Saturday, December 31, 2005

Conversations Between Human Rights Activists and Islamists in a Syrian

Conversations Between Human Rights Activists and Islamists in a Syrian

MEMRI Special Dispatch: Syria/Reform Project
December 30, 2005
No. 1061

After several months in prison, Syrian author and human rights activist Ali
Al-Abdallah was pardoned and released by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad,
on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Id Al-Fitr, in early November 2005.

Ali Al-Abdallah was arrested in May 2005 following a conference of the Jamal
Al-Atasi Forum for National Dialogue, a Syrian NGO that works to advance
political reforms in Syria. Ten days later, the other members of the
organization's executive board were also arrested.

During his incarceration, Al-Abdallah met several "Damascus Spring"
activists who had been arrested in 2001 for promoting political and civil
reforms and human rights in Syria, and had been sentenced to five years'

In an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Abdallah described
conversations in prison between Syrian reform and human rights activists and
Islamic fundamentalists. In the article, he attempts to warn against Salafi
(Islamist) thought, which permits murder and violence for reasons of belief
and politics.(2)

The following are excerpts from his article:

Salafi Prisoner: "By Agreeing to a Dialogue With the Regime and to Peaceful
Political Activity, [the Muslim Brotherhood] Borders on Polytheism"

"During the period in which I was detained, circumstances brought me to a
face-off with a number of individuals belonging to the Salafiyya Jihadiyya
movement. We were in two adjacent cells (four Salafis were gathered together
in a cell that was two meters by two and a half meters), and this permitted
intermittent and pointed conversation. They noticed that I was next to them
because I discussed the Koran with my friend Riyadh Hamoud Al-Durar, who was
incarcerated in a nearby cell...

"One of them asked me if I was a Muslim. I answered, 'Of some sort.' He
asked me whether I belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. When I answered no,
and added that I saw Arabism and Islam as foundations of the Arab identity
within a democratic regime and a proper government, he stopped the
conversation, saying, 'We'll talk in the future.' But this 'future' never

"A long time passed until I again heard the voice of the young man who had
spoken to me, and that was when a new [prisoner], who had been deported from
Britain, came to a nearby cell. After we talked with the new prisoner and
learned that his father had belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, the young
man said something to him about 'his father's friends,' referring to the
Muslim Brotherhood. According to him, 'in agreeing to conduct a dialogue
with the regime and to adopt political activity in peaceful ways, your
father's friends are bordering on polytheism [shirk].' As far as he was
concerned, the criterion for faith is outright jihad and fighting the
infidels and polytheists."

Human Rights Activist: "The Koran Does Not Call for Boycotting Others or
Self-Isolation From Society"

"Afterwards, he warned the new prisoner not to talk to us or to participate
in the discussions conducted at night among the residents of the nearby
cells (Walid Al-Bunni, Habib 'Issa, and Fawaz Tilo, who were among the
Damascus Spring detainees thrown into a cell several years ago, after being
sentenced by the State High Security Court that was acting in accordance
with the emergency laws that have been in force [in Syria] for over 40

"He based the ban on talking with us on the Koran verse [4:140] '...When you
people disbelieving and mocking Allah's signs, do not sit with them'... But
he did not complete the verse, which ends with the words: 'until they change
the subject of their conversation.' In other words, the Koran does not call
for boycotting people or for isolating oneself from society, as is claimed
in the calls of takfir [accusations of apostasy].

"To prove his view, [the prisoner] referred to the relations mentioned in
the Koran between the Prophet Abraham and his people, as proof that the
regime, and those with differing opinions, should be boycotted. In the Koran
[60:4] it says: 'Indeed, there is for you a good example in Abraham and
those who were with him, when they said to their people: Surely we are not
committed to you and to [the idols] you worship besides Allah; we want
nothing to do with you, and enmity and hatred will separate us and you
forever, unless you believe in Allah alone.'

"[The prisoner] did not take into account the clear difference between the
two instances: Abraham's people were polytheists, whereas the Muslim
Brotherhood members are believers [in one God]. Likewise, he did not take
into account that the disagreements between Abraham, his father and his
people were about monotheism, whereas the disagreements between the
Salafiyya and Muslim Brotherhood movement are political, and do not stem
from issues of faith.

"At the beginning of the month of Ramadan, I congratulated friends and
prisoners in the nearby cells on the occasion of the blessed month [of
fasting]. I [also] wanted to congratulate the Salafis and therefore turned
to them and spoke, but they did not respond to my congratulations, and acted
as if they weren't there. But their leader (Omar) listened to my
conversations with my friend Riyadh Hamoud Al-Durar, which took place nearly
every day after the pre-fast meal and dealt with Koranic verses and their
meaning. [He] saw fit to talk with us, perhaps because he thought that [our
ways] could be mended. He turned to Riyadh and said: 'I did not talk with
you [two] in the past, but when I heard you discussing the Koran, I thought
it necessary to do so.'"

Salafi Prisoner: Human Rights Activists are "Unbelievers Because They
Believe in Democracy and Reject the Koranic Punishments"

"He began to talk with us about monotheism... and then said to Riyadh: 'I
see that you have fallen into a trap in your conversations with the people
in adjacent cells.' He described these people as infidels, because of their
belief in democracy and their rejection of Allah's punishments as mentioned
in the Koran (amputating the hand of a thief and stoning the adulterer). As
proof, he quoted the Koran [5:44]: 'Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah
hath revealed are infidels.'

"Riyadh responded that he was confusing the judicial with the political
sphere, since the Koran [uses verbs of different roots] for issues in the
personal and social sphere... and for political issues...

"The Salafi was silent, but that did not mean that he accepted Riyadh's
words or was convinced by them... [because] his reaction to news of
Salafiyya Jihadiyya operations in Iraq against the American and Iraqi forces
and against Shi'ites and Kurds was a reaction of joy. He would burst into
Salafi songs in praise of Jihad and martyrdom.

"When we protested against the barbaric murders [in Iraq] that do not
distinguish between occupier and civilian or between military personnel and
civilian, and [we] protested against accusing the Shi'ites of unbelief and
murdering them... he [tried but] failed to defend these barbaric deeds and
could not prove that they were unbelievers. He did not condemn the
[murders], and he linked them to the political behavior of the victims,
[claiming that] they were traitors. [He also claimed] that the Salafis
discuss every case seriously before carrying out any 'martyrdom' [istishhad]
operation, and that they kill only those whose unbelief, polytheism, or
treachery has been proven ? which justifies their killing.

"When we tried to point out to them that [the Salafis] kill people to whom
these jurisprudent opinions do not refer, he solved the problem by referring
to these victims as having fallen by accident, and called them 'shahids'..."

(1) "Damascus Spring" is a term for the political awakening that took place
in Syria with Bashar Al-Assad's nomination as president, in June 2000. In
the course of one year, many public bodies promoting democracy and civil
society were established across Syria, including the Jamal Al-Atasi Forum,
which in January 2001 declared itself an NGO for democratic discourse. In
September 2000, a communiqu? by 99 Syrian intellectuals called for the
abolition of the state of emergency in Syria, the release of political
prisoners, and the advancement of political and civil reforms. In July 2001,
the establishment of the Syrian Human Rights Association was declared, and
attorney Haithem Al-Maleh was elected chairman. Expectations for reform,
however, began to fade when in August 2001 the Syrian authorities launched a
series of arrests of reformist activists, and sentenced them to years in
(2) Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 20, 2005. The article also appeared on
the Kuwaiti reformist website Tanweer, at .

Thursday, December 22, 2005

"Stand Up, Sit Down, Shut Up," Reviewed by Biedermann

Ferry Biedermann of the FT has an interesting review of the new nationalist play now on in Damascus. I will be posting again soon. I am now in NYC visiting friends and will be back in DC soon to spend the holidays with my brothers and parents and Manar's aunt and cousins who will all be there.

I spoke at the Stimpson Foundation with David Ignatius about Syria the other day and a good cross-section of the floura and fauna of interested DC turned up. Emile el-Hokayem organized it and Ellen Laipson, the director moderated. It was fun. I spoke about the Lebanon-Syria relationship and the personal contest between the Hariri-Junblat-Khaddam-Kanaan group and President Asad's family and allies since 2000.

David Ignatius of the Post spoke about how Syria is not "ripe" for dramatic change and how the US will have to develop a more nuanced strategy over the next years in order to encourage reform. (Here is the article by Biedermann.)

Syrian play fires nationalist passions
By Ferry Biedermann in Damascus
Published: December 22 2005 02:00 | Last updated: December 22 2005 02:00

But is it art? Stand Up, Sit Down, Shut Up, a play now on a triumphant run in downtown Damascus, is all about stoking the fires of Syrian nationalism.

For a finale the actors trot on to the stage carrying the country's flag and, with hands on their hearts, burst into the national anthem, topping off a two-hour tirade against Syria's perceived enemies.

"We are trying to deploy art for national unity," explains Zuheir Abdul Karim, the play's director and main actor, from the stage of the rickety Ramita theatre, where he has counted President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma among the audience.

The director says he mounted the play to help counter what he calls "external conspiracies and pressures" against his country. Syrians are keenly aware of such external pressures these days.

The United Nations investigation into the murder of Rafiq Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister, was last week extended for at least another six months. The outgoing chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis, has for the first time openly said he thinks Syrian authorities are behind the killing and the Security Council is demanding full Syrian co-operation in the probe.

In the tradition of the ruling Ba'ath party, the government has reacted by closing ranks and mobilising the people with a mix of nationalist slogans, pan-Arab clichés and broadsides against designated external enemies - among whom they count their Lebanese neighbours and, of course, Mr Mehlis.

For good measure, internal dissent is also being stifled. In recent months dissidents have met increasing intimidation and, in at least one case, have been arrested. Portraits of the president have reappeared along highways and on buildings, an echo of the days of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who was omnipresent.

Posters parrot a defiant excerpt from a recent speech: "Syria will not bend. We only bend for God."

"Your report does not amount to one penny, oh Mehlis," goes a line in a song in the play.

And in the performance Mr Abdul Karim's character claims that the Mehlis report to the UN is "politicised and written a year ago" as part of a campaign against Syria, driven by the US and its ally, Israel. Some Syrian intellectuals say they abhor the play and what it stands for. "First of all, it is a bad play. It is propaganda that uses the lowest forms of popular entertainment," says dissident writer Yassin Haj Saleh, who describes it as part of a campaign to rally the people behind the government.

The real vitriol in this campaign is often reserved for the Lebanese, who are variously portrayed as ungrateful, traitorous, craven and licentious.

After Hariri's murder in February the Lebanese took to the streets to demand an end to Syrian control over their country. In May the Syrians withdrew their troops, after a military presence of nearly 30 years.

"It came as a complete surprise to us," says Mr Abdul Karim, who maintains the play reflects popular sentiment in Syria that the Lebanese are attacking his country. "We name the people who are insulting us."

The names include Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister who has already been called a "slave of a slave" by President Assad, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

One politician no longer named is Gebran Tueni, a member of parliament and prominent journalist, who was killed this month together with three others when his car was blown up by a roadside bomb in a suburb of Beirut. He was the fifth anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since the murder of Hariri and the third to die in such an attack.

"Gebran Tueni, oh no, [he is not named] any more because he is dead," says Mr Abdul Karim.

Mr Haj Saleh, the dissident writer, says the play is "not innocent" even though Mr Abdul Karim denies it amounts to incitement.

"It is comedy, the people laugh. The president really enjoyed it," the director asserts.

One of the theatregoers, a young pharmacist, said he was aware of all the trouble the country was in. "It is good to be able to laugh at it, for once." But an older woman said she knew very little about politics. "I just came because I heard the president and his wife also saw it."

Mr Abdul Karim echoes her view.

"We are theatre people, we don't engage in politics. We just believe what [President] al-Assad tells us."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ali Abdullah interviewed by Hugh McCloud

Ali Abdullah: we must distinguish between the regime and the state's interests

1 December 2005
Interview by Hugh McCloud
Sent to "Syria Comment" by Jihad Yaziji of "Syria Report"

The Syria Report talks to Syrian writer Ali Abdullah, former PLO member and veteran critic of the Syrian regime who was recently released from prison after being held for reading a statement from the Muslim Brotherhood in a public debating forum.

You worked as a journalist for Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) between 1976 and 1982 in Beirut and then until 1994 in Tunisia. When you eventually came back to Syria, how were you greeted?

In 1993 Arafat signed the Oslo agreement with Israel so I thought about coming back to Syria. I asked the embassy in Tunis to give me a Syrian passport and after eight months they gave me a piece of paper with my photo on it. I arrived on February 14, 1994 at Damascus airport. The Syrian higher security bodies were there. I said: ‘Welcome me.’ They arrested me.

I spent two days in Mezze airport prison and was then transferred to the Palestinian Branch of Military Security in Damascus for six months. No-one hurt me or abused me, because at that time there was international pressure on Damascus to stop abuse of prisoners and there were reports by Amnesty about abuse. But I saw people who had been abused by security officials. They were hung by their hands from electricity cables. Their feet were swollen and their legs and feet were bleeding.

They asked me why I continued to work with Arafat and the PLO when I knew Syria disagreed with him. I said: ‘You change your mind about Arafat every two days, so what should I do?’

The next time you were arrested it was because of an article you wrote on the role of political Islam in Syria? What was your argument?

In 2002 I published an article on the future of political Islam in Al Mustaqbal, owned by Rafik al-Hariri. I said we have to give room for middle ground Islamic figures to work in order to prevent radical Islamists. An armed patrol came to my house. They arrested me and took all my books on Islamic issues and my old articles and my research on Islam. They put a Kalashnikov in my face and put me in the car. It was 10.30pm at night on February 14, again. A general from the military questioned me.

He asked me three questions. What’s you opinion on the use of Islam in politics? I told them Islam is a political religion. They asked my about my loyalty to Arafat. I said, yes I support Yasser Arafat. They asked me about my stance on the Syrian regime and why I am in opposition. I said that we had to explain the weak points in Syrian policy, why wrongs had been committed.

Knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood is a red line for the Syrian regime, why did you read out a statement from its leader during the Atassi Forum?

A month before I was arrested the forum met and we decided to send a message to the Ba’ath Party conference in June. So we arranged a meeting under the title: ‘The Reform Process According to the Syrian Opposition’ and we gave each party ten minutes to talk about reform. Obeid al Nasser, an MP and professor in Damascus University, represented the Ba’ath party.

The condition was that all the parties involved should believe in peaceful change. We consider the Muslim Brotherhood met this condition when they issued a statement accepting peaceful change. We sent an email to Bayanouni [Ali Bayanouni, the exiled leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, who lives in London] to send to the board their stance and opinion about democracy and the reform process. They sent the text and the board asked me to read the statement.

Why do you believe the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to peaceful change?

They issued a national work charter in 2002 and invited the Syrian opposition to discuss the future of the transfer of power and the future of political life in Syria. In 2004 they issued their political programme for Syria. It outlined their economic stances and said that they accept the civil state.

Bayanouni’s statement to the Atassi forum had four points; the rejection of violence; the rejection to turn Syria into a battle field; the rejection of taking power from foreign states; and the confession with all Syrian minorities and sects and a call for national dialogue. We don’t know exactly what’s inside their hearts but we are looking. But of course there are some groups who reject these points so when we give legitimacy to the groups who accept these points we strengthen them against the radicals.

