention at the UN Security Council here in New York this week, but the ongoing diplomatic action related to these two countries may well cast its net much further afield in due course. The events we witnessed this week will impact on Syria and Lebanon, but are equally important for four other parties: the United States and its engagement of the world, the credibility and impact of the UN in the Middle East and other regions, the revival of close diplomatic cooperation between the US and its European partners (especially France), and governments and their security agencies throughout the Middle East, who should expect to be held to a higher standard of accountability.

This is my conclusion from discussions this week with knowledgeable diplomats, analysts, and international and American officials here and in Washington, who have been deeply involved in Security Council Resolution 1636 (demanding Syrian compliance with the investigation of the murder of Rafik Hariri) and the UN Secretary-General's follow-up report on Syrian compliance with Resolution 1559.

Just as interesting as their separate analyses is their striking unanimity on the implications behind the current diplomatic effort to pressure Syria and hold accountable anyone proven to have been involved in the Hariri murder. The main thrust of the ongoing diplomatic effort is to force Syrian compliance with the UN-mandated murder investigation headed by Detlev Mehlis, and to let the facts of the investigation and the subsequent court trials lead where the facts take them.

The historical significance of this was succinctly explained to me by Shashi Tharoor, the UN's seasoned Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who has followed such things for years.

"This is an unprecedented act by the UN," he said, "to appoint an investigator responsible only to the international community, essentially looking into the conduct of governmental agencies or individuals attached to them having committed a capital crime in another state. This is epochal as an event, and also is an important element in the development of the United Nations as an institution that pursues justice around the world."

While stressing that nobody has been convicted, he explains that, "This is an investigation that raises issues, points out possibilities, certainly raises questions and suspicions. At this point nobody has been convicted of anything and we at the UN are not sitting here pointing fingers at any particular individual, government or regime. What we are saying is that it certainly looks like some people who have an association with the government or government agencies in Syria, and people who have an association with some aspects of the government of Lebanon, may be implicated in the assassination of a former prime minister, and that is serious enough."

Other international and American sources who prefer not to be named because of their sensitive positions and involvement in the diplomatic effort stressed the significance of the unanimous 15-0 vote on Resolution 1636 last Monday. The resolution demanded that Syria comply with the UN investigation, and only vaguely mentioned "further action" should Syria not cooperate.

This reflects three key dynamics that may be significant in this and other situations in the Middle East. European, especially French, diplomatic advice, combined with the assertive foreign policy management of Condoleezza Rice, is impacting on Washington's approach to changing the behavior of countries in the Middle East. There is a visible tempering of the previous American attitude, driven by the neo-conservative triumphalists, that "Washington should use diplomatic and military force to clear the decks in the Middle East and let the cards fall where they may," in the words of one source who has been directly involved in international diplomacy in the Middle East for many years. And, the international community is determined to pursue the Hariri murder investigation in a methodical, step-by-step manner -- meaning that the probe will penetrate into those areas in the Syrian governance system that have been identified as leads worth pursuing.

"All the parties seem to have learned the mistakes of Iraq," one international source said, "and in this case they are sequencing and prioritizing moves one step at a time."

An American analyst who has followed the case closely mirrors the views of other sources who said that French and international diplomats repeatedly advised the Americans that achieving unanimity is more important than using strong language in UN resolutions, as 1636 seems to confirm. The diplomatic focus consequently has remained on Lebanon and the Hariri murder investigation. The key aim in the short run is to maintain the impact and credibility of the Mehlis investigation, by keeping it Lebanon-specific, especially as this relates to the desire to question Syrian officials and perhaps others.

Though Washington has tempered its tactics, its end game, or final outcome, remains rather unclear to most analysts and participants in this process. Opinions vary on whether the U.S. would like to bring down the Syrian government, or simply pressure it enough to change its policies on Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Hizbullah and related regional matters, such as ties with Iran and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

An American source explains that Washington seems to have reined in its inclination to change the Syrian regime: "The neo-cons in the government who used to say 'anything is better than Bashar al-Assad' no longer have the upper hand. The diplomatic pressure will continue, but without a clear strategy on where this will lead, either in terms of sanctions, low-cost regime change, or just a change in regime behavior in Damascus."

This is partly explained by the fact that U.S. policy that had been largely driven by Pentagon civilian hawks in recent years is now back in the hands of the State Department; it is also influenced by other factors, such as European engagement, the fallout from Iraq, and President Bush's domestic political troubles.

The shift in American tactics may also betray an intriguing but unproven new angle: that legitimate international diplomatic action against Syrian or other suspects in the Hariri investigation could be an effective route to promoting democratic changes in other parts of the Middle East.

"These UN resolutions suggest to some that Lebanon can be the epicenter of change and democratic transformations in the Middle East," one international diplomat said. He added that is so "especially because Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Lebanese government have risen to the occasion and done their job."

Where does this leave the Syrian regime? Again, the unanimity among those informed American, European, and international sources I talked to was striking, as they all thought that the government of President Assad faced an existential choice regardless of how it responded to the latest UN resolution. The leadership in Damascus will face trouble if it defies the UN, and it will also have difficulty complying with the demands to allow the Mehlis team to question senior security officials, including members of the Syrian president's family, privately and outside the country.

The consensus seems to be that the Syrians are cornered due to their own mistakes in not responding more clearly, and earlier, to the demands of the international community. Their only feasible response now is seen to be to comply fully with UN demands, which would ultimately exonerate the innocent and hold accountable any individuals whom fair court trials might reveal to be guilty.

UN officials themselves are careful about gauging the implications of current events, while noting their significance. Tharoor explains that Resolution 1636 and the follow-up to 1559 "are sui generis, cases that stand by themselves, but the UN is an organization where precedents are always noticed. The history of the UN shows that when something has been done once, it obviously echoes throughout the region."

Could these and other relevant UN actions in the Middle East and abroad be interpreted as implying a renewed level of UN engagement with the problems of the ME?

"I would like to think so," Tharoor says. "I think the Security Council has shown that it understands the importance of this region and it realizes that the problems that have arisen require sustained and serious attention. Those of us who have been worried about the Security Council's failure to act more decisively on other issues in the area can take heart from this process, because it suggests that this is something they can build upon. The precedent-setting nature of decisions in the Council suggests a more than interesting constellation of events."

Indeed, a terror attack and mass murder in Lebanon have triggered an international investigation and a strong diplomatic consensus on an expected political response by the Syrian government. The reverberations of all this may well move to other parts of this region in due course. Keep watching Lebanon with one eye, and the rest of the Middle East with the other.

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, published throughout the Middle East with the International Herald Tribune.

Fayyad on Labwani: Syrians on Mehlis

Here is the link to the al-Jazeera show: Hiwar Maftouh with Gassan Ben Jeddu on which I appeared with Michel Kilo and Syria's Ambassador in Kuwait. (Thanks Tony for finding this.)

Nabil Fayyad put out the following statement about Kamal Labwany who recently met with American officials in Washington: (See last two posts)

A Statement from Nabil Fayyad

The Secular Democratic Liberal ( ADL) Association in Syria has no relation with Mr. Kamal Labawany.
ADL, Damascus, 11/4/2005
Here is a new blog, "A Foreigner in Syria," written by a fellow Fulbrighter in Syria. It should be interesting.

The Baldnomad has wonderful photographs of Syria on his site Our Man in Damascus

A Syrian lawyer wrote me the following criticism of my comparison between the Mehlis report and the OJ Simpson trial. In my original post, I remarked on how world and Syrian opinion is split over the Mehlis report much as Black and White Americans split over the OJ verdict.
Regarding your recent article that compared reactions in America to the OJ Simpson trial to Syrian reactions to the Mehlis report, please remember this:

1. First, the Syrians have the right to examine the report and look for solid reasoning and verifiable evidence before jumping to conclusions about who killed Hariri. Remember that it is not necessary that Syrians embrace your views or anyone else’s views. When you compared the attitude of Syrians as they respond to the Mehlis report with the attitude of African Americans to the trial of O.J. Simpson, you are suggesting that Syrians are in denial and refuse to recognize that top members of their government are guilty of murdering Hariri. It is important, however, to remember that the Mehlis report is about to target 18 million Syrians. It may subject them to economic sanctions or "military" intervention under UN Resolution # 1636 which is built on Chapter 7. Moreover, the investigation is incomplete and based on speculation.

2. Second, it is silly at this stage to compare OJ. Simpson’s case to Hariri's. In the first case, evidence was collected, contemplated, and presented. In the second, there is only preliminary evidence and, as yet, no accusations, something Mehlis himself confirmed.

3. Evidence in this crime is not only important for the Syrians but for the whole world. The invasion of Iraq was based on WMD that proved to be a big lie. The CIA misled the White House. Using incomplete and unverified information is no longer a valid game to play with Middle East people. Nor should it be acceptable to most Americans. Are we expected to accept assumptions rather than solid facts and "strong" evidence? About 220,000 Iraqis and Americans have already been killed as a result of the WMD myth I Iraq and that number is increasing by the weak.

4. Criminals must be brought to justice, and no one should be above the law. We believe this and support it, but must await the full evidence and truth. The Mehlis report doesn't meet the basic rules of international criminal law. It violated each and every spirit of customary law. It can hardly be named a progress report, yet it has been used to issue a UN resolution against Syria which threatens sanctions on an entire nation. You are being unfair in comparing a case that has been adjudicated professionally and left no doubt about the O.J.’s guilt. In Syria's case, the evidence has yet to be gathered or tried in a court. The Syrian case was overruled before even cross examining accusations stated in the report. In any way, the security council's resolution that urges Syria to cooperate fully was based on a report that had no legal conclusion and reasoning. Mehlis himself stated that the investigation is incomplete! I would urge you, Josh, to read O.J's case more thoroughly, and only then make a comparison. I sincerely hope that justice will be well-founded in Syria's case as it was in O.J's. See the following site about OJ’s trial.

Here are some responses from the Arab press to the UN resolution targeting Syria's lack of cooperation with the Mehlis investigation. They are from the BBC. "Syrian and many other Arab commentators are outraged and defiant, accusing the international community of hypocrisy and double standards, and of plotting against Damascus. Some voices urge Syria to co-operate more fully, but one commentator warns the world is witnessing a "dance of death" between Syria and the United States."

Umar Jafatali in Syria's Tishrin

The attitude of some international parties blaming Syria for lack of cooperation with the investigation committee is sheer hypocrisy... Once again, Syria says it wants the truth before anybody else. However, it wants a truth with clear-cut proofs, not a truth based on conjecture.

Muhammad Ali Budha in Syria's Al-Thawrah

For those who are today pushing to settle scores with the Arabs... and are using the UN as a tool to inflict punishment, seek revenge and humiliate nations for political reasons, it would have been better to have the courage to turn their attention to Israel and expose its terrorist practices.

Egypt's Al-Jumhuriyah

The UN, which is supposed to represent international law, holds meetings not in order to put an end to the massacres perpetuated against the Iraqis and the Palestinians, not to tell the American and Israeli occupiers to leave lands they have seized, but to settle an account with Syria on suspicion of committing a single political crime, while absolving all those who killed a whole nation!

Abd al-Hadi Abd al-Basit in Sudan's Al-Hayyat al-Siyasiyah

Syria should not fall victim to the plot in the same way Iraq did, because the 'enemies' this time are weakened by wounds and they want to blackmail Syria while waiting for the rope to loosen around their necks in Iraq and Afghanistan. The best way for Syria is to confront and defy the Security Council's conspiracy and turn the table on the conspirators.

Muhammad Mashmushi in Lebanon's Al-Nahar

The Syrian people know that whatever their position is with regard to the Mehlis investigation committee, this will not prevent Bush from implementing his scheme for Syria at the political, economic or even at the military level.

Jordan's Al-Dustur

Talk about plots and foreign schemes are not the answer nor will they be in Syria's interest. The best way to handle the issue is to act with courage and transparency... Syria will be sitting a hard test and we hope it will get through it with success.

Qatar's Al-Rayah

It is in Syria's interest to honour its commitment as soon as possible and without hesitation, and offer the cooperation needed to resolve the crisis. At the same time, Detlev Mehlis should carry out his investigation with full impartiality and objectivity.

Iran's Siyasat-e-Ruz

Although Damascus in the current situation is trying to enjoy the full support of Arab countries, and the Arab countries are worried that the future of Syria could be a pointer to their own future, regional realities and different objectives amongst the Arab countries are obstacles on the path of supporting Syria.

Mamun Fandi in pan-Arab Al-Sharq al-Awsat

The Mehlis report could lead to a crack emerging within Assad's regime... In this dance of death between Bush and Assad, it is very likely that the US administration may start a foreign war with Syria to divert public opinion away from the problems facing the White House.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

The Syrian Opposition and Washington

The following article by Strobel of Knight Ridder, quotes Labwani about his meeting with Crouch of the NSC. A heated debate has been taking place among opposition members in the US. Should they ask Washington to back the Damascus Declaration? Labwani wants the US to openly declare its backing. I believe this would be a disaster. Michel Kilo's line on al-Jazeera, when I appeared with him on Hiwar Maftouh, was that the opposition stood with the regime against America but with the people against the regime. This rather awkward position sums up the stand of many members of the Syrian left - particularly those who used to belong to communists and Nasserist trends. They know that their reputation will be shot if they openly back American against the Syrian government, particularly if sanctions are eventually placed on Syria by the UN security council. Publicly, they embrace the Syrian government's argument that America's ultimate goal is to reduce Syria to vassalage and obliterate its sovereignty as an independent nation. They also argue that the government's incompetence is leading to Syria's loss of sovereignty, thus they are on the side of independence and a strong Syria free from American imperialism. If America openly backed them, they would undoubtedly refuse the backing.

Anyway, America is not about to declare its support for the Damascus Declaration put out by the Syrian opposition. Such support would tear apart the UN coalition, most members of which do not want regime change in Syria. America cannot afford to openly back regime-change while it declares it is only seeking the change of regime behavior. It may decide to do this at some later date, but, for now, the UN coalition cannot be freighted with US demands for democracy in Syria. The phrase "democracy in the Middle East" has become anathema to European states. It smacks of utopianism and will only invoke frightening images of Iraq.

For now, the US will focus on Mehlis and only Mehlis. That is the mandate it got from the UN. It has no tools to influence Syria outside of multilateral diplomacy. The Syrian opposition is a very weak tool. Washington will distain it. It will dangle it in front of the Syrian government's nose as a reminder to what comes next, but it will not build a policy on it.

New Syrian leadership probably wouldn't benefit U.S., report says

Fri, Nov. 04, 2005
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - A new U.S. intelligence report concludes that if Syrian President Bashar Assad is overthrown, his successor is unlikely to be more supportive of American policies in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, according to current and former government officials.

The report surfaces amid growing speculation in Damascus and abroad over the fate of Assad's regime, which faces intense international isolation over its alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last winter.

It highlights the delicate balancing act that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confronts as she orchestrates escalating international pressure on Syria.

The United States and France, who are coordinating diplomacy, say their aim is to change Syria's actions, not its regime.

Washington wants Syria to cooperate with a U.N. probe into Hariri's murder, stop insurgents from crossing into neighboring Iraq, cease interfering in Lebanon and crack down on the radical Palestinian groups it hosts.

"The Syrian government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior," Rice said at the U.N. Security Council late last month.

Within the Bush administration, there's a vigorous debate over how far to go in pushing for regime change in Syria.

Diplomats acknowledge that a risk of the current course is that Assad could be overthrown, especially if he's forced to turn over members of his ruling family for questioning or prosecution.

"Will it lead to a change of behavior of the regime, or a coup? We don't know," said a senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

Some leaders in Europe and the Middle East suspect the United States is attempting to do in Syria what it did in Iraq - overthrow its leader - but without firing a shot.

J.D. Crouch, Bush's deputy national security adviser, met Thursday with a Syrian opposition figure, Kamal al-Labwani, at the White House, a Bush administration official confirmed Friday.

Al-Labwani played a role in last month's release of the "Damascus Declaration," which calls for peaceful political change in Syria, by five opposition groups. The meeting was to discuss that development and American support for democratic reform, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But such is the concern over destabilizing Syria that even Israel - its bitter enemy - has urged the Bush administration to proceed cautiously.

The new intelligence assessment was compiled in late September by the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

The classified document concludes that if Assad is overthrown, he's likely to be replaced by someone from the ruling leadership who'd pursue the same policies or even more confrontational ones, according to officials who've read it or been briefed on its contents.

Syria is an authoritarian nation long ruled by members of the minority Alawite sect. Domestic political opposition, while emboldened by the pressure on Assad, is weak.

One of the most potent groups in society is the Muslim Brotherhood, which espouses an Islamic state. But the report sees little chance of it gaining political power soon, one of the officials said.

The U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 Monday to demand that Syria cooperate fully with German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis' investigation into Hariri's murder.

Mehlis concluded in an interim report that the killing couldn't have happened without Syrian officials' complicity. One version of the report, containing text that wasn't supposed to have been made public, cites a witness claiming that the president's brother, Maher Assad, and brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the powerful head of Syria's military intelligence, were involved.

With even Syria's traditional Arab allies not rushing to support it, the country is more isolated than at any time in recent memory.

Even among Syrians there are differing views on how much danger Assad is in. He took over when his father died five years ago.

"There is no chaos," Ayman Abdel Nour, a reformer within Syria's ruling Baath party, said in a telephone interview from Damascus. "There is no probability, zero, for a coup."

Because opposition and human rights groups are suppressed under an emergency law, "we cannot expect anything from them," said Abdel Nour, who runs a Web site featuring vigorous political discussion.

Yet Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian author and expert on Middle East minorities, said the regime could be close to collapsing and that opposition groups were gaining confidence.

"There's a general feeling that the country could implode," said Abdulhamid, who's currently at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a research center.

He praised the Bush administration for maintaining a solid international front on Syria, in sharp contrast to the deep splits that developed over Iraq. "They've played their cards right" and maximized pressure on Assad, he said.

Damascus, 3 Nov. (AKI) - With Damascus under unprecedented international pressure to cooperate over the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the Baathist regime in crisis, there are rumours and unconfirmed reports circulating in the capital about imminent changes. Among these, the replacement of veteran foreign minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, amid a wider cabinet shake-up, the lifting of the 42-year state of emergency, and the abolition of a law which sets the death penalty for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to informed sources in Damascus, the replacement of Farouq al-Sharra, especially after his much criticised defence speech before the UN Security Council this week, would be one measure in a package of changes, as the regime struggles to save face and support at home and abroad.

Many Syrian political leaders and opinion-makers believed that answering UN accusations about Syria's alleged role in the February carbomb that killed Rafik Hariri in Beirut, al-Sharaa wasted a precious opportunity for "Syria to better clarify its position".

Al-Sharaa claimed that accusing Syrian security forces of knowing in advance about Hariri's killing was like saying U.S. officials knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11 attacks, Spain knew about the 2004 train bombings or Britain knew about last summer's London transport bombings. The German prosecutor leading the UN international probe, Detlev Mehlis, has accused al-Sharaa of having 'misled the investigation'.

However, sources close to al-Sharaa told Adnkronos International (AKI) argued that the relationship between al-Sharaa and president Bashar al-Assad is "very solid", and "goes beyond the relationship between a president and his foreign minister. The sources underlined that "even if al-Assad did decide to fire al-Sharaa, he would remain one of his closest counsellors and perhaps even his deputy", in the place of Abd al-Halim Khaddam, who during the tenth Baath party congress in June, announced his resignation.

At that congress there was fierce criticism of al-Sharaa's policies in Lebanon and the congress delegates asked that he be deprived of the foreign portfolio and that it pass to his deputy, Walid al-Muallim.

Farouq al-Sharaa, 67, was appointed foreign minister during the reign of the late president Hafiz al-Assad and kept the role even after his son Bashar took power. He is an English graduate and studied international law in London.

From 1976 to 1980, he was Syria's ambssador in Rome, and minister of state for foreign affairs from 1980-84, before being assigned the full ministerial role.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad seek new sanctuary
Terrorist groups fearful Syria might expel them to placate the West
Posted: November 4, 2005
By Aaron Klein
© 2005

JERUSALEM – Fearful they might soon be forced to vacate Syria, Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad asked Egypt and Jordan whether they would be willing to host their terror headquarters, Israeli security officials said.

It was one of the first signs Syrian President Bashar Assad might expel the terror groups in an effort to divert mounting international pressure after a United Nations investigation all but blamed his regime for assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February.

Both Egypt and Jordan declined to host the groups, officials said.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshal and Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah operate openly from Damascus, where they give media interviews, hold meetings and make public appearances.

Israeli security officials say the terror chiefs in Syria also give orders for their West Bank- and Gaza-based operatives to attack Israel. For example, the Islamic Jihad suicide attack north of Tel Aviv that killed five last week was ordered from Damascus, they say.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades West Bank leader Abu Carmel, who said his group took part in last week's suicide bombing, verified to WND that orders to carry out the attack stemmed from Islamic Jihad's offices in Syria. Jihad claimed the bombing was retaliation for Israel's killing of one of its senior leaders two days before.

US launches offensive near Syria
November 05, 2005

US and Iraqi forces have launched an offensive along the border with Syria called Operation Steel Curtain involving some 3500 troops, the US military said today.

The goal of the military sweep "is to restore security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and destroy the Al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network operating throughout Husaybah, located on the Iraqi-Syrian border," the military said.

The operation involves some 1000 Iraqi army soldiers as well as 2500 Marines, sailors and soldiers.

"Operation Steel Curtain marks the first large-scale employment of multiple battalion-sized units of Iraqi Army forces in combined operations" with US-led forces, the military said.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Labwani meets US Deputy National Security Advisor

I just received this news from a friend that Kamal al-Labwani has met with US Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch. Labwani was a member of Riad Seif's civil society forum, which formed during the famous, but short lived, Damascus Spring (2000-2001). Both were arrested at the outset of the Damascus winter in 2001. He was released from prison last summer after completing his three year sentence and tried to start a new political party this summer, the Liberal Democratic Union (LDU)(al-tajammu'a al-librali al-dimuqrati).