When you were arrested in May after the Atassi meeting, did the security officials give you a reason?

They said I had breached the red line of the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime in Syria is still adhering to Law 49 [that makes membership of or association with the Muslim Brotherhood illegal]. I told them: ‘You accept to make a deal with Israel. How can you not accept to make a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood?’ They said: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood practise violence.’ I told them that was 25 years ago.

After I was released I visited one of the Muslim Brotherhood who was also released. He told me the security agents had asked him, after 16 years of prison, whether he was still a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said no, in a general way, to mislead them, and so he was released.

According to my analysis there has been no change in the regime’s stance to the Muslim Brotherhood over the past 25 years. The regime looks to all parties as weak, except for the Muslim Brotherhood. They regime think they would be a real competition in an election and so they want to close the door on them.

Would you read out another statement by the Muslim Brotherhood?


Since May, the Atassi Forum has been prevented from meeting by the security services. Will you continue to keep the forum open?

A delegation from the Arab Lawyers Union asked President Assad about the Atassi Forum. The president said the forum is illegal because it does not have a license. He wants us to apply to the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry and they will send it to the government and the government will ask the mukhaberrat and it will take two to three years. So we have decided to hold another session on the first Saturday of December.

The president made a direct threat to the opposition in his recent speech. Do you feel reforms in Syria are on hold until the pressure on Damascus eases?

The president now connects our demands with foreign pressure, but our demands began when the president’s relations with America were very good. And now relations are not good we keep the demands. We want him to make a real internal reform and I’m sure when he does this that the foreign pressures on Syria will decrease.

But I’m sure he will not make any reform. He now has foreign pressures. The president and the Syrian regime think now that foreign states have taken the decision to change the regime, so he has chosen the escalation line.

In a recent article I wrote that we have to distinguish between the regime and the state interest. The regime is not important like the state. Maybe the regime will collapse, but the state must not. We must also distinguish between the killers of Hariri and the whole regime.

What is your vision for Syria for the next six months? Will the regime collapse or will the Syrian people accept sanctions?

Syria could not carry out its economic reform programme over the last 15 years, when there were no sanctions. How can we with sanctions?

Syria has 18 million people and its GDP is $20bn. Jordan has 5 million people and their GDP is $30bn. One hectare in Syria produces 4 tonnes of wheat. In Egypt it produces 7 tonnes, while in France 11 tonnes.

The regime has two choices. To implement real reform and cooperate fully with the UN investigation, which will be a push to make a real change in the regime’s structure and to decrease pressure on Syria and create a division between the US’s and the European’s stances.

The other choice is to follow the escalation line and to sacrifice the country to resolution 1636 and sanctions and then we will have the next Iraq in Syria.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Bolton: The Arsonist," by Mark Boldberg

Here is an excellent article by Mark Goldberg about John Bolton's role at the UN and his struggle with Condoleezza Rice. I gave a bit of an assist on some of the "Qadhafi Deal" information. Mark has been researching this story for some time. Hats off to him.

The Arsonist

From the January issue of the "American Perspective": In his first six months at the UN, John Bolton has offended allies, blocked crucial negotiations, undermined the Secretary of State -- and harmed U.S. interests. We expected bad; we didn’t expect this bad.

By Mark Leon Goldberg
Web Exclusive: 12.14.05
The American Perspect

There is an excellent coffee shop in the basement of the United Nations building in New York. The espresso is served bitter and strong, Italian style. Sandwiches can be bought on hard French baguettes, and the pastries are always fresh. Whenever a meeting lets out in one of the conference rooms adjacent to the shop, diplomats make a beeline to the cash registers. Others light cigarettes: Though the United Nations is in Manhattan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-smoking crusade has not yet penetrated the complex, which sits on international land; so, beneath conspicuous no-smoking signs, diplomats routinely light up, creating a hazy plume that gives the Vienna Café a decidedly European feel.

The European way of doing things, in the weeks preceding the mid-September 2005 United Nations World Summit, could not be stretched to include the 35-hour workweek. For days, frantic negotiations on the substance of far-ranging UN reforms dragged on from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. But the one UN ambassador who generally arrived earliest and stayed latest always looked more upbeat than his bleary-eyed counterparts. “All night -- all right!” quipped John Bolton to a press stakeout.

There was a reason for Bolton’s cheer: He was the man most responsible for the complexity of these negotiations. A month earlier, the newly minted, recess-appointed U.S. ambassador had sent negotiations into a tailspin when he submitted some 750 alterations to a 39-page text known as the “summit outcomes” document. Bolton’s most eye-popping suggestion at this summit, billed as a renewal of the UN’s 5-year-old pledge to help poor countries, was that all 14 references in the document to the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) be deleted.

The MDGs grew out of a global agreement on poverty eradication known as the Millennium Declaration, which was signed at a UN summit in September 2000. The “goals” that Bolton tried to nix include, among other things, reducing by half the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day -- right now, 1.3 billion -- by 2015. While the United States had never signed the agreement, the goals were never a target of Bush administration animus before Bolton came aboard.

Bolton’s stance on the MDGs caused an uproar. In addition to the G-77 bloc of developing nations that had the most to lose from the elimination of MDGs, the British, who had recently played host to a G8 summit focusing on African poverty, were particularly livid. Even the United States itself seemed to back away. In a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations shortly after Bolton’s edits were leaked to The Washington Post for an August 25 story, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns refused to confirm or deny that, per Bolton, the United States was dropping its support of the MDGs. To those in the room, wise to the oblique lingua franca of the diplomatic world, Burns’ pullback hinted that Bolton had forged his own policy on the MDGs -- ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Prospect has learned that, in the end, it took Rice’s personal intervention to set things right. On September 5 she participated in a conference call with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on the subject of UN reform. The next day, Bolton sent a letter to his UN counterparts relenting on the issue. Finally, to put all lingering questions about U.S. support of the MDGs to rest, President Bush himself stated America’s firm commitment to them in his September 14 speech to the UN General Assembly.

When Bolton was nominated in March 2005, the Bush administration seemed invincible at home and abroad. Having won an election based on his handling of a war to which the UN had refused to grant its imprimatur, Bush started his second term with a self-proclaimed mandate to impose his aggressive doctrine to the far reaches of the globe. Flying high, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sent Bolton, a combative State Department official and longtime Cheney confidant, to do to the UN what their two previous ambassadors to Turtle Bay could not: make the world body a wholly owned subsidiary of Bush foreign policy.

That was the plan. But over the past 10 months, Bush’s poll numbers have plummeted while Iraq has taxed every ounce of American diplomatic and military resources. Bolton, meanwhile, never seems to have gotten the memo that times have changed; he remains a fire-breathing caricature of Bush’s first-term, “shoot first, do diplomacy later” outlook. And that approach is no longer sustainable. At least one comparatively saner Bush administration official knows this. And so the tension between Rice and Bolton has grown dramatically in several areas, most notably with regard to Syria: The Prospect has learned that Bolton was the source of an October leak to the British press that submarined sensitive negotiations Rice was overseeing with that country.

By December, a looming crisis over the UN budget was testing Bolton and Rice’s relationship once again. At the time of this writing, the United Nations was in chaos. Kofi Annan had just canceled a trip to Asia to oversee negotiations over the UN’s biennium budget, which was being derailed by an American threat to withhold support for the UN’s two-year operating budget until a number of management reforms are passed. With a December 31 deadline looming, Bolton proposed that the world body adopt a three- or four-month interim budget -- just enough time to force other member states to accept the reforms.

These reforms are backed by Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the secretary-general himself. Yet Bolton’s strong-arm tactics led their representatives to warn that his proposal would starve the United Nations and disrupt other important UN business like peacekeeping operations.

The rumor mill at the Vienna Café has suggested that Bolton must have bypassed Rice and received support for holding the UN budget hostage from the president himself -- a view widely held as the truth among UN diplomats. Regardless of the accuracy of this rumor, Bolton’s move is paradigmatic of his self-defeating approach to the UN: Instead of banding together with powerful allies, he alienates them. And in doing so he empowers adversaries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other spoilers content with a UN that is tied in knots. Critics feared that Bolton’s tenure would be problematic for American interests. The evidence suggests it’s been even worse.

* * *

For progressive washington, bolton’s nomination was a dagger in the heart. In his two decades in and out of public service, Bolton had earned a well-deserved reputation as one of Washington’s least diplomatic figures. How could the United States send a man to the United Nations who quipped that if the UN building lost 10 of its 38 floors, “it wouldn’t make a difference”? Progressives knew -- indeed, everyone knew -- that Bolton’s role at the UN would not be merely to represent U.S. interests but to bully the international body into subservience.

Buoyed by an outpouring of grass-roots support and sustained media pressure, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fought hard against the nomination. During the six-month confirmation process, Bolton was repudiated by a large bipartisan coalition of former American diplomats, and new tales of Bolton’s browbeating of subordinates were emerging by the day. The opposition culminated with a former State Department intelligence official testifying that Bolton is a “quintessential kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy.” Overnight, Bolton became a national symbol of the boss from hell. Eventually Senator George Voinovich of Ohio broke ranks with his Republican counterparts on the committee, refusing in a May 13 vote to support Bolton’s nomination. (Later he choked back tears on the Senate floor when he invoked the image of his grandchildren living in a world where Bolton was the ambassador to the UN.) But the Bush administration, still riding its bellicose high, pushed on. On August 1, to circumvent the stalled nomination, Bush gave Bolton a recess appointment, the first time that that constitutional maneuver had been used for an ambassador to the United Nations.

The next day, Bolton arrived at work, already living up to his boss-from-hell reputation. Eight months before, he had sent shivers down the spine of staffers at the United States Mission to the United Nations with an e-mail from his chief of staff saying he required a copy of everyone’s résumé. By the time he set foot in his new office, morale was already low.

The Prospect has learned that Bolton’s first staff meeting did little to improve things: He told the roughly 100 people present that he wanted to personally sign off on every cable from the mission to Washington. There can be up to five of these cables sent to Foggy Bottom each day, and though the ambassador technically signs them, in practice previous UN ambassadors would not normally read them all. “He wanted to get in the weeds,” said someone present at that meeting. “It seemed to be his way of scaring people.” (Despite repeated requests, Bolton’s o∞ce would not comment for this article.)

In a move that further disturbed some of the staff at the mission, the Prospect has also learned, Bolton put the kibosh on routine visits to Washington, where mission staffers often travel to consult with colleagues at Foggy Bottom who share a similar portfolio. And he has consolidated his oversight of the expenditure of so-called representational funds, the petty cash that the mission gives to staffers to take people out to lunch and otherwise “do diplomacy.”

* * *

The maltreatment of bolton’s staff, however, was nothing compared with the bullying of the United Nations that would follow. When he arrived at Turtle Bay, Bolton stepped into the middle of negotiations on the most extensive set of UN reforms since the world body’s founding 60 years ago. On the table was a wide-ranging set of reforms, most of which had been championed by the United States: replacing the discredited Human Rights Commission (notorious for including such beacons of freedom as Sudan) with a new and improved Human Rights Council; increasing administrative oversight in light of the oil-for-food scandal; creating a new “Peace Building Commission” to help with postconflict reconstruction; working toward a strong definition, and condemnation, of terrorism; and making a forceful statement on nuclear nonproliferation.

Bolton, however, has been unable to deliver on most of these reforms. When he submitted his 750 edits to the working draft of UN reforms two weeks after arriving, he had insisted on going line by line through the document as a way to maximize U.S. gains. But rather than bolstering the United States’ bargaining position, the approach largely backfired. It gave spoiler countries like Pakistan, Cuba, and Venezuela the opening they needed to pursue maximalist positions on their own pet issues, and allowed countries with less-than-stellar human-rights records to undermine America’s insistence that the new Human Rights Council must exclude countries under UN sanction.

To make matters worse, once the negotiations devolved into a painstaking process of debating each word of the document, spoiler countries were rewarded by striking temporary bargaining alliances on single issues, or sometimes even on single sentences. Again, this was largely to the detriment of U.S. interests. For example, when Bolton tried to purge the section concerning nonproliferation of any mention of disarmament, the alliance of Israel, India, and Pakistan—nuclear powers that are not parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons—retorted by introducing language emphasizing disarmament and deleted references to the non-proliferation treaty. “We could not get back the balance between nonproliferation and disarmament [from earlier drafts],” a European diplomat told Jim Wurst of the Global Security Newswire. Eventually the entire section was scrapped. By the time heads of state signed on to reforms, the document contained not a single word on nuclear nonproliferation, and had even lost its pledge to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.

To be sure, the reform agenda was ambitious. But well before the summit, Secretary-General Annan had outlined a basic strategy in which member states with competing interests could work together to pass all the reforms as a package. In a seminal Foreign Affairs article published in May, Annan called for a “new San Francisco moment,” referring to the location where the treaty creating the UN was signed 60 years before, and conceptualized a framework in which rich and poor member states could strike a grand bargain that would address their respective needs. But in the end, the document signed by the assembled heads of state was the bland culmination of a last-minute sprint to the lowest common denominator on nearly every major issue. “It became a salvage operation,” said David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation. And with the notable exception of adopting the principle that the international community has the “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations threatened by genocide or crimes against humanity, all the contentious issues, such as the mandate and makeup of the Human-Rights Council, were kicked to the General Assembly for further discussion.

At a press conference the day after the assembly agreed to a set of reforms, Annan tried to put a positive spin on the outcome, but he looked uncharacteristically deflated. His notion of grand trade-offs between rich and poor counties ran square into Bolton’s zero-sum negotiations. A San Francisco moment this was not.

With the summit ingloriously concluded, the focus of the world’s diplomats and the press that covers them turned across town. Over sushi at the swanky Nobu restaurant and wine receptions at the Museum of Modern Art, they celebrated Bill Clinton’s new Clinton Global Initiative to help lift developing countries from poverty. But back in the far less comfortable confines of the UN building, the difficult task of implementing the reforms still lay ahead. And, once again, Bolton complicated that task. He did not recalibrate strategy by, say, teaming up with allies to strong-arm countries that are hostile to shared reform priorities. Rather, he set up a confrontation with the very same countries that might have been our best partners in the implementation of those reforms.

Bolton achieved this feat just a few short weeks before the December 31 deadline by threatening to withhold U.S. support for the UN’s $3.9 billion budget. Since the 1980s, the UN’s biennial budget has been adopted by consensus, a system encouraged by none other than the Reagan administration to ensure that poor countries could not frivolously increase the budget, the bulk of which is paid for by a handful of wealthy nations. Now that fear has been reversed: The UN’s largest contributor is threatening to use the consensus process to block the UN’s budget. Bolton has argued against passing the new biennial budget which begins January 6, without implementing management reforms that are generally opposed by the G-77 bloc of developing countries and favored by Annan and the Western world. Instead, he proposed an interim budget that would last a few months, during which time he would be able to push through the managerial reforms.