Kamal al-Labwani, just had a meeting with JD Crouch, the Deputy National Security Advisor. This is, needless to say, the first time someone from the Syrian opposition has been in the white house, so I imagine people will be interested. Kamal just called me to tell me the news--they want people to call the white house press office to get statements to spread the news.
Oxford Analytica
Dealing With Damascus
Oxford Analytica, 11.03.05, 6:00 AM ET
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Oct. 31 that called on Syria to cooperate fully with the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Washington's decision to channel its Syrian policy through the Security Council partly reflects a more circumspect approach to foreign affairs following setbacks in Iraq. However, it is also an acknowledgment that its alternative policy options are unattractive.

John Bolton's appointment as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. was widely interpreted as a sign of Washington's disdain for the world body. However, this week Washington relied on the U.N. Security Council to prosecute its policy toward Syria, and allowed the language of a resolution criticizing Damascus to be watered down significantly.

President George W. Bush's Administration's turn toward multilateral engagement with Syria has several drivers:

Strategic Reassessment: The Administration has a new-found respect for the promise of multilateral engagement. It is unlikely that an analysis of its failures in Iraq precipitated the Administration's strategic reassessment. Instead, U.S. officials have recognized that their most important successes have been the product of a multilateral approach.

Limited Leverage: Washington's bilateral relationship with Damascus is so insignificant that unilateral sanctions would have little effect. Washington is also incapable of offering Damascus any inducements for good behavior. Bereft of either "carrots" or "sticks" in its own relationship with Damascus, Washington has relied on European powers to hold out the prospect of reward or punishment to Syrian officials.

Perils Of Intervention: All of the policy options involving direct U.S. involvement in Syria appear to be poor:

* Military Options: Iraq has spoiled any possible appetite for a military intervention, and there is no viable opposition movement that Washington can contemplate supporting. While some covert operations may be contemplated, their likelihood of success is unclear, as are the outcomes they might produce.

* Public Apathy: The remarkable public relations effort that the Bush Administration and its nongovernmental allies used to frame the debate on Iraq, and prepare the nation for war, is not engaged.

The status quo in Syria is quite acceptable to the Bush Administration. Indeed, a weak and intimidated Damascus is at least as appealing to Washington as a Syrian government that has undergone "regime change." President Bashar al-Assad may not resolve all of his problems with the United States, but his determination not to worsen them puts him in a holding pattern, which Washington would prefer to maintain for several years.

In pushing through a unanimous, albeit mostly toothless U.N. Security Council resolution, Washington has positioned itself expertly. The Administration can take satisfaction in the fact that the Syrian foreign minister's extreme and sometimes bizarre statements reinforce Washington's position--just as the Iranian president's statements against Israel last week helped underline the reasons for international concern over a possible Iranian nuclear program.

For the foreseeable future, Washington seems to lack acceptable policy options beyond continued diplomatic maneuvering, and the U.N. investigation into Hariri's death is likely to create several acute dilemmas:

* Fragile Support: Even if U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis' report points directly to the Syrian regime's involvement, Washington would have difficulty rallying international support for regime change.

* Perils Of Change: Moreover, it is unclear whether toppling the Assad government would be in Washington's best interests. If the regime falls, its successor might have an Islamist character that would affect U.S. security interests in Iraq and beyond. A collapse in Syria might also spill over into Lebanon.

Washington will continue to rally its allies to isolate Damascus and maintain pressure on the regime. The Bush Administration has laid the diplomatic groundwork for a confrontation, if Assad fails to hand over suspects implicated by the Mehlis inquiry. However, Washington faces significant policy challenges if it moves to topple the regime. Maintaining the status quo, a weak and defensive Syrian government, may be the most attractive option.

"Why Syrians Join the Jihad" by Abdullah Ta'i

Here are interviews carried out by Abdullah Ta'i with Syrians who went to fight in Iraq just before the American invasion. They explain the various reasons why young men went to fight. I would like to thank an anonymous donor who established the Apamea Fund to allow me to pay a modest sum to journalists such as Abdullah for their stories.

Sex and Terrorism
By Abdullah Ta’i

October 2005
Written for “Syria Comment” with the generous support of the Apamea Fund

Following September 11, American think-tanks devoted considerable expertise to looking for the roots of terrorism. They wanted to find out what motivates Jihadists and terrorists. Most came to the conclusion that ideology and religion are the main motivators to Jihadists. They focused on the “Salafi Jihadi Ideology”. However, I found out another reason behind terrorism and it might astonish as few. During my meetings with people, who returned to Syria from Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I was struck that some did not explain that religion had propelled them toward Iraq. Instead, they said the reason was sex.

Abu Ya’arob, which is a pseudonym, is about 25 years old and comes from Raqqa. When I asked him: why did you go to fight in Iraq, he told me frankly: “my friends and I went to fight in Iraq because we thought we would find lots of sex there. People said that sex and prostitution are available in streets because of the poverty and disorder. We wanted to exploit that situation." Abu Ya’aroub is not a deep thinker; he doesn’t plan for the future; but he is not unusual among those who went to Iraq to find adventure.

He entered Iraq just before the fall of the government with a group of friends from Raqqa. The Iraq government put the newly arrived Jihadists up at a hotel in Baghdad. Aby Ya’arub said that while the religious members among the fighters prayed the morning prayer, he would stand on the balcony to look for girls and ask them to come to him. He believed they would say yes. He said he was very disappointed and upset to find that their was neither war nor sex in Baghdad. They saw one battle on the bridge of Diala. He fought in the battle and then fled when American planes began to bomb. He and his team were led by an Iraqi officer. He and his friends got bored after that – there was no war or sex. He often argued with his friends about returning to Syria. They didn’t want to leave until they had had sex. In the end, they had to admit defeat and left for Syria after 20 days in Iraq. They no longer had a place to stay once the regime fell and Iraqis began to look at them with hatred in their eyes. He never accomplished his goal of finding sex. He was very sad about that.

“We were disappointed because we did not find sex but found bullets and fire. I returned and my friends stayed and I did not know whether they found what they wanted or not,” he said.

“ I heard that my friends joined one of the Islamic malitias. One of them got married to an Iraqi woman. He settled in her town in Anbar province. He has a house and is being paid by the militia. I am happy to hear this news”, added Abu Ya’arob. “It was a fun adventure and we benefited from the experience.”

Abdullah Al-Ta'i

The Arrest of Hussein Al-Fayadh in Abu Kamal City on the Accusation of Terrorism
October 2005 for "Syria Comment"

The Syrian Intelligence arrested Hussein al-Fayadh in the city of Abu Kamal, situated on the Iraq border, during the first days of Ramadan this year. He was accused of working with terrorists and helping them to infiltrate into Iraq. Hussein al-Fayadh is 22 years old, a student of Damascus University in the school of Islamic Law. I got to know him in Damascus at university, because the students from Abu Kamal hung together. He is from a middle class family of the Mashahida tribe, which is a branch of the Agedat confederation. In university, he was well liked and was known as a moderate in his religious beliefs. Everyone was attracted to him. He was frank and courageous with a good reputation. He wore his beard long, but also let his hair grow long, making him unusual. He was a religious hippy, which caused him no end of troubles. He like to smoke a water pipe, listened to Iraqi music and loved all things Iraqi because he has many relatives in Iraq. Moreover, Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Kaylani, the founder of the Rifa’i Sufi order, was from Iraq, and Hussein was a Rifa’i.

He wore Afghani cloths, which become the fashion among religious youth in Syria after the war on Afghanistan. By donning Afghan garb, students demonstrated support for the resistance in Afghanistan. He also loved Saddam Hussein because he was a strong and courageous leader. Hussein thought Saddam embodied the spirit of Abu Kamal – the tribal and brave side of the people of Abu Kamal. He also considered women to be the authors of most problems in the world. He did not like the bourgeoisie of Damascus. He believed they were trying to show off and were materialistic and superficial. That was another reason he was well liked, because he was simple and frank in this outlook, and many of the students who came from the countryside and were not used to the wealth and pretenses of people from the big city, enjoyed the way he would mock the Damascenes.

He belonged to the Rifa’i Sufi order and hated the Salafis, as do most Sufis. In Abu Kamal there is a mosque named Umar Ibn Abdal-Aziz, which is the center of the Rifa’i order in the region. This is why Hussein was known as a moderate in his religious belief, but it didn’t mean he was not tough in character. Even Sufis volunteered to go to Iraq to fight against occupation and American conquest.

He joined the volunteers to fight in Iraq in 2003, at the very beginning of the war, and became the leader of a small group of fighters because he was educated and could plan. There were many young men there who were uneducated and didn’t know what to do with themselves, so he naturally became a leader. He went to Kirkuk in Mosul. Roughly two weeks after the fall of Baghdad, he was captured by the Kurdish Pesh Merga forces and delivered to the Americans. He spent 9 months in an Iraqi prison. He told me it was Abu Ghraib, but I am not sure whether to believe this. Most likely he was boasting. He said he was interrogated by American intelligence and by members of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence. When he returned to Syria, he was quickly arrested because by that time, the Syrian government had already imposed its policy of stopping all Syrians from volunteering in Iraq. He spent a further 6 months in prison. After being released, he was placed under surveillance and was frequently harassed by Syrian Intelligence. I spoke to him in Abu Kamal. He was frightened, and when I was sitting with him in shop where he worked, a member of the mukhabarat came in. My friend was courageous and said to the policeman, “Why are you constantly coming by to bother me.” The intelligence officer replied, “I am just trying to look after you and make sure you are OK.” Hussein responded to the intelligence officer, “No thanks, I would prefer to live without you coming to see if I am OK.”

Two weeks later, I called him and found out from his cousin that he was in prison. He was accused of belonging to al-Qa’eda. I interviewed Fayadh a few days before he was arrested, and he said, “The Syrian Intelligence is using me as a skate goat. They are submitting my case to the Bureau of International Terrorism. But they allowed me to go to Iraq during the war.” Since being arrested, Fayadh’s fate is unknown.

Abdullah Al-Ta’i
The case of Hussein al-Fayadh is fairly typical. For over a year, Syria has been cracking down on young men who traveled to Iraq to join the resistance, arresting many who manage to find their way back to Syria and harassing others. Rene Spitz, the First Secretary of Dutch Embassy in Damascus, who monitors human rights issues in Damascus told me that last week the State Security Court dealt with 30 cases. Twenty four of the accused were charged with belonging to al-Qa’eda. He said it was a fairly typical week. Syria claims to have detained over 1,500 potential Jihadists over the last year, many of which have been returned to their countries of origin. There is no reason to doubt these numbers. If we multiply 24 arrests a week by 50 weeks, we get 1,200 arrests. This includes just Syrians. Many other foreigners have been detained by the Syrian police.