The reforms that Bolton advocates are badly needed; they would at once streamline the UN’s ossified bureaucracy and expand the office of the secretary-general to ensure greater accountability and oversight on the part of UN programs. Bolton, however, is alone in the view that the budget need be delayed until these reforms are passed. Annan and his staff forcefully oppose any budgetary postponement—as does virtually every other UN member state. On November 30, The New York Times reported that Warren Sach, assistant secretary-general and controller of the UN, said that Bolton’s interim budget would give the UN a deficit of $320 million in the first quarter of 2006. Among the options to close the deficit is taking money from the separate peacekeeping budget. “This place does not run on air,” he lamented. Should an interim budget be adopted, the United Nations would have to significantly curtail expenditures for the first quarter.

Bolton’s budget proposal was also the subject of a rare public dispute between the United States and one of its closest allies at the UN. On November 23, Britain’s habitually soft-spoken UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, openly rebuffed Bolton’s overture to have Britain join him in opposing the budget. “We are not in favor of holding any individual items or the budget hostage to other issues,” he announced. Echoing his concern was the UN’s second-largest financial contributor and staunch advocate of managerial reforms, Japan, which contributes 19 percent of the total UN operating budget. Not to worry: As one South American diplomat dryly ridicules, “[Bolton] can probably still bring along his usual allies—Palau and the Marshall Islands.”

* * *

In announcing the president’s nomination of bolton, then the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Secretary Rice donned a happy face. Despite her enthusiastic exterior, though, this moment would mark the start of a new phase in their rocky relationship—one in which Rice shadowed the heavy-handed Bolton with her own lighter diplomatic touch.

Indeed, it was Rice, not Bolton, who achieved the one significant success of Bolton’s first 100 days at the United Nations: a unanimous October 30 Security Council vote requiring Syria to fully cooperate with a UN investigation into the suspected Syria-sponsored assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Prospect has learned that in the days and weeks leading up to the late October UN report on Hariri’s assassination, Rice sought to sideline Bolton from the negotiations over the Security Council resolution that the report inspired. She also made the State Department, not the U.S. Mission to the UN, the central address for discussions on the resolution.

One of the first signs that a bureaucratic battle was brewing between Bolton and Rice over Syria came on October 18, when the State Department press corps was shocked to find that Rice had unexpectedly flown to New York to meet Annan. A State Department spokesman explained that the two met to “compare notes” in advance of a widely anticipated report by Detlev Mehlis, the secretary-general’s special investigator for the Hariri assassination. Yet Bolton, the man in charge of the United States’ day-to-day operations at the UN, was conspicuously absent from that meeting. In what appears to have been less of an accident than a matter of intentional timing, Rice made her trip to New York on the very morning that Bolton had to be in Washington, testifying before the Senate on the progress (or lack thereof) of UN reforms.

The Prospect has further learned that, rather than forging Security Council strategy with America’s European allies at the UN building in New York, much of the diplomatic legwork has been carried out in Foggy Bottom. On October 22, a French delegation from the UN traveled to Washington for initial discussions on the Syria resolution (later called Security Council Resolution 1636), of which the French were the original authors. According to a diplomatic source, Bolton was not initially invited to that meeting. The French, however, insisted on his presence. So Bolton attended, but not without three chaperones: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, Welch’s deputy (and vice-presidential daughter) Elizabeth Cheney, and National Security Council Middle East chief Michael Doran. “It’s like they stuck a strong team from the [State Department and National Security Council] to watch him,” said the diplomat.

Despite Rice’s tight oversight of the resolution negotiations, the unanimity of the council was still in doubt one day before the Security Council meeting. Finally, in a last-minute lunch meeting with her foreign-minister counterparts from the veto-wielding permanent five Security Council members, Rice personally removed references to sanctions that had been inserted by the United States. With those obstacles to unanimous consent gone, Resolution 1636 passed 15 to 0.

Rice’s involvement came after Bolton had won round one in the Syria battle. Bolton and Rice’s bureaucratic tiffs over Syria had actually boiled over two weeks prior to the Security Council vote. Journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, writing in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, reported -- and the Prospect has independently confirmed -- that Bolton had leaked to British newspapers that the Bush administration had signaled its willingness to offer Syria a “Libya-style deal” -- a reference to Libyan President Muammar Quaddafi’s decision last year to give up pursuing weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism in return for a restoration of relations with the United States and the United Kingdom. According to The Times of London, Syria responded positively to the secret U.S. offer, which was made through a third party. But after Bolton publicly aired the details of the potential deal -- which would require Syria to cooperate with the Mehlis investigation, end interference in Lebanese affairs and alleged interference in Iraqi affairs, and cease supporting militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah—Damascus quickly denied that such a deal was in the offing.

“It is no secret that Mr. Bolton and Dr. Rice are not the closest friends,” a well-placed UN official told the Prospect. “Indeed, I’ve heard it said that the main reason he came here was that she didn’t want him in Foggy Bottom.” The animosity between the two is, in fact, well established, as they locked horns on Iran. On April 18, 2005, The Washington Post reported that Bolton let Rice go on her first trip to Europe as secretary of state without briefing her on European opposition to his one-man campaign to seek the ouster of the International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei was a popular diplomat -- and would later win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work -- but Bolton thought ElBaradei was too “soft” on Iran.

Rice was playing hardball with Bolton, too. During the first Bush term, Bolton had effectively blocked U.S. support for a French, German, and British plan for confronting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Soon after Rice moved to Foggy Bottom, she sought to keep Bolton out of key policy discussions about Iran. In June, The Washington Post reported that Rice sought to keep secret from Bolton a meeting of French, British, German, and American officials who flew to Washington for a “brainstorming session on Iran.” Of the Iran meeting a European diplomat told the Post, “It was the American side that didn’t want him there.”

* * *

Bolton has consistently portrayed himself as a man on a mission: to save the UN from itself. But for all his reformist rhetoric, he continues with his wrecking-ball ways, knocking down America’s alliances while our diplomatic adversaries only stand more firmly.

Bolton’s tenure at the United Nations will last at least until his recess appointment concludes in January 2007, and until then we can expect to see more of the same. On November 14, Bolton treated the Jesse Helms Center at Wingate University, 35 miles east of Charlotte, North Carolina, to a lecture on UN reform. The venue could not have been more appropriate: During his long and destructive reign as the Republican leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms was the Senate’s chief UN antagonist-in-residence (a title that now belongs to Minnesota’s Norm Coleman). Helms was a key booster of Bolton early in his career: Bolton began his public service as Helms’ aide, and the two share a warm -- some might say eternal -- relationship. During Bolton’s 2001 confirmation hearing as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Helms famously referred to him as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon.”

As the featured “Jesse Helms Lecture Series” speaker, it was Bolton’s turn to return the favor. He launched into a point-by-point critique of the United Nations that took one of Helms’ most famous invectives against the world body -- that it is full of “crybabies [who] whine about not receiving enough of American taxpayers’ money” -- one giant rhetorical step further. “Being practical, Americans say that we either need to fix the institution or we’ll turn to some other mechanism to solve international problems,” Bolton told the audience. Two days later, he clarified his remarks for the Financial Times. “The UN is simply one of many competitors in the global marketplace for problem solutions and problem solvers,” he told reporter Mark Turner. “If it is not good at solving problems, Americans will look to some other institution; some other organization; some other framework.”

As if in a nod toward diplomacy, he added that he hoped that those who want a stronger UN would “see the logic of our argument.” But his remarks to another British reporter just one week prior were probably more to the point. After listening to a tirade from Bolton against ine∞ciency, corruption, and supposed anti-Americanism at the UN during a private dinner, a Sunday Telegraph reporter in the audience asked him what he enjoyed most about the UN, to which Bolton replied, “It’s a target-rich environment.”

Mark Leon Goldberg is a Prospect writing fellow.

Thoughts on the Eve of Leaving Syria

I will be leaving Syria in two days as my Fulbright year comes to an end. My family and I will return to Norman, Oklahoma, where I teach after spending a few weeks in Washington DC with family. Many have asked what will happen to "Syria Comment." It will continue.

I will have to count on the comment section, the many people who I have gotten to know this year, and Syrians who write for "Syria Comment" to keep up the local-color content. I will do my best. I am very sad to be leaving Damascus and my wife’s extended family here. The last few weeks have been full of going away dinners and visits from friends and family.

Damascus is an exciting and cosmopolitan city, full of life and interesting people. So much has happened this year - the murder of Hariri, the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the Mehlis report and the many ups and downs of public emotions as Syria has become increasingly isolated and vilified in the international press. But there have also been many happy stories. Syria is following two tracks in its foreign policy - one to resist and another to comply with foreign pressure. In many ways these two tracks express public opinion and the deep divide among officials and non-officials alike over how Syria should shape its future.

Debate among Syrians over how to break out of their isolation and stimulate the government to change is very much alive. There is wide-spread and deep frustration with the slow pace of reform and inability or unwillingness of the President to articulate a clear vision for the future of the country. Many people try to block politics out of their minds because of the corruption and because they are treated like sheep. They prefer to focus on their daily concerns, but this is next to impossible. The fate of the country hangs in the balance. The government does not communicate with the nation. There is no transparency and the regime has little ability to renew itself. All the same, people have not given up hope that the better elements in government will somehow win out. Syrians have a surprising faith in the state.

Many Syrians understand what must be done to move forward and are courageous enough to keep pushing against the dead weight of tradition and bad policy. Many of these work within the system. They constantly make compromises with what they know to be right, but they also have a keen sense of how far they can be pushed and how to push back. It is these people who give me hope that Syria will find its way forward and not fall into total stagnation or slip towards obstinacy and extremism. Syria is at a cross-roads and one cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel or what the future will bring. One can only have faith that the wisdom of the people and their desire to join with the fun and productive aspects of life will triumph in the end.

I spent several years living in Syria during the 1980s - a time of extremism, when Syria was almost completely shut off from the world. Today, Syria is dramatically different from what it was then. Intellectual life has opened up tremendously and the public is engaged with the great debates of the time. Extremism is not in the ascendant.

Damascus itself has been transformed. It is a fun city today with hundreds of excellent restaurants, coffee houses, and dance clubs. There is a national orchestra and dance troop. The different sects, always leery and distrusting of each other, come together in ever greater interaction in schools, neighborhoods, government offices and the work place. Even though inter-sectarian marriages are still difficult and sometimes made impossible by public pressure, the younger generation is marrying out in ever greater numbers. In the 1980s, there were no good restaurants in town; the youth were bored out of their minds, even as they were more polite and obedient to their parents and tradition. Today, youth culture rules, whether on TV or on the streets.

Syrian TV producers and actors are coming into their own, spreading a brand of subversive humor and self-mocking political satire that can only be healthy. The dominant discourse of the middle class is liberal and open-minded. Many, particularly among the lower middle classes, have adopted an outward piety as a means of resisting and thumbing their noses at the rampant corruption of society and stagnation of government - but this retreat to piety and purity will not inevitably lead to political extremism. Most Syrian imams are forthright in their rejection of Salafism and sectarianism. They are not liberal by western standards, but they are not extremists by Middle Eastern standards. The most respected imams in Syria understand that the only way forward for the country is by building greater understanding between the sects, even as they cling obstinately to the absolutism of their own revealed truths. Relativism, which all liberalism is founded on, is only beginning to find its way into mainstream discourse, but it is filtering in from a hundred different directions as the country opens up.

These are positive things. Perhaps, in the long run, they will be more important than the thuggishness and monopolistic aspects of the security state and the deep divisions within Syrian society that have produced it. The desire to learn, to make money, to be part of the larger world, and above all, to have fun, may just win out over fear and close-mindedness. The Syrian government has many different faces, which reflect the contradictory tendencies of the society over which it rules. It is not monolithic, although, it may seem so from the outside. These divisions are reflected in the character of president himself. Many Syrians, both in and out of the government, are dreaming about and pushing for a better and more liberal future for their country. After living here this year, I cannot help but feel they will triumph.

Here is my BBC World Tonight program on mp3 about the Tueni killing and Mehlis report.

Stacey at al-Hiwar kindly points us to "Nadezhda's excellent and extremely well-organized overview of official responses, media coverage, and blogging related to the Tueni assassination. In that order, which is nice. Read: Lebanese Tremors, Syrian Earthquake?"

A reader writes:

I used to be an avid reader of your blog, but I have noticed that lately you've spiralled into the worst propaganda, reminiscent of the Soviets, or even better, the Iraqi Disinformation Minister!!

Your selection of articles on your blog, the systematic denigration of Mehlis and everything that could even imply the mildest accusation towards Syria is simply forgotten, thrown away. That is what we call selective memory.

For instance, when the poor Houssam Taher Houssam changed his testimony, you talked about it for several days, you found all the articles in the world that could support your opinion (there weren't too many). Yet you chose not to post on articles that gave evidence that Houssam Taher Houssam was coerced and manipulated to retract his testimony. You didn't report on the arrest of several close relatives of this guy in Syria prior to his surprise return to Syria. Why is that Joshua? Why have you decided to undermine your credibility and integrity?

Do you see now that your persistent blind defense of Bashar and his cronies has seriously undermined your credibility. Have you been reading all the blogs, whether by amateurs or political analysts, that have been ridiculing you?

I can only speculate on why you would have such a change of hearts :

1. You live in Syria, and have been gently "suggested" to correct your tone of voice, by friendly Syrians.
2. You are married to a lovely Syrian lady, and would do anything in the world to convince the world that sanctions or military action is the wrong thing to do, since it would hit so close to home.

In any case, I do hope that you will realise that your latest posts in the past few months, has forced a lot of readers to leave your site, and has only attracted the worst flies over.

Kind regards, CV
Two excllent commentaries on Lebanese-Syrian relations can be found in the Daily Star. One by Rami Khouri "From Detlev Mehlis, a final warning"

Two nearly simultaneous events on Monday in Beirut and New York both complicated and clarified the increasingly tense diplomatic relationships that now bind Lebanon, Syria, the United States and the United Nations Security Council in something akin to a dance of death. However, it's not clear who is in the most danger. Continue

The other by Michael Young: Defeat them with the truth. The Daily Star also has the following article about the US's call to keep increasing the pressure on Syria.

U.S. calls for 'increasing pressure' on Syria

By Leila Hatoum and Majdoline Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BEIRUT: The U.S. called on Tuesday for "increasing the pressure" on Syria, hours before the United Nations Security Council was to convene to discuss the latest report from Chief Investigator Detlev Mehlis on the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said: "We believe it's important when the Security Council discusses this report that they continue to keep the pressure, and increase the pressure, on Syria."

He added: "We are disturbed by the information in Mehlis' report in noting that Syria has, at times, obstructed the progress of the investigation and misled investigators ... That is not cooperation."

Mehlis, who has said he will step down as the head of the probe on Thursday, indicated once more in his second report that Syria had a role in Hariri's assassination and accused it of "hindering the investigations."

He further demanded that Syria arrest or "detain Syrian officials or individuals whom the international probe considers as suspects," including five high ranking officials interrogated in Vienna last week.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted Mehlis had pointed out the Syrians "have begun to cooperate and there is some way to go yet" before thinking of sanctions against Damascus.

The council had demanded, through Resolution 1636, Syria cooperate with the investigation or face "further action."

But Syrian Ambassador to the UN Faisal Mekdad said late Monday that "Syria has extended full cooperation to Mehlis and the international probe."

The Security Council is expected to pass a resolution to extend the probe's mandate for an additional six months, after an official request from Lebanon.

A replacement has yet to be found to head the Hariri investigation. However, Mehlis has said he will lead the UN probe during the transitional period, before returning to his post as prosecutor general in Berlin.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton was confident Monday that "we will accede to the request of the government of Lebanon to extend the life of the Commission for six months.

"As you know we've been actively seeking Mehlis' successor for when he leaves the commission. Obviously once the commission's life is formally extended for six months the imperative of finding a well-qualified successor as soon as possible is right at the top of the agenda."

France also expressed its willingness to expand the inquiry to include other assassinations in Lebanon, including that of MP Gebran Tueni, who died in a massive explosion early Monday.

"If there is a request coming from the Lebanese government, my delegation will support such a request, and we will do our best to have the council going in the same direction," said French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese judiciary has questioned journalist Fares Khashan regarding his connection to a Syrian witness who recanted his testimony to the UN probe and claimed to have been coerced into indicting Lebanese and Syrian officers and officials.

Syrian witness Houssam Taher Houssam, who is currently being detained by Syria, said last month Khashan had pressured him to make false statements to the UN probe.

Houssam's lawyer said Tuesday his client is ready to meet human rights groups to show he was not forced to recant his testimony, in refute of suggestions made by Mehlis in his report.

Attorney Oumran Zohbi said the charges were "pure fabrication. I assure everyone that everything in the Mehlis report about pressure applied on Houssam and the arrest of his kin is completely untrue."

Since the report's release, Syrian media has attacked those in Lebanon who accuse Damascus of ordering Hariri's murder.

State newspaper Tishrin said Tuesday the Mehlis report was "full of gaps" and said "the prattlers, who hallucinate through the media, are mistaken if they imagine that Syria, strong and solid, will be perturbed by reports of an investigator littered with erroneous and fabricated details, of invented 'proof' and false witnesses." - With agencies

Also see: Security Council mulls action on Syria and Jumblatt demands new Syrian regime

Professor Eyal Zisser,

a Lebanon and Syria expert from the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, said while Syria will be blamed by all, it is impossible to know who was behind the bombings.

"There are many in Lebanon who would be interested in Tueni's death," said Zisser, mentioning Lebanese President Emil Lahoud as one possibility. "The Syrians would be stupid to do this on the day of the latest Mehlis report is released. But they are also the big winners from this because Tueni was Syria's biggest enemy. "

The latest assassination follows a string of earlier assassinations and attempts to kill journalists and parliamentarians who opposed the Syrian presence and control over Lebanon.

However, according to Zisser, the latest attack is unlikely to have much of an effect on Syria, which is already in hot water from the release Monday of the latest Mehlis report to the UN Security Council.

The report, said Zisser, raises the level of pressure on Syria for its alleged involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The Syrians, he said, are playing for time, hoping that they can withstand the increasing pressure as the US gets deeper embroiled in the conflict in Iraq.

Syrians are cracking down on Jihadists according to a Syrian Official

Syrian authorities arrest 12 members of terror organization

A US official has told Asharq Al-Awsat that Damascus international airport remains one of the main points of entry for Arab insurgents on their way to Iraq. Syrian sources confirmed that Syrian authorities have arrested 12 members of a terrorist organization that targets US and European interests in the Middle East.

Syrian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that amongst the detainees are two Iraqis, three Saudis, a Yemeni and two Kuwaitis, one of whom is a member of the Kuwaiti security forces. The source highlighted that the detainees were highly trained and were supported by a strong financial network in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries.

The Syrian source that spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said that Syria allows all Arabs to enter due to the country's dependency on revenue gained from tourism. The source further highlighted that Arabs that enter the country are treated the same was as Syrians and that it is not in the country's interest to change a policy that it has been following for 40 years.

The source referred to the increase in measures taken by the Syrian authorities on the Iraqi-Syrian border to curb those trying to infiltrate Iraq to carry out terrorist activities. It added that Syrian efforts have so far led to the arrest and deportation of 1325 people. This number includes 299 Jordanians, 86 Libyans, 163 Algerians, 155 Tunisians, 119 Yemenis, 60 Lebanese, 71 Sudanese, 263 Saudis, 35 Moroccans, 22 Egyptians, 8 Omanis, 5 Mauritanians, 3 Bahrainis, four UAE citizens, six Kuwaitis, nine Palestinians, one Somali, two Iraqis, two Turks, and two Pakistanis.

The source reported that approximately 4000 Syrians have unsuccessfully attempted to leave the country for Iraq that has led to their arrest and questioning. The source added that 764 fundamentalists are still held and that investigations have indicated that most are members of terrorist networks some of which intended to carry out terrorist attacks in France, Germany and the United States.

The US state department confirmed to Asharq al-Awsat that this information has been received from Syrian authorities; however, it could not verify that arrests have been made. [Asharq Al-Awsat]

Rice accuses Syria, Iran of attempts to torpedo upcoming Iraq elections
WASHINGTON, Dec 13 (KUNA) -- "Now, some of Iraq's neighbors are showing themselves to be no friend of the Iraqi people," Rice said in a speech two days before the elections, as part of the US Administration's campaign to regain public confidence.

Rice said despite the international community's calls on Damascus to stop the infiltration of terrorist into Iraq, Syria is still taking no "sufficient" action to control its border.

She also lashed out at Iran for what she called Tehran's continued support for violence in Iraq.

"Syria has still not taken sufficient action to stop the terrorists who cross into Iraq from its territory. And Iran continues to meddle in Iraqi affairs and to support violence in Iraqi society," she said.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Group Claims Tueni Killing

Syria: Group Claims Tueni Killing
December 12, 2005 15 05 GMT

The previously unknown group, Strugglers for the Unity and Freedom of the Levant, claimed responsibility for the assassination of Lebanese legislator and critic of Syria, Gebran Tueni, in a faxed statement to Reuters on Dec. 12. The statement says the same consequences would result for other "opponents of Arabism in Lebanon" and that Tueni had not stopped his criticism despite "warnings sent time and again." The group referenced Tueni's newspaper An-Nahar, saying that Tueni's pen was "broken," and that the paper was "transformed into a very dark night."

Lebanon pro-Syria ministers suspend government role
12 Dec 2005 21:28:32 GMT

BEIRUT, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Five pro-Syrian Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim ministers and an ally of the president said on Monday they were suspending participation in the cabinet after it voted to call for a U.N. inquiry into a series of political killings.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had called for the urgent session hours after the killing of anti-Syrian lawmaker and newspaper magnate Gebran Tueni in a car bomb in Beirut.

"This is not a resignation from the government but a suspension of membership in the cabinet while awaiting a decision from our political leadership," Hizbollah Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish told reporters.

"We object to the principle of internationalising all Lebanese files ... and abandoning (Lebanon's) sovereignty," he added.

The government called on the United Nations to form a tribunal of an "international character" to try suspects in the Feb. 14 killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. It also asked the council to investigate all attacks in Lebanon over the past 14 months.

The Shi'ite ministers include Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Hizbollah's Labour Minister Trad Hamadeh and two ministers from the Shi'ite Amal group.

The non-Shi'ite is Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf, a Christian who is close to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

US Calls for Release of Syrian Dissident Labwani, all Prisoners of Conscience

Washington: No Bargaining over Lebanon with the Assad Regime

Syrian Forces Disperse Kurdish Demo on Human Rights Day

Mehlis Again Says Syria Was Behind Lebanon Assassination

Investigator Says Syria Was Behind Lebanon Assassination
Published: December 12, 2005

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 12 - The German prosecutor conducting the United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon said today that fresh evidence reinforced his earlier judgment that Syria's intelligence services were behind the killing and that Syrian officials were obstructing his investigation.

Detlev Mehlis, the leader of the inquiry, said in his second report to the Security Council on the February killing that his investigation had gathered a wealth of new and specific evidence.

His report said the information "points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, handling of improvised explosive devices, a pattern of threats against targeted individuals and planning of other criminal activities."

Mr. Mehlis said that investigators had been continually slowed by "arduous discussions and considerable delay due to procedural maneuvering and sometimes contradictory feedback from the Syrian authorities."

The 25-page report endorsed a request from the government of Lebanon for a six-month extension of its work, saying that more time was necessary "given the slow pace with which the Syrian authorities are beginning to discharge their commitments."

Though Mr. Mehlis himself is stepping down, as planned, this week to return to his work in the Berlin prosecutor's office, the Security Council is expected to approve the extension, possibly as soon as Tuesday, when it is scheduled to be briefed by him.

The United Nations is actively looking for a successor to Mr. Mehlis, said the spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.

Mr. Hariri, a Lebanese politician opposed to Syrian domination of his country, was killed along with 22 others when a bomb exploded as his convoy was moving along a street in downtown Beirut on Feb. 14.

Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement and claimed that it was cooperating with Mr. Mehlis.

The commission said it had now taken testimony from more than 500 witnesses, some of them people with significant new information on the killing. It said it had identified 19 suspects whom it suspected of direct participation in the crime or in "deliberate attempts to mislead the investigation as to its perpetrators."

It did not name them.

The report said that two witnesses had confirmed that all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned. The commission said it found that no material regarding the assassination of Mr. Hariri remained in the Syrian files.

The report said the commission had 93 people working on the case and was "in close association" with Interpol and compiling an extensive tracking database essential for corroborating leads.

It said that a series of bombings in Lebanon since the Hariri assassination had not been part of its investigation. But it said it had uncovered new evidence that a high-level Syrian official supplied arms and ammunition to people in Lebanon to stage terrorist attacks "in order to create public disorder in response to any accusations of Syrian involvement in the Hariri assassination."

Throughout the report, the commission cited situations where Syrian cooperation had been minimal and it praised, by contrast, the help given by Lebanese authorities

In a passage questioning Syria's commitment but extending to Damascus a further opportunity to prove its good intent, the report said that Syria should "respond to the commission in a timely way, fully and conditionally, before it is determined whether it is complying in full with the provisions of Resolution 1636."

That resolution, passed by 15-to-0 vote on Oct. 31, compelled Syria to stop obstructing the United Nations investigation and cooperate "fully and unconditionally" or face unspecified "further action."

Though the final text of the resolution dropped explicit threats of economic sanctions, it was adopted under the rubric of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which gives the Council the power to impose punishment, including international economic measures and the use of military force.

The Mehlis commission said it had developed evidence that the truck that may have carried the bomb was stolen in Japan and then shipped to Lebanon via the United Arab Emirates. It said that Japanese and Emirati authorities were assisting the probe.

It said it had discovered "stark evidence" of how thoroughly Syrian intelligence undertook widespread surveillance operations in Lebanon that included close monitoring of Mr. Hariri and wiretapping of his telephone conversations.

Four high-level officials of the Lebanese security and intelligence services arrested this fall remain in custody, and additional evidence against them has been gathered, the report said.

It said that Syria was apparently keeping two key witnesses, Ziad Ramadan and Khaled Midhat Taha, from the commission and had resisted requests to make them available.

It confirmed that it had questioned five prime suspects at United Nations offices in Vienna last week and said a sixth interview had been postponed. That person is widely believed to be Asef Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief, who is the brother- in- law of President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. Shawkat's name appeared in a final draft of the original Mehlis report, published on Oct. 20, which concluded that there was "converging evidence" that the Hariri killing was a carefully planned terrorist act organized by high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers. The report was edited at the last moment for legal reasons to remove names.

The new report noted that Syria had set up its own judicial investigation but in a strong suggestion that Mr. Mehlis viewed this as a diversionary measure, it warned that the Syrian effort "cannot invalidate or substitute for" its own work.

Damascus has in the past month conducted a campaign to discredit the Mehlis commission with Syrian state television repeatedly broadcasting an interview with a Syrian witness, Husam Taher Husam, who recanted his testimony and said he had been bribed to incriminate Syrian leaders.

Mr. Mehlis said he viewed this as "at the least, an attempt to hinder the investigation internally and procedurally."

Gebran Tueni is Murdered. Is Syria to Blame?

The Tueni murder has caused grief and shock throughout the region. The dominant interpretation in the West and Lebanon has been articulated by Walid Jumblat. He said that Syria murdered Tueni and is upping the ante to send a message to the Lebanese and world community that if Syria is pressed to the wall, it will strike back.

From Washington’s perspective, increasing the pressure on Syria has worked better than anyone could have imagined. The US drove the Syrian army from Lebanon at a very small price. Some 40 Lebanese were killed over the last year. This was perhaps the least bloody and least expensive liberation of a country in history. On November 10, President Asad also announced that the Syrian government would accept any decision that the Palestine Authority takes for the future of Palestine-Israeli relations. American pressure has also brought great dividends on the Iraq-Syria border. Condoleezza Rice commented to David Ignatius a few weeks ago that Syria has been doing much better on border security - an opinion that has been repeated by Iraqi officials and frequently corroborated by articles written for Syria Comment.

Despite these gains, Washington will not negotiate with Bashar al-Asad or give up its policy of increasing pressure on Damascus. Many European ambassadors in Damascus believe this is a foolish policy. A few have expressed to me that now is the time to bring in the crop. “The wheat is heavy on the stalk and ready for harvest,” one ambassador suggested to me. There are many signs that Syria has been thrashing about for an understanding with Washington but has been unable to get a positive response. But why should Washington stike a deal with a regime it detests and it has vilified when it can get what it wants through applying more pressure? Washington sees no reason to open a dialog with Damascus. It believes that Bashar is the problem, that he is a Baathist ideologue who does not keep his word. He will always backtrack on his promises, etc. Moreover, Washington refuses to return to the type of understanding it maintained with Syria during the days of Hafiz al-Asad, putting up with some of Syria's anti-American and anti-Israel behavior in order to win its assistance on the things most important to the US.

Some in Washington have been arguing that the US make it clear to Syria that Iraq is its primary concern and sit down with Bashar to hammer out an understanding for getting the most help it can on Iraq. This would imply Washington’s recognition of his leadership and force it off the war path with Syria. This council has not found favor. Anyway, why stop ratcheting up the pressure on Syria when it has proven so lucrative and so cheap.

The problem with continuing with the pressure, in the minds of some, is that eventually Syria will lash out, making it clear that it will not continue to give for free. Damascus will eventually be forced to make it clear to Washington that pressure does not pay and will backfire. Has Damascus reached that point? With the murder of Tueni, those who blame Syria will claim Damascus has reached its tipping point. It will no longer play the game of accommodating the West in the hope of coming to some accord, which is illusive.

One Syria who has had run ins with the police here speculated to me that perhaps the Tueni murder is a sign that the Syrian regime is divided. He described an imaginary scenario in which the security chiefs, who are being targeted for arrest by Mehlis, ordered the attack to force the President’s hand and ensure a forceful UN Security Council reaction, which would be followed by an equally forceful Syrian counter-reaction. By forcing the UN to get tough with Syria, Syria’s president would be forced to stop cooperation with the UN. This might save the 5 suspects from being handed over to an international court and imprisonment. But this is all speculation. Undoubtedly it will be the sort of speculation that runs far and wide.

No one is Syria can figure out why the murder would be carried out now unless it was committed by an enemy of Syria. Why would the Damascus government possible kill Tueni on the eve of the Security Council meeting that might lead to economic sanctions being placed on Syria? It just doesn’t make sense.