Other verification that Syria has been cracking down on Jihadists, potential Jihadist, and members of Islamic groups is easily verifiable from police records. The Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL) website (Update news- 12/30-October- 2005), maintained by Razan Zeitouneh, a human rights advocate, has several news items posted this week laying out the record of arrests among the Islamic groups. They are charged at the State Security Court for belonging to al-Qa’ida or similar extremist groups. The following news item is typical:
According to the internet site “Elaph”, twenty-seven year old Qasim Bundqaji was released from Saydanaya Prison in early October of 2005 after a sixteen-month detention with twenty-six young men from the region of Qatana in the countryside of Damascus; they were accused of belonging to armed groups and attempting to travel in order to “fight the holy war” in Iraq, and were detained and accused without being sent off to the courts. The authorities released seventeen-year-old Ayham Amran about a month ago. Bundqaji told his family that he was happy in Saydanaya Prison after days of torture in the Palestine Branch belonging to military security. The families of the detainees confirmed that the authorities presented twenty-six prisoners to The State Security Court in Damascus.
The other groups that are being prosecuted or intimidated by the state are Kurds and human rights advocates. The latest target of intimidation is Anwar al-Bunni, who is Syria’s leading human rights lawyer.
Syria: Syrian human rights defenders under attack
Amnesty International is greatly concerned at the continuing harassment of human rights defenders in Syria. In the latest incident, Anwar al-Bunni, a lawyer and human rights activist, was attacked on 20 October in Damascus by three men on motorbikes who stopped him as he was travelling in his car. They dragged him from his car and assaulted him physically, leaving him bruised, and then sped off. In light of other harassment to which he has been exposed, it seems likely that this latest assault may have been ordered or carried out by state officials.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Personalities, Economy and Nationalism

Syria releases 190 political prisoners Wednesday under a presidential amnesty as part of a " comprehensive reform", the official SANA news agency reported. The Damascus Spring prisoners were not included. Evidently added reform measures are going to be announced ever few weeks according to analysts here. This will be done to show the people that the government has not stalled on the reform front and to keep the people close as Syria confronts the inevitable surprises of Mehlis.

The story below sums up the feelings of many here quite well, particularly among the younger generation. Undoubtedly, public opinion will go through many ups and downs over the next few months as leaks from the Mehlis investigation begin to appear in the press. Many reporters are trying to get information for biographies on Asef, Bushra, Maher and others in order to get drama and personalities into the story. This is going to be a three ring circus, but little is know about the main actors to give real color to the story.

Nationalism Mixes With Dissatisfaction in the Streets of Syria
By Jeffrey Fleishman
November 3, 2005 - Los Angeles Times

DAMASCUS, Syria — Perched in an old city cafe scented with apple-flavored tobacco, unemployed lawyer Mohammed Kroma ran through a list of the West's criticisms of his government.

First it was the U.S. alleging that Syria wasn't doing enough to stop insurgents from crossing into Iraq. Now it's the United Nations, threatening possible sanctions if the country doesn't cooperate fully with an inquiry on the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"Why does the West threaten sanctions on us?" Kroma asked. "We are trying to cooperate on Iraq and other things."

But after offering his defense of President Bashar Assad's regime, Kroma opened up with what was once unspeakable: his own complaints.

"The biggest problem in Syria is not Hariri but nepotism," Kroma said. "I'm a university graduate with a law school degree. But I didn't get a job because it went to a person with family connections. That's how this country works, and it has to change."

The U.N. inquiry into the February assassination of Hariri has spurred a spasm of nationalism against what many here view as Western aggression. But it has also spurred Syrians to voice increasing dissatisfaction with Assad's stalled reforms.

Within Damascus' old city walls, Syrians are asking why Assad is risking further international isolation and why he has not purged his regime of hard-liners who have slowed modernization and stifled the economy. The nation is operating these days on a complex psychology of supporting the president against foreign condemnation, but quietly chastising him at home.

Anwar Hamouda, a university student, even pondered replacing Assad: "If we don't like the president it's for us to change him, not Washington. He's ours. And, yes, I'm unhappy with the president for the slow pace of change in this country."

Such criticisms are tame by Western standards, but in a nation where phones are tapped and opposition figures tailed by intelligence agents, these sentiments would not have been openly voiced or tolerated five years ago. They point to a rising frustration among young, educated Syrians with Assad, who they hoped would lead them away from a Cold War-era mind-set and toward globalization.

Raised to be a doctor not a statesman, Assad took over Syria's presidency in 2000 after the death of his autocratic father, Hafez Assad, who had ruled for 30 years. Bashar Assad began a slight democratic opening, bringing younger professionals into the government and offering a bit more tolerance of free expression. Some old-guard Baath Party loyalists were fired, but the legacy of Assad's father proved tough to shake, even as the government failed to adjust to drastically altered regional politics after Sept. 11.

The regime, accustomed to corruption that benefits an intricate weave of Assad's relatives, has resisted reforms, and the government has hardened amid domestic and foreign crises, including Damascus' dwindling oil exports and the chaos in Iraq. Assad continues to push his father's brand of pan-Arab nationalism.

"Syria has lost some of its prestige in the Arab world," said Hamdan Hamdan, a Syrian-based writer and political analyst. "The regime has grown incompetent and lacks the diplomatic skills Damascus once had. The son is a doctor who likes antique cars. He doesn't have the clout of his father.

"The international community told Bashar Assad to leave Lebanon, and Syria pulled its troops out," he added. "Then he put 15,000 soldiers on the Iraqi border to stop insurgents from entering Iraq. But his regime never gets rewards from the West for these concessions."

As for Hariri's death, Assad's government has maintained that it was not involved. But questions have grown since an initial report by U.N. investigators last month described an August 2004 encounter in which Assad allegedly threatened Hariri. Investigators suspect that three of Assad's relatives, including Gen. Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law and head of Syrian military intelligence, planned the bombing.

A possible motive, according to the U.N., was Hariri's opposition to Syria's long-standing meddling in Lebanese politics.

A final U.N. report is due Dec. 15, and analysts say Assad faces critical decisions before then.

Some observers believe the current atmosphere gives Assad the latitude to remove shady officials, including relatives, who are jeopardizing the country while failing to improve an economy with more than 20% unemployment and skittish foreign investment.

A reshuffling of Cabinet and intelligence officials would "win Assad immediate domestic and international support," Patrick Seale, a Middle East analyst, wrote recently in the Daily Star in Beirut. "But to manage a crisis of such unprecedented proportions, Assad would need to display unusual qualities of courage and political acumen. This is the most difficult moment in the president's career."

If the final U.N. report offers strong proof Syrian intelligence orchestrated Hariri's assassination, many analysts predict Assad could be toppled from within his own ranks. This secular capital may then tilt toward either rigid elements of the regime — or Islamic-backed parties.

Some worry about U.S. involvement.

"There's a fear that Iraq will be repeated here," said Raed Naseer, a university student sitting in the same cafe as Kroma. "President Bush might use the U.N. report to start something on his own. We know our government made mistakes in Lebanon, but now Bush is using this to get what he wants."

There was a similar mix of nationalism and criticism across town at Damascus University.

"The government has made mistakes," said Taif Hamui, a biology student. "But the government is doing things. There are new private universities, and the president is raising government salaries. But more improvements are needed. We have the same old professors. Our buildings need renovations. But all the time there are delays and slowness.

"My hope is to study in London and then in Jordan and return to Syria as an infertility specialist," she said. "I don't want sanctions to disrupt my plans…. But if they come, we're not afraid. We're ready mentally and emotionally for whatever happens."

In Syria, a tale of romance and power
By Michael Slackman and Katherine Zoepf
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2005 - The New York Times

DAMASCUS It was a love story that captured the imagination of many Syrians: a man and a woman defied her father, eloped and lived happily ever after. But for many people it was not the romance that made the story compelling, it was how the tale spoke of power.

The woman was Bushra al-Assad, the daughter of the former Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, and the man, Asef Shawkat, was to become Syria's head of military intelligence.

The father - who was president from 1971 until his death in 2000 - and his oldest son, Basil, opposed the marriage of Bushra and Shawkat, a divorced father of five who was 10 years her senior. But after Basil died in a car crash in 1994 and Bushra insisted, they eloped, and a decade later they have emerged as one of the most powerful couples in Syria.

"Anyone who could go into the home of Hafez Assad and take his daughter away without his permission has the power to do anything," said a television newscaster in Syria who has met Shawkat several times. The newscaster, who originally spoke on the record, called back later agitated and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

It is to a large degree because of Shawkat's position at the center of Syrian authority that the government here finds itself backed into a corner by a UN investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

With Shawkat a prime suspect, the question being debated here is whether Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father as president, would ever be willing or able to turn over his brother-in-law - with whom he is considered closely allied - for trial. If he did so, many Syrians and diplomats said, it could lead to chaos in the intelligence service and the dilution of Bashar's grip on power by fracturing the unity of his family.

It is unclear what role, if any, Shawkat played in the assassination. The authorities here say that he and other Syrian officials are innocent and that they hope the UN prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, does not recommend charges. But tensions are high, because the investigators have a witness who says Shawkat helped plan the slaying and held the final planning session in his home in Damascus.

A tall, broad-shouldered man often said to look like a young Saddam Hussein, Shawkat draws his strength from multiple sources. As head of military intelligence, he has the loyalty and support of Syria's most powerful, and feared, institution. As an Alawite, he is a member of a religious minority that has guarded its monopoly on power for decades.

His wife, Bushra, is a power in her own right, part of the small ruling circle that includes her brothers, Bashar and Maher, the head of the presidential guard. Shawkat was promoted to his present post by Bashar in February, the day after the Hariri assassination, but by many accounts he was effectively in charge of the intelligence apparatus long before.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, diplomats and Syrians said Shawkat was one of the president's main liaisons to intelligence agencies in the United States and in Europe, and helped set up a U.S. operation in Syria, which has since been shut down.

A month ago, when the pressure began to grow on Syria in connection with the investigation, diplomats and a political analyst close to the president said Shawkat was dispatched to France to try to cut a deal with the authorities there.

The analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said Shawkat went with two files, one with information that Syria hoped would discredit one of the UN investigation's primary witnesses, and another offering the French a lucrative oil and gas deal. The effort, details of which could not be independently confirmed, did not prove successful.

"He is clever, charismatic and deep," the analyst said of Shawkat. "He is very dangerous, but he is very pragmatic."

Faced with a UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria's full cooperation in the investigation, the government here may soon have to decide if it will send Shawkat abroad for interrogation - and perhaps, if the evidence warrants it, a trial.

"I don't know how they can survive that," Andrew Tabler, a Beirut-based researcher on Syria and Lebanon for the Institute of Current World Affairs, said of Shawkat's potential legal troubles.

Shawkat is well known around Damascus, where he is feared and admired. Among those who consider him a friend, some say it can be easier to ask for his help in getting projects done than to go through formal channels.

In a country where there are two sets of rules, one for those with power and connections and one for everyone else, Shawkat is at the top of the food chain.

"The fascination of such people is that we all know that in one moment they could give you everything you wish for, or they could kick you into an iron box," the newscaster said. "They have fists of steel and ropes of silk."

Long time treated as an outsider, he has consolidated his power.

"Shawkat is a very strong man, and it's not just about the love story between him and Bushra," said a well-connected Syrian political analyst, who asked not to be identified for fear of arrest. "Shawkat was hated by Hafez and hated by Basil, and he's overcome that. He's very, very strong."

Syria upbeat on ability to cope with UN sanctions
By Ferry Biedermann
Published: November 2 2005 02:00 | Last updated: November 2 2005 02:00

Syria has set up a crisis team to prepare for the possibility of international sanctions, in spite of having escaped the immediate threat of such measures in UN resolution 1636 that was adopted unanimously by the Security Council on Monday.

Abdullah Dardari, the country's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, told the Financial Times that Syria expected further international pressure as the inquiry continued into the killing of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

But sanctions would not pose an insurmountable obstacle for Syria, Mr Dardari indicated. There was no shortage of "sanctions busters" willing to evade current US measures against the country, he said.

Speaking at the prime minister's office in Damascus, Mr Dardari said Syria was preparing for all possibilities, even though he was confident that his country would co-operate fully with the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination, as demanded in the resolution.

He is heading an economic crisis team, set up on Monday, that is charged with planning for "every scenario".

"Our experience is very bitter," said Mr Dardari, claiming that Syria had already extended full co-operation to the UN probe headed by the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, "so now when the resolution says we want full co-operation or else, how can we prove to you we are giving full co-operation?"

Damascus sees the US government as the driving force behind the pressure on the country and the deputy prime minister did not think a US change of heart by the next Security Council deadline, on December 15, was "going to happen".

But Syria would co-operate with the inquiry to strengthen its supporters on the council, "like Russia, China and Algeria who are saying Syria must be given a chance to prove its innocence".

While the threat of international sanctions has been deflected for at least another six weeks, the country has been the target of US sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act since the beginning of last year. And Syria is on the US State Department's list of states said to be supporting terrorism.

Mr Dardari said that this had targeted the purchase of technology, as in aircraft and control panels for power plants.

"But to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere," he said. "There are American companies setting up in Canada to sell to Syria."

Syria's economy was generally holding up well under the strain, Mr. Dardari said.

"There is no panic in the country. The Syrian pound is under pressure but we managed to contain it and control it very nicely. It is a sign of confidence."

He vowed that the country would forge ahead with, thus far tentative, economic reforms. "You don't meet international pressure with isolation. You meet it with more interdependence and integration in the global economy and we will be doing that," said Mr Dardari.

He said it was "ironic" that countries that had pushed Syria in the past to open up its centrally led economy were threatening it with sanctions.

Opinion in Syria and the West

The following is the Washington Post's editorial condemning Syria and suggesting that the US and UN should push Syria to any length in order to capture the killers of Hariri. To see how Syria is responding to this argument read the editorial by K. Gajendra Singh at "Al-Jazeerah," November 2, 2005, who gives a good account of what is being written in editorials and said within intellectual circles here in Syria. Of course, there is not unanimity in Syria, but many of my friends - Sunni, Alawi, and Christian are taking the line that Syria should be considered innocent until proven guilty. They argue Syria is being set up and do not want to give much credence to the Mehlis report. The new line here is that Mehlis has been in the employment of a US firm before (many confuse this with being a US government agent) and that he is not impartial.

Farouq al-Sharaa's speech at the UN Security Council Meeting, which was so roundly condemned in the West and seen to be the epitome of Baathist surrealism, has actually been positively received among many in Syria. Some of my friends were deeply embarrassed by his confrontational tone, believing he should have been more diplomatic, but many others agreed with him that there might have been another perpetrator that Mehlis ignored.

This all reminds me of the O.J. Simpson case several years ago, which so divided America along racial lines. The vast majority of American blacks believed he was innocent and being framed by racists in the California police department. His lawyer, Johnny Cochrane, was excellent and proved that one of the investigators was actually a racist who regularly spoke about blacks as "niggers." This clinched O.J.'s innocence for American blacks. Whites, of course, had no doubt that Simpson was guilty. All the evidence seemed to point to him, whether it was collected by racists or not. Syrians, who are convinced that Washington has been dreaming of regime change in Damascus since Bush came to power, are inclined to believe that the whole investigation could be a plot by the CIA and others as a step on the way to this end. So far the Syrian government is doing an excellent job of getting out this message in Syria and convincing the Syrian people that no matter what it does or how it responds to Mehlis, the nation and Syria people will be targeted. This is causing many people to close ranks with the government, rather than making them see their leaders as incompetents who should go to jail.

Signal to Damascus
Washington Post
Tuesday, November 1, 2005; A24

BY MOST accounts Syrian President Bashar Assad is a political naif who has repeatedly misread the cues of a changing Middle East and disastrously miscalculated Syria's responses. That's why it's helpful that the message the U.N. Security Council sent to Damascus yesterday was forceful and unambiguous, backed by all 15 of the council's members in a session attended by a dozen foreign ministers. The council's resolution requires Syria to detain and provide for questioning anyone deemed by U.N. investigators to be a suspect in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri -- a crime that has been compellingly linked to Mr. Assad's regime. Surely even this dim dictator must now understand that his choices are to dramatically break with his past or risk isolation and sanctions he could not easily survive.

Compliance won't be easy for Mr. Assad, even if he chooses to cooperate. Among the prime suspects in the killing of Mr. Hariri, who was resisting a crude effort by Mr. Assad to reinforce Syria's domination of Lebanon, are the president's brother and brother-in-law. Brother Maher Assad commands the elite Republican Guard forces that are Mr. Assad's last line of defense against a domestic rebellion; brother-in-law Asef Shawkat is the chief of military intelligence. The resolution gives U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis the prerogative of determining where and under what conditions suspects will be questioned, and Mr. Mehlis may want to transport Mr. Assad's relatives or other suspects out of Syria. He should also interview Mr. Assad himself, since, according to the preliminary report, Mr. Assad directly threatened Mr. Hariri at a meeting several months before his death.

If Mr. Assad ordered the killing of Mr. Hariri, cooperation might only ensure his own trial before an international tribunal. If he did not, he will have to turn on those who did conspire, even if that means breaking with family members and close collaborators. Either way, his best hope of redemption with the outside world may lie in rapidly liberalizing his authoritarian government and reversing his foreign policies, which include backing Iraqi insurgents and Islamic terrorists, supporting extremist Palestinian groups, and using murder and intimidation to destabilize Lebanon.

More likely Mr. Assad will choose, like Saddam Hussein before him, to stall and prevaricate in the hope that the Security Council will shrink from taking action against him. The Bush administration was obliged to drop mention of sanctions from yesterday's resolution in order to win the votes of several governments, including Russia and China. And there is no shortage of Western apologists for Mr. Assad, who claim that he is a victim of hard-liners around him, or that the United States and Europe would be better off striking a deal with him than supporting action that might "destabilize" his country. The regime they would accommodate murdered the prime minister of a neighboring state and has done its best to sow chaos and kill Americans in Iraq. There are better ways to handle it than backroom bargaining: As a start, the United States and its allies should continue to insist that the murderers of Mr. Hariri be brought to justice. [end]

In the Fief of the Assads, Friends Melt Away
November 2, 2005 NEW YORK TIMES

DAMASCUS, Syria, Nov. 1 - Syrian officials have been saying for years that they have closed down all the offices of Palestinian factions working here in the capital city, as the United States and the Europeans, among others, have insisted. They are all gone, they say: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and others.

But last month, President Bashar al-Assad held a meeting of the leaders of all the factions. He called for unity among Palestinians and, according to people at the meeting, said he would remove some of the restrictions he had placed on their political work from Damascus.

"It would be illogical to say let's have a public meeting and say our offices are closed," said Abu Ahmed Fouad as he sat behind his desk in the downtown Damascus office of the Popular Front.

For decades, Syrian leaders have played a kind of double game, assuring the world, for example, that the Palestinian offices were closed while letting them set up shop in "apartments." It was a strategy that worked well for Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father and predecessor as president, who would often rely on proxies to carry on his battles while he tried to use Syria's influence with the Palestinian groups as a bargaining chip to advance Syria's agenda.

But that same strategy is now exposing some of the weakness and indecision plaguing the government. Faced with a United Nations investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, a crisis that threatens to undermine the ruling circle, the Syrian leadership has returned to form, resorting to cold war-style rhetoric and relying almost exclusively on an appeal to the faded concept of Arab nationalism to rally regional support.

The crisis has highlighted how Mr. Assad's efforts to bring young, forward-looking technocrats into the government have largely failed, and how isolated Syria has become. And it has demonstrated, perhaps most disturbingly to many younger, reform-minded Syrians, how tone-deaf the leadership can be.

For example, after the United Nations Security Council voted Monday to demand that Syria cooperate with the Hariri investigation, many people here said they had been shocked to hear Syria's foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, suggest that saying Syrian security forces knew about the killing in advance would be like saying the United States knew about Sept. 11 in advance, or Spain about the Madrid train bombings, or Britain about the subway attacks.

Syrians seem uniformly convinced that the investigation is being used by the West to bend the Assad government to its will. But that is not translating into support for the government or for its approach to managing the investigation. Worse, people here say, the crisis has begun to change the public's perception of its leaders, shaking their confidence in the ability of the leadership not just to fight back, but to survive.

"The regime is crippled at the highest, closest, smallest circle," said a Syrian political analyst who has worked closely with the people in power here over the years, but said he had to speak anonymously for fear of retribution.

And so there is a debate within the inner circle, this analyst said. On one side are the conservatives who want to try to preserve Syria's role in the region, its use of surrogates, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, or its support for the Palestinian cause. On the other side, the analyst said, is a smaller group inside the government looking to shore up Syria's strength by taking steps to calm the critics and to improve Syria's domestic political, economic and social situation.

At the moment, the analyst said, the conservatives seem to be prevailing, adding that it is hard to know where the president stands in the debate.

When Mr. Assad first came to power five years ago, he brought in young educated Syrians, many from abroad, who were keen to usher their country into modernity, economically and politically.

Now almost all of those people are gone, and those remaining have been largely marginalized. Curiously, the conservatives have been simultaneously empowered by the Hariri crisis and, in a broader sense, undermined by it.

It is commonly heard here that the public would be willing to endure sanctions and international isolation if the government were in trouble for its stand on the Palestinian cause or for its positions on Iraq, but not over the Hariri affair. That was evidenced Tuesday when the authorities tried to organize a sit-in outside the United States Embassy. They hung flags, set up speakers and blared music. A few hundred people showed up at first, but the crowd quickly started to thin. Security agents were seen ordering young people to stay put as they tried to walk off.

Many officials here are saying they were duped by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor leading the Hariri investigation. Several officials said they were shocked when he said Syria had not cooperated.

Officials here said in interviews that Mr. Mehlis never once expressed any discontent during his two days in Damascus, and that he must have been setting Syria up to fail.

"Do you want full cooperation, exactly what do you want?" said a Syrian official close to the president who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss foreign policy. "We gave what we thought was full cooperation without any objection of the Mehlis team. Not any objection. They did not record a single objection. So what is cooperation? I don't understand."