Are there other suspects besides Syria? Many Syrians suspect Israel, but why would Israel kill one of its best allies in Lebanon?

Could it be Hizbullah? Three days ago a senior Hizbullah leader was almost blown up in his car. Hizbullah accused Israel of carrying out the murder, but that does not mean it believes Israel was the author. It is hard to believe that Hizbullah would be behind Tueni's murder. Why strike out at a symbol and not a politician. Anyway, Hizbullah does not have a record of assassinating fellow Lebanese. With Mehlis caring out his UN mandated investigation, such acts of reckless retribution would be extremely risky. All the same, the confessional divide in Lebanon have been growing ever deeper. Over the last months the Shiite community and the Hariri led, anti-Syria movement have grown further apart. Hizbullah has announced it is against the formation of an international court to try the suspects of the Mehlis investigation. Hariri and Siniora are for it.

Most importantly, Hizbullah has threatened to place a spanner in the works of debt rescheduling conference which is coming up soon. It has already been delayed once and may be again. Washington is expected to reward Lebanon by putting up a some money, but more importantly, by getting Saudi Arabia to put up a lot of money to help reschedule Lebanon's towering national debt. Hizbullah has been making noises that it will oppose these reform measures so long as the United States pushes resolution 1559, which targets Hizbullah. In effect, the Shiites are saying that the US does not have the luxury of deciding which half of Lebanon it wishes to support and ally with. Hizbullah has surprised many with its continuing pro-Syrian stand as the Mehlis processes has moved forward. This puts growing strains on internal unity in Lebanon and opens the possibility that such strains could be behind the Tueni murder. All the same, Hizbullah is not a likely suspect. It just doesn’t smell of Hizbullah’s modus operandi.

Saad Hariri has not returned to Lebanon from his self imposed exile for fear of meeting the same fate as his father. Two days ago, Michael Young wrote an op-ed demanding that he come home and take charge of uniting Lebanon and coordinating its struggle against Syria. After Tueni’s death, Hariri’s return will be all the more important for Lebanon, but all the more risky for Hariri. Lebanon is beginning to look ever more unstable and incapable of putting its own house together. Certainly, the Lebanese security forces have proven they are unable to protect their country’s most outspoken luminaries. Gebran Tueni will leave a great void.

Gebran Tueni Perishes in Massive Car Bomb Explosion Near Beirut
Gebran Tueni, a fiery critic of Syria, was assassinated in a car-bomb explosion in Mkalles, east of Beirut Monday. He was 48....

4-Car bomb kills anti-Syrian MP Tueni in Beirut

BEIRUT, Dec 12 (Reuters) - A car bomb blast killed Lebanese newspaper magnate and anti-Syrian lawmaker Gebran Tueni in Beirut on Monday, a day after he returned from Paris, where he had based himself in recent months in fear of assassination.

Police said Tueni, publisher of An-Nahar newspaper, was among four people who died in the explosion that destroyed his armoured sports utility vehicle as it was driving in the Mekalis area of mainly Christian east Beirut. Ten people were wounded.

At least three people inside his car were killed, their bodies charred beyond recognition, witnesses said.

Police sources said a parked car packed with 40 kg (88 pounds) of dynamite was detonated by remote control as Tueni's car passed by.

Tueni was killed just hours before the U.N. Security Council was due to receive a report by chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis, who has been trying to identify those behind the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

An interim report by Mehlis in October said the evidence pointed towards the involvement of Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in Hariri's killing. Syria denies this.

Lebanese Druze leader and politician Walid Jumblatt told Arab satellite television channels that Tueni's killing was linked to the Mehlis report and suggested Syria was behind it.

Asked who was responsible, he told Al Arabiya television: "Gebran Tueni and An-Nahar were being threatened for a long time by the Syrian regime... we got the message. We will persevere."

Jumblatt said: "They killed Gebran Tueni today because Mehlis will present his report today. This is a message to the international community and the Lebanese community."


Syria condemned the latest attack in Lebanon, which has been rocked by more than a dozen bombings and assassinations since the car bomb blast that killed Hariri and 22 others.

"Syria denounces this crime that claimed the lives of Lebanese, irrespective of their political stances," Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah told LBC television.

A statement carried by Syria's official news agency SANA said the bombing was timed "to direct accusations at Syria".

The blast set several cars ablaze and damaged nearby shops and buildings. Police and soldiers cordoned off the area as rescue workers ferried casualties to hospitals.

Tueni, 48, a fierce critic of Syria's policies in Lebanon who was elected to parliament this year, said in August he believed he was on a hit-list for assassination.

He had spent much of his time since then in Paris, but was believed to have returned to Beirut late on Sunday.

"Lebanese officials received accurate information from the international investigation committee about an assassination list of several politicians," he told the Arabic-language Radio Orient in Paris in August. "My name is on top of this list."

Tueni's uncle, Druze Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, survived an attempt on his life in 2004.

Tueni was publisher, chairman of the board and general manager of Lebanon's leading newspaper An-Nahar. A columnist at the daily, Samir Kassir, who also criticised Syrian policies, was killed by a bomb in his car in June.

Tueni was married, with four daughters.

Syria says Beirut blast aimed at framing Damascus

DAMASCUS, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Syria said a bomb blast that killed an anti-Syrian politician in Beirut on Monday was an attempt to frame Damascus and damage its reputation.
In a statement carried by the official Syrian news agency, Syria denounced the "bombing that took place in the Mekalis suburb of Beirut ... whose timing is intended to direct accusations to Syria".

"Syria is pained over the bombings and assassinations that target the security of Lebanon," said the news agency.

A car bomb killed staunch anti-Syrian member of parliament and journalist Gebran Tueni. Three other people died and 10 were wounded in the explosion that blew up Teuni's armoured SUV in mainly Christian east Beirut.

Lebanese politicians have accused Syria of involvement in a chain of assassinations of Lebanese political and media figures since the Feb. 14 truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

An initial United Nations probe implicated Syria in the assassination of Hariri. Syria, which was the main power broker in is smaller neighbour until April when it ended three decades of military presence in Lebanon, denies any role in any killing.

The following was sent by Ehsani2

Bashar just gave an interview to Russia's state Television. He warned that "The Middle East is the heart of the world, and Syria is the heart of the Middle East. If the situation in Syria and Iraq is not good, the whole region will become unstable and the entire world will pay for that". Asked whether he will be ready to hand in his relatives if they are named, he said "It is not names that matter but proof. We don't accept politicizing the probe. There is a certain political situation around the commission that disorganizes its work".

Present at the Disintegration
December 11, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor to NY Times


What is wrong with pursuing the Constitution to its logical conclusion: the breakup of Iraq? Nothing, if that breakup is consensual and does not entail an escalation in the violence tearing the country apart. But such is not the case. The debate in Parliament over the Constitution was extremely polarized and artificially cut short by the majority. Moreover, if a mere 83,283 people in the province of Nineveh had voted no instead of yes, the draft constitution would have been defeated.

Sunni opposition to the new order will continue. Crushing it by force, as some Shiite hotheads in the Parliament's majority bloc are calling for, will be an extremely bloody business. Even if the long-term outcome of an all-out Iraqi civil war is not in doubt, the body count and destruction would make Lebanon's war look like a picnic. No moral person can condone the parliamentary majority that makes this happen.

The 2003 Iraq war has indeed brought about an irreversible transformation of politics and society in Iraq. But this transformation has not consolidated power, as the great revolutions of the past have tended to do (in France, Russia and even Iran), nor is it distributing power on an agreed upon and equitable basis, as happened after the American Revolution and as Iraqi liberal democrats like myself had hoped would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Rather, it is dissipating it. And that is a terrifying prospect for a population whose primary legacy from the Saddam Hussein era is a profound mistrust of government in all its forms.

By ceding and dismissing centralized power, Iraqis may end by ceding all their power. Iran in the short run, and the Arab world in the long run, will fill the vacuum with proxies, turning the dream of a democratic and reborn Iraq into a dystopia of warring militias and rampant hopelessness.

Friday, December 09, 2005

News Round Up (Dec 11, 2005)

Syrians are again becoming anxious as Mehlis' second report goes to the UN tonight. If Syria is hit with sanctions it will be the worst of both worlds. The government will have cooperated, stalled and been socked with sanctions. The fall of the lira from 54 to a dollar to 59 has hit the confidence of Syrians hard. No other event has made people grumble as much as seeing their net worth go up in smoke. Despite Dardari's efforts to reassure Syrians that the pound is solid, no one is buying it. If there is a further devaluation, not only his credibility, but that of the regime will be badly hurt.

Syria slows sanctions momentum at U.N.
Saturday, December 10, 2005

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syria, reeling under international pressure just a few weeks ago for its alleged role in a Lebanese political assassination, has largely managed to blunt momentum toward sanctions. In the short term, at least, the United States and Syria seem to have settled into a wary standoff.

Points marked up in the Syrian column recently include a witness recanting damaging testimony he gave to the U.N. investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination, the decision by probe's chief investigator to quit rather than extend his tenure and a modicum of cooperation by Damascus as demanded by the United Nations, the United States and France.

And the United States, preoccupied with Iraq, does not seem to be eager to push Damascus too hard, fearing the destabilization of yet another Middle Eastern country.

But those pressing the case against the Syrians say Damascus has only temporarily blunted the investigation.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem on Saturday repeated Syria's innocence in Hariri's death and its promise of cooperation, saying any further international measures against Damascus would be "unjust and unjustified."

"They're not off the hook yet, but the pressure is not as great as it was before," said the British writer Patrick Seale, an expert on Syria. Syria also has benefited from Saudi mediation to ease the pressure on Damascus and the imbroglio over CIA rendition of terror suspects to special prisons in Central and Eastern Europe.

When the chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis submits his findings to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday, there is speculation that he may name as suspects senior Syrian officers - the former intelligence chief in Lebanon and his deputy - seek their arrest and demand more cooperation from President Bashar Assad's regime.

His report will be taken up this week by the U.N. Security Council, which also will decide whether to concede Lebanon's request to extend the commission's mandate for six more months beyond its Dec. 15 extension.

On Oct. 31, the Security Council warned Syria to cooperate with the probe or face further action - diplomatic parlance for sanctions. The threat was issued after Mehlis' first report implicated Syrian and allied Lebanese intelligence services in the murder.

Underscoring U.S. resolve, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the American delegation to the gathering of foreign ministers who took up the issue at the council then.

Mehlis, reportedly citing personal and other reasons related to his work as a prosecutor in Germany, has said he would step down after submitting his second report this week. But the Syrians and their allies appear to believe the decision stems from Mehlis' failure to find direct evidence in the investigation.

Syria's attempts to discredit the probe have managed to cast a shadow on the investigation's credibility - at least in the region.

"But if Mehlis comes up with something hard (on evidence), of course, the spotlight will shift back," Seale told The Associated Press from Paris.

Since the Security Council warning, Assad has promised Syria's cooperation, but that will stop - in his own words - if Syrian interests are harmed. Also working in Syria's favor is its ally, Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, which opposes sanctions.

"Certainly there is no question of sanctions for the moment, unless this (Mehlis) committee will come up with fresh witnesses and more convincing evidence," Seale said.

Instead, there is speculation of an undeclared deal by which senior Syrian officials would be spared the responsibility in the Beirut truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others, leaving lower-level officers as scapegoats.

"Something is in the works, which says that responsibility be limited to a certain level of Syrian officials and lower-ranking ones," the Lebanese political analyst Sarkis Naoum said.

The names of top Syrian officials - Assad's brother and his brother-in-law - were removed from the previous report in what was seen then as a U.N. attempt to soften the findings.

"The Syrians are suspects. Do you want to confront the whole regime, or do you want to contain the damage?" Naoum said on a popular talk show on LBC TV. The columnist in the leading An-Nahar daily said the Americans were not seeking regime change in Syria for now.

But that does not mean the United States will ease the pressure on Damascus or return to the status quo.

The Mehlis investigation is believed to have uncovered strong evidence implicating the Syrians - evidence that goes beyond that recanted by Husam Taher Husam, the Syrian intelligence operative. Mehlis, in comments Friday, said he was satisfied with the evidence he had and that the recanted statements will have no effect on the probe.

Syria's opponents warn that Damascus is running out of options. "The international noose is tightening," said the outspoken anti-Syrian politician Walid Jumblatt, "and the killers will fall one after the other."

Beirut-based correspondent Sam F. Ghattas has covered Lebanese and Mideast affairs since 1982.

Talks about Syria’s future show differences between Israel, U.S.
By Ron Kampeas
December 6, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (JTA) — When it comes to Syria today, Israel and the United States agree that President Bashar Assad is bad news.
The subject of Syria tomorrow, however, exposes differences between the allies.

The United States already is thinking about a post-Assad Syria as a building block in its efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East. But Israel fears Assad’s departure could make the situation even worse.

Israel does not regard the differences with the United States as urgent, since it doesn’t believe Assad is going anywhere soon. But the Bush administration’s hard line is jarring enough that the Israelis now raise the issue in the U.S.-Israel dialogue.

Israel raised three possible post-Assad scenarios at a strategic dialogue session with the United States last week, none of them good: chaos, an Islamist regime or another strongman from Assad’s minority Alawite sect who might roll back the few civil rights and economic reforms Assad has allowed.

The Americans at the meeting, led by Nicholas Burns, an undersecretary of state, dismissed the notions of an Islamist regime or chaos, according to various sources familiar with the meeting.

Instead, Burns said Assad’s departure could be “transformative.” He suggested it could even lead to elections, as happened in Lebanon when Syria finally ended its three-decade occupation earlier this year.

If another strongman takes Assad’s place, the Americans said they would regard it as just a temporary step until democracy comes about.

Burns’ comments were of a piece with recent hints that the administration could ratchet up pressure on Syria, including new sanctions. President Bush also has called on Syria to unconditionally release political prisoners.

“The Syrian government must cease its harassment of Syrians peacefully seeking to bring democratic reform to their country,” Bush said last month, language stronger than the more polite hints he has issued to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both U.S. allies, to do the same.

The pressure has rattled the Syrians.

“The Syrian people and the Syrian government are very worried because of the intransigent attitude of the United States administration toward Syria,” Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador, said last month on PBS’ “One on One” with John McLaughlin.

Moshe Maoz, a Hebrew University scholar considered Israel’s foremost Syria expert, marveled at the American confidence about a peaceful post-Assad Syria. Even if democracy does rise in Syria, there’s no way of predicting which party would emerge triumphant, Maoz said, considering how opaque Syrian society is and how fluid the situation would become.

“Who’s going to run for elections? Do they know?” he asked. “The question ‘what does America want from Syria,’ it’s not very clear.”

The Israelis are profoundly unhappy with Assad’s continued backing of Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and his headquartering of Palestinian terrorist groups in Damascus. But some Israeli analysts have suggested that the government prefers to have Assad in power because of his rogue status: If he were replaced by a more moderate leader, the thinking goes, Israel might be pressured to resume peace talks with Syria and return the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel also recognizes that Assad does give in under intense pressure, as evidenced by the Lebanon withdrawal.

Assad also has increased patrols along the Syria-Iraq border under threat of further sanctions, and this week allowed five top Syrian officials to cooperate with the U.N. investigation into the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister.

Assad could do more, Maoz said, but it makes sense for him not to give up everything immediately.