There is some sympathy for Syria's position here in Damascus, with Western diplomats acknowledging that Syria has taken some steps to meet foreign demands, such as tightening its borders to impede the flow of militants and weapons into Iraq and encouraging the Palestinians in Damascus to support the Palestinian Authority and not to sponsor militant actions in Lebanon, Gaza or the West Bank.

But even for diplomats, trying to figure out what Syria's leaders are really up to is a bit like reading tea leaves. At the conclusion of his meeting last month with the Palestinian factions, for instance, President Assad sat with all of the leaders for a picture. That the head of Hamas was seated by his side was taken by many outside Damascus as a warning and a threat that Syria was reverting to its old ways.

The International Investigation and Old Security Files
Jihad el Khazen Al-Hayat - 02/11/05//

I have decided to cooperate with the international investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. I hope that Syria cooperates as well, in implementation of the new UN Security Council resolution. Today, I have the following:

On 22 September 2004, Defense Minister Elias Murr, who was Interior minister at the time, announced that he had frustrated a plot by Salafist radicals linked to al-Qaida to destroy the Italian Embassy in Beirut, to protest Italy's participation in the war against Iraq.

Without knowing it, Elias Murr thwarted the first, or original plot to assassinate Rafik Hariri, which had it succeeded, would have done away with the country's entire future, by striking at the Beirut Central District, the symbol of Lebanon's recovery.

The Italian Embassy in Lebanon faces the Parliament building at Nejmeh Square and is next to St. George Eastern Orthodox church and the Etoile coffee shop where PM Hariri used to meet friends and journalists upon exiting Parliament. If a ton of explosives had gone off there, the destruction would have been devastating, right in the heart of the capital, and would have killed hundreds.

We now know that Lebanese security personnel arrested the members of the group, most prominently Ahmad al-Miqati and Ismail al-Khatib. The latter died in prison, it was said under torture, and Salafists rioted and attacked security facilities in Anjar. Also enraged was Brigadier General Rustom Ghazaleh, the then-head of Syrian forces in Lebanon, and contacted Brigadier General Said Eid of the Gendarmerie, to ask Murr to contain and calm the situation; he then threatened Minister Murr. There is confirmed information about the explosives, and where they were hidden. Some of the accused were released after pressure from Ghazaleh, while the rest were released in a subsequent amnesty.

If the plot failed with the Salafists, the one that succeeded was with the Ahbash; both groups are in close contact with Syrian and Lebanese intelligence agencies, and specifically Ghazaleh. The Salafists are based in Tripoli and Dinnieh, with a strong presence in Sunni towns like Majdal Anjar (in the Bekaa). The Ahbash's base is in West Beirut, with some limited presence outside this area. This is where Brigadier General Mustafa Hamdan, the Commander of the Republican Guard, enters the picture. He and his brother Majed are nephews of Ibrahim Qoleilat, the head of the Murabitoun militia during the civil war; the Murabitoun were gradually absorbed by the Ahbash, especially after the Palestine Liberation Organization exited Beirut in 1982.

The Syrian security role with the Ahbash at the beginning was aimed at weakening Lebanese Sunni opposition to the Syrian presence, which is how the Ahbash were able to control one mosque after another in Sunni neighborhoods. They almost took over Dar al-Fatwa (the leading Sunni religious organization) when they nominated Nizar Halabi, the head of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, the front for the Ahbash, for the post of mufti of the Republic. But the Salafists assassinated Halabi in a rebellion against Syrian wishes, as if all Lebanon's Sunnis had assassinated him. Despite this event, the Ahbash continued to compete against traditional Sunni institutions like Dar al-Fatwa and the Maqassed charitable association. This continued until the Syrian presence in Lebanon ended, and with it, the Ahbash's influence with Syrian and Lebanese intelligence organizations.

There are common denominators between the Salafis and the Ahbash, despite their competition, which go beyond Syrian sponsorship. Ahmad Abu Adas was mentioned in detail in the UN report by Detlev Mehlis, and was a part of both groups. Mehlis' report said that in the summer of 2004, he worked at a computer store owned by Sheikh Ahmad al-Ani, a member of the Miqati-Khatib network. The explosives of this network were in Anjar and were confiscated after the al-Hariri assassination, from a depot owned by Mohammed Mamluk, of the Murabitoun. His pictures with the group's logo were pasted on walls and demonstrations demanded the release of the "number one resistance fighter."

The most powerful part of Mehlis' report came in the telephone contacts between Ahmad Abdel-Al, Mahmoud Abdel-Al, Mustafa Hamdan, and the Presidential Palace. Perhaps we should add here that Majed Hamdan formed a security company that employed a number of Murabitoun and was responsible for security in places that included the site of PM Hariri's assassination.

I believe that the first plot took place in cooperation with the Salafists and the second with the Ahbash, while Ghazaleh and Hamdan were in contact with both groups. I don't rule out the idea that we will discover, after the investigation is completed, roles for the heads of other Lebanese and Syrian security agencies. The final charge they might face is withholding information, meaning that they didn't plan or carry out the assassination but knew about the plot and tried to mislead investigators.

We might not have seen these pieces of the puzzle if Murr hadn't been the victim of an assassination attempt for which the Salafis were blamed. There was a rumor that the international investigators wanted details about Murr's bank accounts, while Mehlis denied this. But the damage was done, and before the denial Murr had moved his rifle from one shoulder to the other, as the saying goes.

If we go back to the news conference about the Italian Embassy plot, we find that Murr spoke of the role of Lebanese and Syrian security agencies in discovering the conspiracy, with the most important role going to Italian intelligence. Murr also talked about two networks: one engaging in sabotage in Lebanon, and the second sending suicide bombers to Iraq. It appears that each group had its role: the Ahbash represented poor Sunnis in Beirut against the merchants and aristocrats of the sect, and carried out important charitable work.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Qoleilat was the number one suspect in the 1966 assassination of al-Hayat's publisher, Kamel Mroue, a crime carried out by Tawfiq Sultani. In 1975, the Murabitoun killed a university colleague of mine, Najib Azzam, after stopping him at one of the militia's checkpoints in al-Tariq al-Jadideh. They had found out that he was a Christian, without knowing that he was a registered member of Fatah. After Najib's killing, Palestinian forces took over the area and evicted the Murabitoun, then left them alone because they were allies. Today, the return of the Murabitoun, under the cover of the Ahbash, occurs to me with the assassination of PM Hariri.

A few years ago, the Ahbash demonstrated with knives in support of Syria. The Syrians should know that with friends like the Ahbash, they don't need enemies. As for the Ahbash, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.

Also see the story about Rana Qoleilat in al-Hayat. She was the head of Madina Bank, who fled to Syria and is now in Egypt. The Daily Star says that Mehlis plans to interrogate Rana Qoleilat, an executive at Al-Madina Bank, on suspicion of having information on the funding of Hariri's assassination.

She is wanted in Lebanon on forgery and money-laundering charges and for fleeing Lebanon after posting bail on April 17. Qoleilat is said to have been arrested in Egypt and faces deportation.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he would oppose the use of Iraq for any US military strike on Syria. Reuters (Nov 1)

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in remarks published on Tuesday he would oppose the use of Iraqi territory as a launchpad for any U.S. military strike on Syria.

"I absolutely reject that Iraqi territory be used as a launchpad for any military strike against Syria or any other Arab country," Talabani told Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

"But this is my personal opinion and my capabilities are limited in confronting America's might ... I cannot impose my opinion on them," he added in an interview.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Student views from Damascus

Here is commentary from a Matt Longo, ayoung researcher in Syria, who is talking to students and not the usual commentators. It seems quite accurate to me - of course he is talking to the pro-Western students, not Islamists or country boys.

Hating the regime, fearing Uncle Sam
Although Syrians are disgusted with their disgraced government, they don't want to be another Iraq.

By Matthew Longo, MATTHEW LONGO, a researcher for the department of political science at Yale University, currently lives in Damascus.

A GIANT PODIUM was constructed in central Damascus. The streets were decorated with pictures of President Bashar Assad and the twin flags of the Syrian Republic and the ruling Baath Party. Schools were given the day off. Thousands of children were bused into the city from surrounding regions. SyriaTel, the government-sponsored mobile-phone provider, messaged users, urging them to the streets.

Monday's rally — against the United States, the United Nations and German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis' report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — was designed to make the government look strong, popular and credible. Television screens around the world would show the happy, colorful face of the Syrian nation.


But things are not always as they seem. Syrian broadcast news announced that there were up to 1 million people in attendance. More credible accounts put the number of actual protesters at about 10,000. Of these, most were schoolchildren, whose participation was obligatory. The main speeches were slated for 2 p.m., but by 10:30 a.m. most of the crowds had left, preferring to take lunch or idle through the city. By noon, the square was almost empty save for a few enthusiasts waving signs and chanting anti-American slogans and epithets. The streets were littered with flags that had been issued by the government and promptly dropped.

The paltry turnout is a reflection of frustration with the ruling Baath regime, which is viewed as weak, corrupt and isolated. Many Syrians were incensed by the Hariri assassination and the subsequent shameful withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April. The economy here is in dire straits, pinched at the borders by the loss of Lebanon — a notorious cash cow — and the loss of revenue from oil smuggled out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Assad, hailed when he took office as a democratic reformer, has largely reneged on promised changes. In private, people across the country whisper hopes about regime change and the dawning of a new era for Syria.

But let's be clear: Dissatisfaction with the current regime does not translate into support for the West. In fact, there is general outrage in Syria regarding the Mehlis report, which is viewed as politically motivated. As expected, high-ranking Syrian officials were implicated in the Hariri assassination, including Asef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Assad. Mehlis portrayed the Syrian government as small, insular and criminal.

Rightly or wrongly, many Syrians consider the report to be a mere U.S.-sponsored justification for war. At Monday's rally, one placard I saw depicted a caricatured President Bush as a ventriloquist, with Mehlis as his dummy.

Most Syrians feel stuck between two unappealing options. "Everybody is frustrated," said one student at the University of Damascus, "because we hate George Bush, but we also know that the regime is guilty."

Lately, tensions have been rising between the two. U.S. officials say terrorists have been allowed to slip across the Syrian border into Iraq. And Tuesday, Bush said he had not ruled out military action if Syria failed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into Hariri's assassination.

More than anything else, Syrians do not want to become the next Iraq, which they see as a case of outright aggression and murder, not as the liberation of an oppressed people or the march of democracy. Among the most common signs at the rally were: "We are not Iraq" and "Stay away America." Syrians want change, but this does not mean that they want invasion.

Many analysts predict that the Mehlis report could lead, ultimately, to sanctions, isolation and conceivably even U.S.-led military intervention.

Now, after Monday's rally, Syria looks more vulnerable than ever — unable to even manufacture support from within. The country waits anxiously to see what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Damascus Declaration in English

A number of readers have asked for a copy of the Damascus Declaration issued by the united opposition in English. Here it is.

The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change

Signatories to the Declaration
Parties and Organizations:
Democratic National Grouping in Syria
Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria
Committees for the Revival of Civil Society
Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria
Future Party (Shaykh Nawwaf al-Bashir)

National Figures:
Riyad Sayf
Jawdat Sa'id
Dr Abd-al-Razzaq Id
Samir al-Nashar
Dr Fida Akram al-Hurani
Dr Adil Zakkar
Abd-al-Karim al-Dahhak
Haytham al-Malih
Nayif Qaysiyah

Syria today is being subjected to pressure it had not experienced before, as a result of the policies pursued by the regime, policies that have brought the country to a situation that calls for concern for its national safety and the fate of its people. Today Syria stands at a crossroad and needs to engage in self-appraisal and benefit from its historical experience more than any time in the past.
The authorities' monopoly of everything for more than 30 years has established an authoritarian, totalitarian, and cliquish [fi'awi] regime that has led to a lack of [interest in] politics in society, with people losing interest in public affairs. That has brought upon the country such destruction as that represented by the rending of the national social fabric of the Syrian people, an economic collapse that poses a threat to the country, and exacerbating crises of every kind, in addition to the stifling isolation which the regime has brought upon the country as a result of its destructive, adventurous, and short-sighted policies on the Arab and regional levels, and especially in Lebanon. Those policies were founded on discretionary bases and were not guided by the higher national interests.
All that -- and many other matters -- calls for mobilizing all the energies of Syria, the homeland and the people, in a rescue task of change that lifts the country out of the mold of the security state and takes it to the mold of the political state, so that it will be able to enhance its independence and unity, and so that its people will be able to hold the reins of their country and participate freely in running its affairs. The transformations needed affect the various aspects of life, and include the State, the authorities, and society, and lead to changing Syrian policies at home and abroad.

In view of the signatories' feeling that the present moment calls for a courageous and responsible national stand, that takes the country out of its condition of weakness and waiting that is poisoning the present political life, and spares it the dangers that loom in the horizon, and in view of their belief that a clear and cohesive line on which society's various forces agree, a line that projects the goals of democratic change at this stage, acquires special importance in the achievement of such change by the Syrian people and in accordance with their will and interests, and helps to avoid opportunism and extremism in public action, they have reached an accord on the following bases:

Establishment of a democratic national regime is the basic approach to the plan for change and political reform. It must be peaceful, gradual, founded on accord, and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.

Shunning totalitarian thought and severing all plans for exclusion, custodianship, and extirpation under any pretext, be it historical or realistic; shunning violence in exercising political action; and seeking to prevent and avoid violence in any form and by any side.

Islam -- which is the religion and ideology of the majority, with its lofty intentions, higher values, and tolerant canon law -- is the more prominent cultural component in the life of the nation and the people. Our Arab civilization has been formed within the framework of its ideas, values, and ethics and in interaction with the other national historic cultures in our society, through moderation, tolerance, and mutual interaction, free of fanaticism, violence, and exclusion, while having great concern for the respect of the beliefs, culture, and special characteristics of others, whatever their religious, confessional, and intellectual affiliations, and openness to new and contemporary cultures.

No party or trend has the right to claim an exceptional role. No one has the right to shun the other, persecute him, and usurp his right to existence, free expression, and participation in the homeland.

Adoption of democracy as a modern system that has universal values and bases, based on the principles of liberty, sovereignty of the people, a State of institutions, and the transfer of power through free and periodic elections that enable the people to hold those in power accountable and change them.

Build a modern State, whose political system is based on a new social contract, which leads to a modern democratic Constitution that makes citizenship the criterion of affiliation, and adopts pluralism, the peaceful transfer of power, and the rule of law in a State all of whose citizens enjoy the same rights and have the same duties, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sect, or clan, and prevents the return of tyranny in new forms.

Turn to all the components of the Syrian people, all their intellectual trends and social classes, political parties, and cultural, economic, and social activities, and give them the opportunity to express their views, interests, and aspirations, and enable them to participate freely in the process of change.

Guarantee the freedom of individuals, groups, and national minorities to express themselves, and safeguard their role and cultural and linguistic rights, with the State respecting and caring for those rights, within the framework of the Constitution and under the law.

Find a just democratic solution to the Kurdish issue in Syria, in a manner that guarantees the complete equality of Syrian Kurdish citizens with the other citizens, with regard to nationality rights, culture, learning the national language, and the other constitutional, political, social, and legal rights on the basis of the unity of the Syrian land and people. Nationality and citizenship rights must be restored to those who have been deprived of them, and the file must be completely settled.
Commitment to the safety, security, and unity of the Syrian national [? union] and addressing its problems through dialogue, and safeguard the unity of the homeland and the people in all circumstances, commitment to the liberation of the occupied territories and regaining the Golan Heights for the homeland, and enabling Syria to carry out an effective and positive Arab and regional role.

Abolish all forms of exclusion in public life, by suspending the emergency law; and abolish martial law and extraordinary courts, and all relevant laws, including Law 49 for the year 1980; release all political prisoners; [allow] the safe and honorable return of all those wanted and those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily exiled with legal guarantees; and ending all forms of political persecution, by settling grievances and turning a new leaf in the history of the country.

Strengthen the national army and maintain its professional spirit, and keep it outside the framework of political conflict and the democratic game, and confine its task to protecting the country's independence, safeguarding the constitutional system, and defending the homeland and the people.

Liberate popular organizations, federations, trade unions, and chambers of commerce, industry, and agriculture from the custodianship of the State and from party and security hegemony. Provide them with the conditions of free action as civil society organizations.

Launch public freedoms, organize political life through a modern party law, and organize the media and elections in accordance with modern laws that ensure liberty, justice, and equal opportunities for everyone.

Guarantee the right of political work to all components of the Syrian people in their various religious, national, and social affiliations.

Emphasize Syria's affiliation to the Arab Order, establish the widest relations of cooperation with the Arab Order, and strengthen strategic, political, and economic ties that lead the [Arab] nation to the path of unity. Correct the relationship with Lebanon, so that it will be based on liberty, equality, sovereignty, and the common interests of the two peoples and countries.

Observe all international treaties and conventions and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and seek within the framework of the United Nations and in cooperation with the international community to build a more just World Order, based on the principles of peace and mutual interest, warding off aggression, and the right of nations to resist occupation, and to oppose all forms of terrorism and violence directed against civilians.

The signatories to this declaration believe the process of change has begun, in view of its being a necessity that brooks no postponement because the country needs it. It is not directed against anyone, but requires everyone's efforts. Here we call on the Ba'thist citizens of our homeland and citizens from various political, cultural, religious, and confessional groups to participate with us and not to hesitate or be apprehensive, because the desired change is in everyone's interest and is feared only by those involved in crimes and corruption. The process of change can be organized as follows:

1. Opening the channels for a comprehensive and equitable national dialogue among all the components and social, political, and economic groups of the Syrian people in all areas and on the following premises:

The need for radical change in the country, and the rejection of all forms of cosmetic, partial, or circumspection reform.

Seek to stop the deterioration and the potential collapse and anarchy which could be brought upon the country by a mentality of fanaticism, revenge, extremism, and objection to democratic change.

Rejection of the change that is brought from abroad, while we are fully aware of the fact and the objectivity of the link between the internal and the external in the various political developments that are taking place in our contemporary world, without pushing the country toward isolation, adventure, and irresponsible stands, and anxiousness to safeguard the country's independence and territorial integrity.

2. Encourage initiatives for the return of society to politics, restore to the people their interest in public affairs, and activate civil society.

3. Form various committees, salons, forums, and bodies locally and throughout the country to organize the general cultural, social, political, and economic activity and to help it in playing an important role in advancing the national consciousness, giving vent to frustrations, and uniting the people behind the goals of change.

4. A comprehensive national accord on a common and independent program of the opposition forces, which charts the steps of the stage of transformation and the features of the democratic Syria of the future.

5. Pave the way for convening a national conference in which all the forces that aspire to change may participate, including those who accept that from among the regime, to establish a democratic national regime based on the accords mentioned in this declaration, and on the basis of a broad and democratic national coalition.

6. Call for the election of a Constituent Assembly that draws up a new Constitution for the country that foils adventurers and extremists, and that guarantees the separation of powers, safeguards the independence of the judiciary, and achieves national integration by consolidating the principle of citizenship.

7. Hold free and honest parliamentary elections that produce a fully legitimate national regime that governs the country in accordance with the Constitution and the laws that are in force, and on the basis of the view of the political majority and its program.

These are broad steps for the plan for democratic change, as we see it, which Syria needs, and to which its people aspire. It is open to the participation of all the national forces: political parties, civilian and civil bodies, and political, cultural, and professional figures. The plan accepts their commitments and contribution, and is open to review through the increase in the collectivity of political work and its effective societal forces.

We pledge to work to end the stage of despotism. We declare our readiness to offer the necessary sacrifices for that purpose, and to do all what is necessary to enable the process of democratic change to take off, and to build a modern Syria, a free homeland for all of its citizens, safeguard the freedom of its people, and protect national independence.
Damascus, 16 October 2005.

The UN decision and Fall Out

In the aftermath of the UN resolution which was a body blow for Damascus, many are wondering if the President will sacrifice his family or his people.

Syria called for an emergency Arab League summit in a bid on Monday to rally regional support in the face of stern UN Security Council action that would force greater cooperation from Damascus in the probe of the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.

But Arab diplomats, already hedging against a lack of broad support for a summit of all 22 members, suggested a smaller gathering of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt might be organized should others decline out of concern over harming ties to the UN resolution’s prime sponsors - the United States, France and Britain.

Anti-Syrian Lebanese political leader Walid Jumblatt, meanwhile, warned, “If (he) acts like Saddam did, yes, we are heading to a situation similar to what happened in Iraq,” Jumblatt said in an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television channel late Sunday. “But if he acts in order to preserve Syria’s national unity and Syria’s interest before (serving) the brother-in-law, a brother or anyone, he can save Syria.” (AP) 31 October 2005
Condaleezza Rice's remarks before the UN decision:
With our decision today, we show that Syria has isolated itself from the international community through its false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors, and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East.

Now the Syrian Government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior. Until that day comes, however, we in the international community must remain united and we must remain resolute in our pursuit of truth, our defense of justice, and our support of liberty for the brave and courageous Lebanese people.
Security Council Tells Syria to Cooperate

Monday October 31, 2005 10:46 PM
Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - A united Security Council warned a defiant Syria on Monday of possible ``further action'' if it doesn't cooperate with a U.N. investigation that has implicated top Syrian officials in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

But the United States, France and Britain had to drop the explicit threat of sanctions to win unanimous support for the resolution at a rare meeting of the foreign ministers from most of the council's 15 members.

The three nations stressed they will press for tough U.N. measures if Syria does not comply fully with the probe into the killing of Rafik Hariri and 20 others.

Their original resolution threatening sanctions had to be watered down to get all the council members on board. Russia, China, Brazil and others, particularly Algeria, the only Arab nation on the council, strongly opposed putting sanctions on Syria.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution still left Syria in a corner.