Holding back on concessions “is a card in his hands; he cannot give up his cards,” Maoz said. “There are no free lunches.”

What concerns Israelis is that nothing Assad does appears to dent the Bush administration’s determination to keep up the pressure. Asked by JTA about Syria, a State Department spokeswoman would only repeat months-old talking points: “Their cooperation is crucial with the U.N. investigation, they must take action on any use of their territory by the insurgency in Iraq.”

When it was noted that Syria now was cooperating with the U.N. inquiry and had taken some measures to secure the border with Iraq, the spokeswoman refused to comment further.

Another sign of Bush’s seriousness is his signing last month of a bill extending to Syria sanctions currently in place on Iran.

Bush has yet to fully use potential sanctions he has at hand from the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, and he might delay using the new sanctions. But their severity is an unmistakable signal: The new bill targets third parties and nations that deal with Syria, which could force countries to choose between the Syrian and U.S. economies, hardly a dilemma.

Maoz suggests a carrot-and-stick approach; Assad already has survived for five years, since his father died, which could mean he’s entrenched for the long run, Maoz said.

“There is always the possibility of changing the behavior of Bashar,” Maoz said. “Show him they mean business, bribe him, induce him.”

Making the case for Syria
Israel weighs Syria options

Michael Ledeen calls for "regime change" for Iran and Syria

President Bush is keeping up the pressure on Syria in preparation for the next interim Mehlis report by calling for greater democracy in Syria and restating that it is a place of un-freedom.

Bush urges Syria to release some prisoners
Sat Dec 10, 2005 4:20 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush, echoing a call made a month earlier, urged Syria on Saturday to immediately release opposition activist Kamal al-Labwani and at least eight other prisoners.

In a written statement, White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused Syria of denying opposition activists "the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression," and called for the harassment to end.

Labwani was arrested by Syrian authorities in Damascus on November 8 after he visited the United States, where he attended a meeting at the White House. In a November 10 statement, the White House said it was "deeply disturbed" by reports of Labwani's arrest on his arrival back in Damascus.

"President Bush calls on the Syrian government to immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Labwani and all other prisoners of conscience, including Habib Saleh and Nizar Rastanawi, as well as ... Arif Dalilah, Riad Seif, Mamun al-Homsi, Walid al Bunni, Habib Issa, and Fawaz Tello," McClellan said in the new statement.

"The imprisonment of these and other Syrian prisoners of conscience is just one example of the government of Syria's ongoing repression of the Syrian people. The Syrian government must cease its harassment of Syrians peacefully seeking to bring democratic reform to their country," McClellan said.

The United States accuses Syria of allowing foreign insurgents to cross its border into Iraq, supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants, and continued meddling in Lebanon.

Syria could face sanctions if it is judged not to have cooperated fully with a U.N. investigation into the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Policing a no man’s land between Iraq and Syria
Troops work against decades-old smuggling tradition
By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, December 11, 2005

SINJAR, Iraq — Times are tough in Donkey Town.

For more than 30 years, Arab tribesmen in this small, dusty village have earned their keep by smuggling cigarettes, goats and gasoline — as well as the odd home appliance — across the 100-yard-wide no man’s land separating Iraq and Syria.

But now, as the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces employ helicopters, night-vision cameras and roving ground patrols to plug gaps in the once-porous border of northwest Iraq, men of the J’heash tribe are feeling the pinch.

“Those helicopters have cut off our income,” one man complained during a recent meeting with Lt. Col. Gregory D. Reilly, commander of the the 1st, or “Tiger,” Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

“We haven’t been doing much work here at all,” said the man, who belongs to the J’heash, or “Donkey” tribe. “Our donkeys are dying off.”

The complaints that Reilly fielded one recent afternoon during a tour of the border attest to the success of the combined interdiction effort — particularly the use of night helicopter patrols, which have spotted most of the 100-odd smugglers captured or turned back in the last months.

Yet in the Wild West environment that is present-day Iraq, Reilly has to consider whether or not his squadron’s success in shutting down border smuggling will, in the end, turn the unemployed smugglers into insurgents.

Balancing trade with terror

Donkey Town is just one of many small border villages and towns whose livelihoods depend on smuggling. While a primary goal of shutting down smuggling is to stop insurgents and arms from flowing over the border, the job is a balancing act.

“There’s been talk of an exchange point for things that normally go across the border, like sheep, but no terrorists,” Reilly told the gathered men through an interpreter. “We want to set something up where things can cross, it just has to be checked. We’re working on that.”

Then, after a moment of thought, Reilly said to his interpreter: “Don’t get their hopes built up on that at all.”

Tiger Squadron is responsible for policing more than 200 miles of border between the Tigris River and Anbar Province. The squadron is also responsible for training Iraqi Border Patrol personnel so someday they can secure the border themselves.

In most areas, the border between Iraq and Syria is delineated by two crude earthen berms about a meter high and running parallel to each other. Between the two ridges is a 100- to 200-meter-wide no man’s land. It is this expanse of dry, barren earth that the smugglers are so eager to cross, using donkeys as the primary mode of transportation.

Smuggling as a way of life
Tiger Squadron’s stretch of border is studded with some 40 border forts — brick and stone compounds surrounded by open land. In certain areas, deep, dry riverbeds, or waddis, cut from one side of the border to another, giving smugglers ample cover to move.

On dark, moonless nights, smugglers use a network of flashlights to signal one another from opposite sides of the border, warning of patrols or indicating that the coast is clear.

Initially, the U.S. military expected to find many foreign fighters and arms flowing over the northwest border in the wake of a series of anti-insurgent operations to the south, in Anbar Province. Border patrols have intercepted a handful or more of suspected insurgents, but the military anticipated more.

Now, commanders like Reilly suspect that the regular “everyday” goods smugglers pack across the border may in some way be used to finance the insurgency.

The attitudes and economics of controlling Iraqi border are complex. For many years — during the time of U.N. sanctions — Saddam’s regime encouraged, or looked the other way, when it came to smugglers.

But even before sanctions, there was the issue of the borders themselves. When the English drew up the boundaries of Iraq after World War I, the lines often cut through tribal and familial territories.

“The only reason this berm is here is because some British mapmaker drew a line on a piece of paper 100 years ago,” said Capt. Richard Garrison, who trains Iraqi Border Patrol personnel as part of the Border Transition Team.

Consequently, many Iraqis did not take the smuggling issue seriously. “They all call themselves traders,” said Maj. Jonathan Larsen, who oversees border patrol operations. “It’s since we came along that we call them ‘smugglers.’ ”

Changing attitudes — too well
Among the tactics the U.S. military has taken to overcome entrenched attitudes about smuggling, particularly among the Iraqi Border Patrol, has been to allow border guards to take and sell a percentage of the contraband they confiscate from smugglers. This, soldiers say, helps focus their attention on the task.

“They don’t do this for God and country,” said Lt. Matthew McKee, who has patrolled the border with his 3rd Platoon.

The tactic has been very successful. In fact, it’s been a little too motivating in some cases.

Within the last several months, Iraqi Border Patrol guards “confiscated” a Land Rover that belonged to a western diplomatic team that had exited the vehicle to examine a portion of the border. The team left the keys in the ignition and were some 30 yards off when border patrol agents drove off with the vehicle. It was later recovered after Tiger Squadron soldiers examined the vehicle and found the victims’ passports inside.

In another case, border patrol officers seized about 100 sheep from some smugglers and then sold the sheep back to the same smugglers, who were captured again as they tried to cross into Syria.

The financial stakes for smugglers are high. A sheep that sells for $75 in Iraq will fetch twice as much in Syria, and smuggled herds can number up to 1,000. As illegal border crossings become more difficult to execute, smugglers are growing increasingly desperate and are carrying weapons in growing numbers.

Not surprisingly, instances of gunfire between border patrol guards and smugglers are becoming more common. In at least one case, a gunbattle between smugglers and border guards accidentally drew fire from Syrian border guards, who apparently thought they were the targets.

Larsen said stopping gun-toting smugglers is a priority.

“The guys who are bold enough to shoot at us — we want to stop them,” he said.

Damascus, 8 Dec. (AKI) - Syrian sources have confirmed that the Iraqi government has decided to close the border between the two countries until further notice. They stressed that it is a "lasting" decision and clarified that the measure will apply to the entry points for those travelling from Syria to Iraq, and not from Iraq to Syria, suggesting that the Syrian government will not close its border to Iraqis.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS -- BUSH'S DEMOCRACY CALL RINGS HOLLOW IN ARAB WORLD: A poll carried out by the Arab American Institute in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates found that the Arab world's opinion of the U.S. seems to have hardened over the past year, due primarily to opposition to the Iraq war and perceptions of U.S. treatment of Arabs and Muslims. AAI president James Zogby said, "Of the four percent in Egypt and nine percent in Saudi Arabia who said that 'President Bush's promotion of democracy and reform' was the most important factor determining their attitudes toward the U.S., over 80 percent said this effort worsened their view of the U.S."

News Round Up (Dec 9, 2005)

Syria Denies Any Secret Contacts With Israel according to SANA

U.N. ends questioning Syrians over Hariri killing
U.N. investigators completed questioning five Syrian officials in Vienna on Wednesday in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri this year.

Mehlis Report Sees Syria as 'Uncooperative', Recommends International Tribunal

An upcoming U.N. report into Rafik Hariri's murder will accuse Syria of violating its commitments by not cooperating with the probe and will recommend the creation of an international court to try the perpetrators, An Nahar reported Thursday.

The report by Detlev Mehlis would not be altered by recent testimonies by senior Syrian officials, who have been questioned in Vienna, diplomats said.

They said the report will include three main elements: Strong evidence that Syria has been uncooperative, thus violating its commitments and pledges; a recommendation for the questioning of Syrian and Lebanese officers and politicians; and the creation of an international court to try suspects in the Hariri murder.

Quoting a diplomatic document, senior U.S. diplomats, said that as a consequence to the Syrian stance, the Security Council might impose sanctions on Syrian officials: the president, members of the Syrian Parliament, the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister. Under the sanctions, Security Council member states will be prohibited from hosting these officials and their assets will be frozen.

In the meantime, Turkey strongly rejected allegations made by a Syrian al-Qaida suspect that he was bribed by the family of Rafik Hariri to give a false testimony in the murder of the former premier.
Saniora Requests Arab Help in Demarcating Lebanon-Syria Borders
Saniora praised the help of the Arab, Muslim and international communities in the aftermath of Hariri's assassination, but called for more efforts to help Lebanon "preserve its sovereignty and independence."

"Today we request your help in pressuring Israel to withdraw from the Lebanese Shabaa Farms, release all detainees … and halt all land, sea and space violations…"

"We also request your help to accelerate efforts … to demarcate the border with Syria, including the occupied Shabaa Farms in order to solve this mystery which Israel uses as a pretext for its occupation. We also request your support for the international probe and the creation of an international tribunal in the murder of Hariri…"
Algeria prevents one-sided statement of UN Security Council
The US failed to get a statement to the press passed by the UN Security Council which would have condemned the recent bomb assault in Netanya, Israel and would have called on Syria to close the offices of Islamic Jihad. The statement, proposed by US Ambassador John Bolton was opposed by Algeria whose Ambassador, Abdullah Baali said he had suggested a meeting of diplomats to discuss the statement and review it, but John Bolton had refused.

Geagea Says International Probe into Mass Graves Only Way

The Lebanese Bloggers write onKhaddam: Assets And The Truth
Al-Siyasah newspaper released an article today citing sources which claim that the former Syrian President's Deputy, Abdulhalim Khaddam, had all his assets in Syria transferred to the government coffers. Therefore, Khaddam has allegedly lost all his possessions in his country.

This move has come about, as the article claims, due to the Syrian regime's conviction that Khaddam has provided Mehlis and Jacques Chirac with all of what he knows about the Hariri assassination, including who is involved in the planning and execution, by name, on the 6th of September 2005.

Lysandra Ohrstrom writes in the Daily Star about the new problems Americans are having trying to get visas on the border from Lebanon. "American students refused entry to Syria."

Maureen Thomas from England sent me this note about Kamal Labwani, the Syrian opposition member who was recently arrested after returning from the US where he met with high government officials.

Dear Joshua,

I thought you might be interested in the following formal written statement made by our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to Sir Menzies Campbell on 6th December.

Regards, Maureen Thomas

Dear Menzies,

Thank you for your letter of 10 November about the recent arrest of Dr Kamal al-Labwani on his return to Syria.

We share your concern over the recent detention of Dr al-Labwani. It is not acceptable that anyone should be arrested for simply airing his views on foreign platforms.

Dr al-Labwani has been charged with “compromising state prestige” – an offence that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. No trial date has yet been set. He does have access to his defence team who have filed a writ of habeas corpus. Our Embassy in Damascus is in touch with Dr al-Labwani’s defence team.

Our Ambassador in Damascus has raised Dr Labwani’s case with the Syrian authorities, and, in our capacity as the local presidency of the EU, led calls for his early release. We will continue to monitor developments closely and stand ready to take further action.

We already have contacts with a range of groups and individuals pressing for economic and political reform in Syria. We will seek to build a relationship with Dr al-Labwani’s group but are conscious of the benefits and risks that contact will bring to the group.



Forwarded by
Ben Williams - Liberal Democrat Whips
Secretary to the Parliamentary Party

Nibras Kazimi writes about the "The Mehlis Mess" on December 6, 2005 claiming that Mehlis' investigation has collapsed. This doesn't seem to be correct as

Michael Young is unusually critical of Hariri in his op-ed: "Number one, or just a fortunate son?" He wants Hariri to come back from his self-imposed exile and face the dangers of uniting Lebanon and taming Hizbullah and Syrian influence in Lebanon.

The new ICG report on Lebanon makes clear that the country is becoming ever more fragmented due to the strains of the Mehlis investigation, conflict with Syria, and impending financial and political reforms. There is a good selection of revealing quotes from the report at Lebanese Bloggers.

Syria: Looking East
5 December 2005
Oxford Business Group

While international media coverage of Syria has lately concentrated on Damascus's alleged involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria itself has been getting on with business - and in particular, the business of oil.

In the past two weeks, international interest in Syria's petroleum sector has grown, with India and China being the leading lights.

While Asia's top two oil consumers have been bitter rivals recently, as their respective state-owned oil companies have competed to gain access to reserves around the world, the two giants have now joined forces to try and gain a major stake in Syria's energy industry.

On November 26, China National Petroleum (CNPC) and India's Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC) announced they would be among the contenders for Petro-Canada's 38% interest in the al-Furat gas and oil venture. Currently operated by Royal Dutch Shell, the venture has 36 fields spread over three concession areas, with a total of 220 wells, accounting for nearly half of Syria's oil output.

In September, Petro-Canada announced it was planning to withdraw from its Syrian operations. A spokesperson for the Canadian corporation told reporters back then that the company was seeking to unload its stake in the ageing fields as falling output was not in line with a strategy to shift to long-life assets.

While CNPC and ONGC may face strong competition in the bidding for the stake in al-Furat, with up to 16 other potential buyers expressing interest in the estimated $1bn asset, the partners in the Chinese-Indian joint venture have both been aggressive in the international marketplace of late. A further boost to the cashed up corporations' chances is Petro-Canada's hopes of a quick sale, with the present owners wanting a deal done before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, another Indian firm, Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC), is also looking to buy into Syria early next year when Damascus opens bids for some as-yet undeveloped blocks.