``With our decision today, we show that Syria has isolated itself from the international community - through its false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors, and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East,'' she said. ``Now, the Syrian government must make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior.''

The resolution requires Syria to detain anyone considered a suspect by U.N. investigators and let them determine the location and conditions under which the individual is questioned. It also would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect.

Those provisions could pose a problem for Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as his brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence. The Syrian leader refused a request from chief investigator Detlev Mehlis to be interviewed, and investigators also want to question his brother and brother-in-law.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa watched the vote and listened to speeches from all 15 council nations demanding his government fully cooperate. He then lashed out at Mehlis and the council for accusing Syria of committing a crime without producing any evidence.

He said accusing Syrian security forces of having advance knowledge of Hariri's killing was tantamount to charging that U.S. officials knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11 attacks, Spain knew about the 2004 train bombings and Britain knew about this summer's London bombings.

The comment visibly angered British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who called it ``the most grotesque and insensitive comparison,'' ``appalling,'' and ``absurd.'' He said any council member concerned about adopting the resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable, should have their misgivings allayed by al-Sharaa's defiance.

Rice told reporters afterward that al-Sharaa's outburst was ``a tirade which made the most bizarre connection.''

She noted al-Sharaa was accused of lying in a letter to the Mehlis commission and said his intransigence showed Syria wanted to discredit the U.N. investigation even after a Security Council vote strongly supported it.

Rice was asked whether putting the resolution under Chapter VII would give the United States unilateral authority to use force against Syria, as it did in Iraq.

``This Chapter VII resolution is very explicit in what it means, which is that Syria must cooperate with the Mehlis report and then, if necessary, the council can come back and consider other measures, or other action. ... That is what we intend to live by,'' she replied.

Rice stressed the resolution also tells Syria ``in no uncertain terms'' that it should ``not interfere in Lebanese affairs in any way.''

Syrian troops occupied much of Lebanon for nearly 30 years, until Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination triggered widespread street protests by Lebanese and intensified international pressure that forced Assad to order a complete withdrawal last spring.

Boutros Assaker, the acting secretary-general in Lebanon's foreign ministry, told the Security Council his country had entered a new phase in its history and was trying ``to consolidate its political independence'' and enhance its sovereignty.

What the Lebanese people want, he said, ``is the truth, the whole truth ... of this heinous, terrorist crime.''

France's foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said the resolution ``makes a clear, firm and urgent appeal to Syria'' to cooperate with the Mehlis investigation, which has been extended until Dec. 15.

At the end of his speech, al-Sharaa reiterated the importance of the presumption of innocence and insisted Assad's regime would ``fully cooperate with the international commission until conclusive evidence is found of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.''

``I look forward to the full cooperation by the government of Syria in substance as well as form,'' Straw retorted, then added: ``But I have to say after what I've heard I'm not holding my breath.''

Several other council members, however, noted Syria's recent promises to cooperate.

Assad on Saturday ordered that a judicial committee be formed to investigate Hariri's assassination - a point stressed by al-Sharaa. A presidential decree said the committee will cooperate with the U.N. probe and Lebanese judicial authorities.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, whose country has large Lebanese and Syrian communities, made clear any further action against Syria would require Security Council approval.

``Brazil will not favor hasty decisions that may lead to an undesirable escalation of the situation or further endanger the stability of the region,'' he said.
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Here is a reaction sent to me by one Syrian:
Sorry for the long reply but below is how i feel about the issue, i haven't been posting on your site for a while so i guess i am cramming it all in this email.

I see very few options that Syria can have which might influence or alter the increasingly gloomy fate it’s nearing. It’s more likely that foreign issues, such as disagreements between the US & France or Russia, etc. that will spare or break Syria. Its really quiet astonishing how irrelevant Damascus has become when it comes to international or even regional politics within the last 3 years.

The one and only option that I see as a way out for the leadership is the option they are likely to take if hell should freeze over, and that is to open up…exponentially!!! By allowing real freedom of speech, press, and seriously pave the road to a true multi-party system.

Syria is steam cooker ready to explode and the government shouldn’t just loosen the steam valve but to take the whole lid off. While it’s clear that crisis management and pro-activeness is not Damascus’s strongest asset, one can only hope that realism is. And at this point of time cutting your losses is the soundest strategy, and losing some of the Ba’ath’s influence is a much more pleasant scenario than losing the whole shebang. If they really wanted to (and they DON’T) they can take the lead in the mid-term and chaperon the transition into a political system in which the Ba’ath and Alwaite echelon can still play a pivotal role in Syrian society. They have always excelled in maintaining security in such a hostile region, but they have failed miserably in good governance and that’s where other SECULAR and realistic parties can play a role. Opposition parties should not, and don’t seem to, kid themselves in thinking that Syria’s external weakness will translate into a fatal internal haemorrhage, so dialogue must commence even if they prefer a different leadership. I mean lets be realistic here, the Americans will not be able to invade another country and their strategy seems, to me at least, to be one of a very serious bluff on that front. Instead they will opt to make Syria bleed, humiliated and hope that in a few years the people will do their dirty work for them. To reach their goal the Neo-Cons in Washington are counting on a passive and predictable Damascus that will close in on its self and try to hibernate any possible sanctions out (that sounds like a safe bet), but this is exactly why the opposite must occur. Otherwise the government will become schizophrenic and paranoid entity that will crack down on the most mediocre of voices, which is self-defeating for obvious reasons. That’s why the painful but extremely needed actions mentioned earlier are necessary to mute most internal and several external voices calling for an attack on Syria, let the go crazy and become unpredictable for once. I would even say that these actions should have been conducted a year ago because any attempt to reconcile differences (such as the attempt to solve the Kurdish citizenship problem now) will appear hypocritical and worse will convince the masses that Damascus will only improve its attitude under threats.

But its too late for all of that now, and the Syrian government must understand that the more they delay action the more they will have to give up and although I do not think we have reached the point of no return yet, its certainly approaching with haste. Yes!!! The Americans are out to get Syria and Hariri’s murder investigation is being cheaply leveraged for strategic reasons. It has been obvious prior to 14/02/2005 that Syria is a target and Lebanon’s freedom is not on Washington’s priority list. But Damascus should not blame anyone but its self for it current predicament, it was the one that allowed its enemies to play it in this manner. So the big question is whether Bashar is going to rise to the occasion like his father did in the 1980’s? I guess time will tell…

But probably I am a raving madman and this is all hopeful thinking. Instead we will in all likelihood, see Melhis calling for an investigation with the President, his brother and Assef Shawkat. In which Damascus will most likely refuse (At least with the president), this will be the justification and catalyst for a harsher UN sanction and its all downhill from there. Oh how fun it is to be a pessimist :D

Innocent Criminal

Asef and Maher will Testify

Sami al-Khiyami, the ambassador to the UK, told the BBC that "the president's brother Maher al-Assad - who heads the presidential guard - and brother-in-law Asif Shawkat, the military intelligence chief, would co-operate with the inquiry of their own accord.

"[President Bashar al-Assad] doesn't even have to make them, they will go and see the commission," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme."

Dardari on Syria's Way Forward by Derhally

Massoud Derhally has an interesting interview with Deputy Prime Minister Dardari, who finds the best language to deel with Syria's delicate position right now.

Standing firm
by Massoud A. Derhally
Arabian Business
November 1, 2005

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business magazine, Abdullah Dardari, Syria's deputy prime minister talks about the measures his country will take after the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1636 on Oct. 31

Q. Is this what you expected in terms of a resolution?

A. I don't know about expectations. I think it is not very different from expectations. The original draft of the resolution was very harsh. It was toned down. Toning it down and taking out the threat of specific sanctions is an indicator that there are countries on the security council who see at least partially, or fully, the Syrian point of view. We are committed to full cooperation and we will do so even though one has to define 'full cooperation' because we believed that we did provide full cooperation in the past and then the report came and accused Syria of not providing such full cooperation. One maybe has to adopt new tactics or new approach to ensure that full cooperation is reflected in the next report.

Q. How will you prove that your own investigative committee is conducting itself in a transparent way and that your findings are conclusive and impartial?

A. We have to define what is cooperation and make sure that whatever we provide is agreed upon and approved by the commission because last time we had a gentleman agreement with Mr. Mehlis; with very good intentions we thought that we did provide the necessary cooperation. The committee that Syria set up will work closely with the UN commission and therefore the dialogue will produce the best modus operandi between them in order to ensure that the UN commission believes and fully accepts the work of the national investigative committee.

We are very committed to open, transparent cooperation. There is no doubt about that. Our strategy is to make sure that the countries that stood by us in the Security Council have enough evidence in the next meeting of the SC, that Syria is providing serious and transparent cooperation so that they can strengthen and depend their support for the Syrian position in the next meeting. We don't count on a radical change in the American position. But one can say that there are countries that are willing to help, they believe in Syria's innocence and its our job to give them more evidence.

Q. Do you foresee a change in the French position?

A. That will be one of the challenges. I think the French don't have the same agenda as the Americans and therefore if we can demonstrate that our cooperation is full, candid and transparent this would influence I think the French position to our favour and would definitely strengthen the position of Russia and China who are trying to defuse the crisis.

Q. The resolution is suggestive in that it could finger or implicate the president and he could be swept up in the entire investigation—eventually leading to regime change. How do you see things?

A. I wouldn't jump to such conclusions at this stage. Regime change or no regime change this is a question for the Syrian people to decide. The Syrian people and government are united in this and we are seeing interesting and exciting manifestations of national unity on this particular issue. Syrians are realising that Syria is targeted; its role in the region is targeted. The language that we hear sometimes in Lebanon that we don't want sanctions on the Syrian people and we want good relations with the Syrian people but the Syrian regime is a different story. Not many people are buying that in Syria. The question of sovereignty is very clear and we are adamant about our sovereignty. If the US wants to politicise the whole exercise, yes they can push [this investigation] in different directions. If this exercise is going to be professional…then we will provide a professional, technical and an independent job.

I was listening to Condi Rice yesterday and she was talking about things that have nothing to do with the Mehlis report. She was talking about regional issues; Iraq, Palestine and terrorism. The politicisation is there.

Q. Are there parallels between this resolution and UN resolution 1441 of Iraq in the run up to the war in 2003?

A. The differences are very big. Look at the Arab position before and now. Look at the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia—those countries are changing. The timid approach vis-à-vis Syria after the assassination has changed to a much warmer and more understanding approach. There is genuine Arab concern for Syria. Don't forget that the invasion of Iraq took place without a UN resolution so there are elements in the US policy trying to create similarities but I think the overall environment is not the same.

Q. If you were in a room with Condi Rice behind closed doors what would you tell her?

A. I would tell her there are so many interests in common between Syria and the US, if the US puts American interests first, rather than Israel's interest. Dialogue between the two countries is the best means for dealing with the issues that maybe still problematic between them.

Q. There is talk that the three activists of the Damascus Spring: Riad Saif, Aref Dalilah, and Maamoun Al Homsi, will be released shortly. Is this true?

There will be a number of moves on the political reforms in Syria, including the parties law, the Kurdish question and political prisoners that will take place within the next few weeks.