Syria itself is also working to invest in its own energy industry, moving away from oil to natural gas as a means for electricity generation.

In late November, Damascus was granted a 200m euro loan through the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) for the construction of a gas-fired power station at Deir Azzour. The funding for the plant in the country's east was the second such loan provided to Syria in the past year, with a similar amount being granted by FEMIP in November 2004 for another gas-fired station at Deir Ali.

China's ties with Syria took a further step forwards at the beginning of December when Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari announced that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with CNPC for the construction of a refinery with a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day (bpd).

The licence for the $1.2bn refinery, to be built at Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria, could be issued by the end of the year or soon after, al-Dardari said while on a trip to London to drum up international investment. Damascus was also in talks with Russia about setting up another refinery, with an estimated cost of $2.4bn, the minister said.

According to al-Dardari, Syria was looking to attract some $6bn in private investment this year, with up to 30% being foreign direct investment, most of which will be in the country's energy sector.

Currently, Syria has a production capacity of about 400,000 bpd, with exports accounting for 250,000 bpd, which takes in refined products such as heating oil. However, as indicated by Petro-Canada, its long-term prospects, and its mapped reserves are dwindling.

Despite this, neither India nor China seem deterred in making long-term investments in Syria.

Speaking at a meeting of oil producers from North and Central Asia in New Delhi in late November, India's Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said that China and India were also considering bidding for new exploration blocks, as well as co-operating in the operation of existing fields.

Syria, Russia sign gas deals worth $370M from UPI

Syria's Market Reforms Dent Socialist Model "Officials say $8 billion of Arab, foreign and Syrian immigrant capital had been earmarked for projects since January, more than the country received in the previous decade. ... After 40 years of socialist planning, Syria's economy is opening up. This year, the government eased state planning, privatized state enterprises and opened markets to imports and foreign investment." Reuters: Wed Dec 7

Katherine Zoepf writes in the NY Times about the new boutique hotels which are springing up in old Damascus and Aleppo: A taste of Syria's past in discreet splendor , December 8, 2005

Syria Ready to Reopen Israel Peace Talks

Syria ready to reopen Israel peace talks
Assad hopes to head off UN sanctions

Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill
Thursday December 8, 2005
The Guardian

Syria is engaged in clandestine talks about reopening peace negotiations with Israel in an attempt to head off United Nations sanctions next week over its alleged role in the February assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.
Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, is being urged by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to restart bilateral talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. Discussions were under way in Mecca yesterday at a summit of the Islamic Conference Organisation, chaired by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and attended by most Arab heads of government.

The Arab proposal forms part of an unexpected initiative to revive King Abdullah's landmark 2002 plan for a comprehensive MIddle East peace settlement. An Arab official said the Abdullah plan, which proposes official recognition of Israel by all Arab countries in exchange for the return of occupied Arab land, was on yesterday's agenda in a closed-door session of the Mecca summit.
Arab diplomats said Syria's revived interest in talking to Israel resulted from its wish to deflect US and other western pressure over allegations that senior Syrian officials were involved in the Hariri killing. Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor in charge of the inquiry, is due to present his final report to the UN security council next Thursday, a move that could trigger punitive action threatening Mr Assad's rule.

"Syria would go along with almost anything at this point," a senior Arab diplomat said yesterday. "They are looking for any leeway. They do not want to be penalised like Libya or Iraq. They are definitely looking for a way out of this mess."

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights area between the two countries since the 1967 war. Last week, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said he was in no hurry to resume peace talks with Syria. "In my opinion, Israel should not surrender the Golan Heights," Mr Sharon said.

The US state department is backing the Arab approach as part of its strategy to force Damascus to mend its ways. In the wake of the Hariri killing, Washington has demanded that Syria end its domination of Lebanon, block jihadist infiltration into Iraq and end its support for Palestinian militant groups. So far, Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon and the Iraqi interior minister, Baqir Jabr Solagh, reported this week that cross-border infiltration by insurgents had halted.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the main US ally in the Arab world, received a letter from Mr Assad on Tuesday about the peace proposal and the Hariri affair. Mr Mubarak said Egypt and other Arab countries were "exerting great efforts" to prevent an escalation of the crisis. In a recent visit to Damascus, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security chief, told Mr Assad that Saudi Arabia "has always cared for the safety of the Syrian people and leadership". He said the region had reached a critical stage and "all need to behave wisely and carefully". Mr Assad did not attend the Mecca summit, though Syria was represented at a high level.

A senior Foreign Office source said Arab leaders were actively trying to avoid another regional conflagration that could occur if western pressure led to Mr Assad's regime being toppled. He said British policy was to force Syria to reform but "not to humiliate them".

But US neo-conservatives are urging the US Bush administration to isolate Mr Assad, even if that means blocking talks with Israel. Richard Perle, former Pentagon adviser, said: "Assad has never been weaker and we should take advantage of that."

James Bamford has an interesting story in The Rolling Stone of Nov 17, 2005 entitled: "The Man Who Sold the War: Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war." Here are a few paragraphs:

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.

Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F. Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gone to Dubai

I have gone to Dubai for four days to chair a panel on Syria for the Arab Thought forum and will not take my computer or be posting. Ayman Abdulnour of all4Syria, Junbulat Shikay of Ra'i al-Aam and Ziad Haidar or as-Safir and al-Arabiya are also going.

Mehlis Extends: Syrian Jihadists Diminish

Robin Lustig of BBC 4 writes: "You might be interested in our interview last night with Abdullah Dardari on Mehlis, Hossam, etc. The link is at and click on Listen to Latest Edition. The interview runs about 20 minutes after the start of the programme.

Thanks, by the way, for your always interesting and useful weblog.
best regards,

Here are the complete Le Figaro articles about Siddiq and Mehlis. They are interesting. Thanks Nicolas.

The latest report on Terrorism from the has some interesting statistics about foreign fighters in Iraq. Most scientific studies suggest Saudis are by far the largest group followed by Syrians who make up only slightly more than other national groups. I would argue that most Syrian statistics come from fighters who volunteered at the time the war broke out when Syria was encouraging fighters to go to Iraq. Now that Syria is arresting almost every Syrian that returns home from Iraq and has taken measures to secure the border, the flow has been probably been largely stopped. Corruption, however, will ensure that those with intimate knowledge of the region will always be able to cross if they have money.

The Salafi-Jihadist Movement in Iraq: Recruitment Methods and Arab Volunteers

By Murad Batal al-Shishani

This is the second in a two-part series on al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq. This article focuses on the Salafi-jihadist base from which al-Zarqawi draws support and new recruits.

The experience of Arab fighters in Iraq is the latest and most important development of the global Salafi-jihadi movement, as they constitute the third generation of Salafi-jihadists. An examination of the social structure of these fighters provides important insights into this generation and the similarities and differences with the previous two generations.
READ FULL STORY but here are a few of the most interesting paragraphs:

Two recent articles have extensively studied the phenomenon of “Arab Volunteers” in Iraq. The first is by Israeli researcher Reuven Paz, who has analyzed 154 names and found that 94 (61%) were Saudis and came from the following regions: 61 from Najd, 12 from Qassim Burida, 7 from Mecca and Hijaz, 5 from the South and 2 from the North [2]. Paz also found that these Saudis perpetrated 23 suicide attacks, and that roughly 45% of the suicide bombers were from Najd.

The remaining fighters found in Paz’s study were: 16 Syrians (10.4%); 13 Iraqis (8.4%); 11 Kuwaitis (7.1%); 4 Jordanians, and 2 from Algeria, Morocco and Yemen each; and one each from Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Sudan.
Paz also noted that their ages ranged from 25-30 years. Some of them were married, some were holders of higher education degrees, most of them went to Iraq through a friend or relative, and the majority came from neighboring countries.

The second article is a study by Anthony Cordesman and Nawaf Obaid, who question the credibility of the lists published by al-Qaeda supporters, and contend that they were published for mobilization and recruitment purposes [3]. They also argue that many of persons mentioned in the list have been found to be living in Saudi Arabia and were never involved in jihadi activities in the first place. But the Saudi magazine “Al-Osbu’iah” and had previously published a report based on the same list and no response was forthcoming from the people whose names were mentioned [4].

Using methodology and information generated by the aforementioned articles, this article furthers studies the social structure of Salafi-jihadists in Iraq by analyzing the following factors: country of origin (geography), age, marital status and participation in other conflicts.


Based on a list of mujahideen posted on the al-Saha web forum (, the ranks of the Salafi-jihadists fighting in Iraq—most of whom are part of Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq organization—come from all over the Arab World, with Saudis being the majority (200 fighters – 53%), 13% from Syria, 8% from Iraq, 5.8% from Jordan, 4% from Kuwait, 3.8% from Libya, with the rest distributed among other countries (see Chart 1) while the geographical origin of 52 names remains unknown.

While these numbers are not comprehensive, they do give an idea as to the complexion of the mujahideen in Iraq, and indicate that the largest percentage belongs to countries surrounding Iraq, presumably because accessing Iraq is easiest for these fighters. Moreover, jihadi leaders in neighboring countries (particularly in Saudi Arabia) regularly call on mujahideen to join the jihad in American-occupied Iraq. In addition, the on-going conflict between the Saudi regime and the Saudi al-Qaeda network is forcing many young Saudi Salafi-jihadists to migrate to Iraq. Many of these jihadis are prominent fighters and ideological trainers; a good example being the Salafi-jihadist ideologue Abdullah Rashid al-Rashoud, whom Zarqawi eulogized after he was slain by American forces near al-Qaim.

In addition, there are many North Africans—principally Moroccans, Algerians and Libyans, among Arab fighters. This is because local Salafi-jihadist movements in these countries are in conflict with their governments. Therefore, as in Saudi Arabia, overwhelming security pressures are forcing fighters to search for new havens.

Interestingly, in the list posted on the al-Saha forum, the number of local Iraqis among the ranks of the Salafi-jihadists is very low (around 8%), which indicates that insurgent Iraqis prefer to join indigenous “nationalist” resistance networks, rather then foreign-led extremist ideological movements.
These studies are probably a bit misleading because they are taken from websites, which do not pretend to be comprehensive and may be directed at the Saudi audience because it is rich. The NYT gives an overview of the multi-headed, diverse groups making up the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement, which suggests that the lack of any command structure makes it hard to know what is going on. Most killings of American troops are now being carried out by Iraqis. The number of suicide bombings is falling while the number of troops being killed due to IEDs is going up, which indicates that foreign jihadists are becoming less important as they are usually blamed for carrying out the suicide bombings.

Ever since Syria tried to frame Jumblat with the Hussam evidence, he has gone on the attack. Syria would not forgive him for his role in pushing Syria out of Lebanon despite recent attempts a reconciliation. Naharnet has this article: Jumblat Urges Assad's Overthrow, Asserting Syria Won't be New Iraq if Regime Crumbles. The Daily Star editorial today opines that Despite talk of turning the page, Syria continues with the same old story. It concludes that "evidence suggests that Jumblatt is right and that despite Siniora's optimism, relations between Lebanon and Syria are degenerating to an irreparable state. "

Mehlis May Stay on to January's End as the US Suggests 'a Clone of Mehlis': Chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis has given tentative agreement to remain on the head of the Rafik Hariri assassination probe for "a reasonable transitional period" to avoid any vacuum that may result after he turns in his final report to the Security Council and then immediately resign by Dec. 15. U.S. urges Annan to convince Mehlis to remain as head of UN probe. Bolton wants German prosecutor to 'continue in his current capacity'. Rami Khouri has a good piece on the importance of the Mehlis Investigation: Mehlis and rule of law in the Arab world

Hizbullah remains adamant that the international tribunal would keep Lebanon under international tutelage spearheaded by the Bush administration and Israel. "Hizbullah refuses the concept of an international tribunal as a matter of principle because it would throw Lebanon into the wind," the Party of God second-in-command Sheikh Naim Kassem said. Siniora wants to off-shore the tribunal.

An American living in Damascus offered this commentary on the rumor that Total, the French oil giant, is in talks with the Syrian government regarding building an oil refinery, as reported by one of Syria Comments readers:
I can't offer confirmation per se to the story he's referring to, but I will say this:

A friend of mine working at Total here in Damascus just told me he was offered a position in their new refinery project. The offer includes a one-week training program in Paris, focused on refinery terminology, and a promotion. He was quite excited, noting how coveted these new positions are within company. The conversation occurred yesterday, his offer on Tuesday.

"What Staying on Course Really Means," by Dreyfuss

Here is an interesting article by Robert Dreyfuss - the second section on Syria is particularly interesting for readers of SC.

What Staying on Course Really Means
by Robert Dreyfuss
December 2, 2005
Asia Times

Nearly three years into the war in Iraq, the Bush administration tells us that it wasn't about weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda, but about America's holy mission to spread democracy to the benighted regions of the Middle East. However, postwar Iraq is anything but a democracy. In fact, if Iraq manages to avoid all-out civil war, it is likely to end up with a government that is fiercely undemocratic - a Shi'ite theocratic dictatorship that rules by terror, torture, and armed might.

What President George W Bush has wrought in Iraq is just the latest in a long string of US efforts to make common cause with the Islamic right. But like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, whose naive and inexperienced use of magic blows up in his face, American efforts to play with the forces of political Islam have proved to be dangerous, volatile and often uncontrollable.

The problem goes far beyond the Shi'ites in Iraq. In the Sunni parts of the country, the power of Islamism is growing, too - and by this I do not mean the forces associated with al-Qaeda. but the radical-right Muslim Brotherhood, represented there by the Iraqi Islamic Party, and other manifestations of the Salafi and Wahhabi-style religious right.

In Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, the radical religious right is also gaining strength. Meanwhile; sometimes deliberately, sometimes by sheer ignorance and incompetence, the Bush administration is encouraging the spread of political Islam. Were the US to "stay the course," not only Iraq but much of the rest of the Middle East could fall to the Islamic right.

Does this mean that al-Qaeda-style fanatics will take power? No. Whether in the form of Iraq's Shi'ite theocrats or the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt, the Islamic right cannot be compared to al-Qaeda. Yet, just as the US Christian right has its abortion clinic bombers, just as the Israeli Jewish right spawned the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin and settler-extremists who kill dozens at Muslim holy sites, the Islamic right provides ideological support and theological justification for more extreme (and, yes, terrorist) offspring.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with a long history of violence, which once maintained a covert "secret apparatus" and a paramilitary arm, has not convincingly renounced its past, nor demonstrated that it sees democracy as anything more than a tool it can use to seize power.

Shi'ite "Islamofascists" rule Iraq

The case of Iraq could not be clearer. In 2002, as Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the White House and the Pentagon inexorably toward war, it was increasingly obvious to experienced Iraq hands that post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would be ruled by its restive Shi'ite majority. It was no less obvious that the dominant force within that Shi'ite majority would be the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, and a parallel force associated with al-Dawa (The Islamic Call), a 45-year-old Shi'ite underground terrorist party.

From the mid-1990s on, and especially after 2001, the US provided overt and covert assistance to these organizations as part of the effort to force regime change in Iraq. Like Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, with which both worked closely and which had offices in Tehran, SCIRI and Dawa were based in Iran. SCIRI, in fact, was founded in 1982 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and its paramilitary arm, the Badr Brigade, was trained and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Certainly, to the Bush administration, SCIRI and Dawa were known quantities.

David Phillips, the former adviser to the State Department's war-planning effort and author of Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, has assured me that, in the run-up to the war, many of his colleagues were well aware that SCIRI-type Islamists, not Chalabi, would inherit post-Saddam Iraq. Other insiders, too, have told me of foreign-policy professionals and Iraq specialists in the US intelligence community who warned (to no avail) that SCIRI would be a major force in Iraq after any invasion. The point is, whether they bothered to pay attention or not, the Bush-Cheney team was informed, well in advance, that by toppling Saddam there was a strong possibility they would be installing a Shi'ite theocracy.

Today, the unpleasant reality is that 150,000 US troops, who are dying at a rate of about 100 a month, are the Praetorian Guard for that radical-right theocracy. It is a regime that sponsors Shi'ite-led death squads carrying out assassinations from Basra (where freelance reporter Steven Vincent, himself murdered by such a unit, wrote that "hundreds" of former Ba'athists, secular leaders and Sunnis were being killed every month) to Baghdad. Scores of bodies of Sunnis regularly turn up shot to death, execution-style.

The latest revelation is that SCIRI's Badr Brigade, now a 20,000-strong militia, operated a secret torture prison in Baghdad holding hundreds of Sunni detainees. There, prisoners had their skin flayed off, electric shocks applied to their genitals, or power drills driven into their bones. SCIRI and Dawa are the senior partners in an Iraqi government which has imposed a unilateralist constitution on the country that elevates the power of the Shi'ite-dominated provinces and enshrines their vision of Islam in the body politic.

Two weeks ago, during his visit to Washington, DC, I asked Adel Abdul Mahdi, a top SCIRI official and Iraq's deputy president, about the charges of death squads and brutality. "All of the terrorists are on the other side," he sniffed. "What you refer to is a reaction to that."

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Bush's war on terrorism is this: while the president asserts that the war in Iraq is the central front in the struggle against what he describes as "Islamofascism", real "Islamofascists" are already in power in Baghdad - and they are, shamefully, America's allies.

Of course, among the Iraqi opposition, too, the Islamic right is growing. The forces of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq have gained some limited support from Iraqis, and Zarqawi is using the war to rally support from jihadis throughout the region.

More broadly, the US occupation is pushing ever larger numbers of Sunni Arabs toward support for Islamists. In Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood is represented by the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). Although it draws much of its strength from radicalized Sunnis who hate the occupation, the IIP has shown itself to be the part of the Sunni opposition most willing to cooperate with the US-allied Shi'ite theocrats.

It has, from time to time, taken part in the various interim governments that the US has set up in post-war Iraq; and, in October, the IIP endorsed the ersatz Iraqi constitution, setting itself apart from the vast majority of Iraq's Sunnis. (For that, its headquarters in Baghdad was attacked by the resistance, and many of its offices around the country were blown up or assaulted.)

Still, the growth of the IIP and other similar manifestations of the Islamic right among Iraq's Sunnis has encouraged some Shi'ite theocrats to envision a Sunni-Shi'ite Islamist partnership in the country. However unlikely that may be, given the passions that have already been inflamed, the growth of the radical right among Sunnis cannot possibly be a good thing for Iraq, for the region, or for US interests.

Syria: The Muslim Brotherhood waits

Now, consider the broader issue of Bush's supposed push for regional democracy. That effort, it should be noted, is being coordinated under the know-nothing supervision of none other than Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president's daughter. She is currently the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and is charged with the task of democracy-building in the "Greater Middle East".

Undeterred by the failure of the US experiment in installing democracy in Iraq, next on the chopping block - that is, next to receive the benefits of US-imposed democracy - is Syria. That small, oil-poor, militarily weak state is, at the moment, feeling the full force of Bush administration pressure. Its army and security forces have been driven out of Lebanon, at the risk of sparking civil war in that country again.

The country has been targeted by the Syrian Accountability Act (reminiscent of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act) and hit with related US economic sanctions. It has been accused, by John Bolton and other neo-conservatives, of maintaining a weapons-of-mass-destruction program far beyond the very limited chemical arms it probably possesses. It is accused, by many US officials, including the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, of sponsoring the resistance fighters in Iraq - though there is nearly zero evidence that it is doing so. Liz Cheney and other top US officials are already meeting with Chalabi-like Syrian exile leaders to plot "regime change".

As in Iraq, where Islamic fundamentalist Shi'ites stepped in to fill the vacuum, so in Syria the most likely power waiting in the wings to replace the government of President Bashar Assad is not some group of Syrian secular democrats and nationalists but Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is an underground secret society with a long history of terrorism and the use of assassination. With financial and organizational help from Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi establishment, the Brotherhood has spread to every corner of the Muslim world.

Although it now officially eschews violence, in recent years it has given succor to, and even spawned, far more radical versions of itself. One of its chief theoreticians, Sayyid Qutb, created the theological justification for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Even today, the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda are at least fellow travelers. It is far from clear how to draw the line between the Muslim Brotherhood and other forces of "conservative" political Islam and those associated with radical-right, violence-prone Islamists. Certainly, many experienced US diplomats and intelligence officers disagree about where one stops and the other starts.

Because Syria - with a mostly Sunni population (though, as in Iraq, highly complex with a rich mix of minorities) - is a closed society, it is impossible to say just how powerful the Muslim Brotherhood is there. But with an exile leadership in London and other cities in Western Europe, with a network of supporters among the Sunni Arab petit bourgeoisie, and with power centers in a string of cities from Damascus to Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, it is widely considered a major player in future Syrian politics.

Recently, the Brotherhood joined with secular intellectuals and others in an ad hoc, anti-Assad coalition, but the rest of the coalition has few forces on the ground. Only the Brotherhood has "troops". In that, this coalition is reminiscent of the one that formed in 1978 to overthrow the Shah of Iran. After the Shah's fall, Khomeini's gang picked off its erstwhile allies one by one - the communists, the National Front (the remnant of the nationalist forces associated with prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s), the intellectuals, and finally the moderate Islamists such as president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr - to establish the authoritarian theocracy that is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It cannot be that the Bush administration is unaware of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Rather, they evidently simply don't care. Their enmity for the Assad government is so all-powerful that, as in Iraq, they evidently are willing to risk an Islamist regime. How can it be that Mr War on Terrorism blithely condones one Islamic extremist regime in Baghdad and courts another in Damascus?

History shows that there is precedent. In the 1970s and early 1980s, two US allies - Israel and Jordan - actively supported the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in a bloody civil war against the government of president Hafez Assad, Bashar's father. The Israeli and Jordanian-sponsored terrorists killed hundreds of Syrians, exploded car bombs and assassinated Soviet diplomats and military personnel in Syrian cities.

All of this was known to the US at the time - and viewed benignly. The Syrian civil war came to a brutal end when Rifaat Assad, the president's brother, led elite units of the military into Hama, where the Muslim Brotherhood had seized power and where hundreds of Syrian government officials had been dragged from their offices and murdered. Rifaat Assad carried out a massive repression in which many thousands died. Yet the forces of the Brotherhood recovered, and today the Bush administration seems content to squeeze the brittle Assad government until it collapses, even if it means that the Muslim Brotherhood takes power.

Middle Eastern dominos?

Aficionados of the Cold War domino theory often suggested that communism, allowed to topple a single state, would then be able topple country after country; that if communism was victorious in South Vietnam, then Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and other distant lands would follow. That may have been silly, but in the Middle East a domino theory might actually have some application.

At the very least, it is important to understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is a supranational force, not simply a country-by-country phenomenon. From Algeria to Pakistan, its leaders know each other, talk to each other and work together. In addition, the virulent force of religious fanaticism, fed by anger, bitterness, and despair, knows no national boundaries.

Egypt, the anchor of the Arab world and by far its most populous country, is threatened with a Muslim Brotherhood-style regime. Virtually all observers of Egyptian politics agree that the Muslim Brotherhood is the chief opposition party in Egypt. Mere prudence suggests that the US should not press Egypt too hard for democracy and free elections, given how difficult it is to transition from an authoritarian state to a democratic one. Moreover, it is arguably none of America's business what sort of government Egypt has. The very idea that democracy is the antidote for terrorism has been proven false, most authoritatively by F Gregory Gause in his essay, "Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?" in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Yet the Bush administration is pushing hard for its brand of democracy. Two weeks ago, at a regional forum in the Gulf, Egyptian officials bluntly rebuffed the imperial US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who seemed stunned that the government in Cairo did not want meddlers from the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other agencies pouring money into Egyptian opposition groups.

President Hosni Mubarak, a long-time American ally, was considered indispensable by a succession of administrations during the Cold War. A fierce anti-communist who kept the peace with Israel and helped the US in its anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and again in the 1991 Gulf War, is now regularly denounced as a dictator by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle.

Because of Egypt's history as an ally, no Bush administration official (and not even many neo-cons) dare say that they want "regime change" in Cairo, but that is precisely what they do want, and many of them may be willing to risk the creation of a Muslim Brotherhood-style regime to get it. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading neo-conservative strategist and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote the following in his book The Islamic Paradox, comparing Khomeini favorably to Mubarak:

"Khomeini submitted the idea of an Islamic republic to an up-or-down popular vote in 1979, and regular elections with some element of competition are morally essential to the regime's conception of its own legitimacy, something not at all the case with President Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship in Egypt ... Anti-Americanism is the common denominator of the Arab states with "pro-American" dictators. By comparison, Iran is a profoundly pro-American country.

True, Mubarak rigs Egyptian elections, but in recent parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood still showed tremendous strength. With a third round of elections still to go, it is on track to win up to a quarter of the seats in the new national assembly.

Gerecht isn't worried: "It is certainly possible," he writes, "that fundamentalists, if they gained power in Egypt, would try to end representative government ... But the United States would still be better off with this alternative than with a secular dictatorship."

In the 1950s, British intelligence and the CIA worked with the Muslim Brothers against Gamal Abdel Nasser, the founder of modern Arab nationalism. Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna, who set up the organization's global nerve center in Geneva, Switzerland, was a CIA agent. Twice, in 1954 and in 1965, the Brotherhood tried to assassinate Nasser. From this period to the present, the Brotherhood has received financial support from the ultra-right Saudi establishment.

A formula for endless war

Iraq, Syria and Egypt are not the only places threatened by fundamentalism. In recent Palestinian elections, Hamas - the official branch of the Muslim Brotherhood there - has shown remarkable strength, threatening to undo the Palestinian Authority's accomplishments and wreck any chance of a Palestinian-Israeli accord.

Ironically, a great deal of Hamas' present power exists only because of the support offered its founders by the Israeli military authorities in decades past. From the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 well into the 1980s, Israel supported the growth of Hamas-style Islamism as a counterweight to the nationalists in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' founder, was backed by Israel during those years, as his followers clashed with PLO supporters in Gaza and the West Bank. Too late, Israel recognized that it had created a monster and began to wage war on Hamas, including assassinating Yassin.

From Israel and Palestine to Egypt, Syria, Iraq and beyond - in Algeria, Sudan, the Gulf states, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia - the region is beset by Islamist movements. The right way to combat this upsurge is not through military action or a Bush administration-style "war on terrorism". That, as many observers have pointed out, is likely to further fuel the growth of such movements, not subdue them.

Only if the temperature is lowered throughout the region might the momentum of the Islamic right be slowed and, someday, reversed. Unfortunately, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have raised that temperature to the boiling point. So has the long-term American military build-up in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

So have the proclamations from Bush and Co about a nonsensical "World War IV" against "Islamofascism". So has the Israeli policy of expanding settlements and building a giant barrier that virtually annexes huge swaths of the West Bank for greater Israel. All of these policies cause Islamist sympathies to grow - and out of them bubble recruits not only for organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, but for al-Qaeda-style terrorist groups.

The Bush administration has put into operation an utterly paradoxical and self-defeating strategy. First, its policies inflame the region, feeding the growth of political Islam and its extremist as well as terrorist offshoots. Then, as in Iraq - and as seems to be the case in Syria and Egypt - it seeks "regime change" in countries where it knows that the chief opposition and likely inheritor of power will be the Muslim Brotherhood or its ilk. This is a formula for endless war in the region.

Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. He covers national security for Rolling Stone and writes frequently for The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Nation. He is also a regular contributor to, the Huffington Post, and other sites, and writes the blog, "The Dreyfuss Report," at his web site.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Are the French and Americans putting on the Brakes? Perspectives by Nicolas & Lee

Nicolas, a reader, gives us the French perspective, which follows immediately on my editorializing. Peter Lee writes another analysis of the French perspective, which follows Nicolas' comments. Peter wrote his commentary about a month ago, just after resolution 1636 was voted in by the Security Council and when France was pressing its "Juan Carlos" option on Syria, hoping to split the Asad family and convert the regime to a form of constitutional monarchy and a democratic, or at least, free market opening in Syria. Read all of Peter's smart analysis. By comparing it to Nicolas’ more recent observations, it helps us to understand how much the collapse of Mehlis' evidence may effect French attitudes toward change in Syria.

The collapse - or temporary collapse - of Sharon's government may also add to France's wait-and-see attitude.

The Iraqi drama also restraining Western policy planners from making decisions. Any bold moves will be placed on hold while we await the outcome of the December 15 elections. The question that must be answered by the election results is whether the Iraqi Sunnis will successfully be drawn into a coalition government, or not. If the Shiite militias get their way and unleash the dogs of total war on the Sunnis, they will reassert a new form of the mukhabarat state in the region - only this time a Shiite theocratic one in the place of Saddam's Sunni Arab nationalist state. If the Iraqis can find a political solution to their factionalism along the lines of Lebanon, maybe the French will continue to move against the Syrian regime. If, however, the Lebanon model fails in Iraq, and we get a remake of Saddamism crossed with Iranism, Syria will look more like an island of stability and calm, in the surrounding sanguinary sea of uncertainty and barbarism.

In that case, Paris and Washington will have no choice but to heed the warnings of Middle Eastern leaders, who have been telling us, as the Saudi King recently did: "If you cannot do good, do not do harm." This Hippocratic approach to the Syrian problem seems to be catching on, as Nicolas argues, in part, because Mehlis seems to be floundering, but largely because the reform of the Greater Middle East is not going well. If Iraq collapses and the Lebanese fail to develop a stronger federal state, the major success of the Bush democracy project will be the victory of Muslim Brothers in Egypt - a bit of a poisoned challis.

See Roger Owen's op-ed in the Boston Globe: "What Iraq will look like after the elections," for a critique of what the Lebanon model may mean for Iraq.

Nicolas writes:

I’ll refrain from adding my own personal assumptions and will rather present a “Vision From France”. A couple of interesting developments took place over here that could contribute to this debate.

As you have noticed Washington and Paris have been surprisingly quiet lately on the Hariri subject. The waves are seriously starting to turn here on this subject. Since the Hussam Taher Hussam story came out the French have not commented. Or rather commented but in a different direction. Today, Le Figaro, a right-wing leaning publication (close to the current political power i.e. close to President Chirac) included two interesting stories on Syria. In the first one, it presented a “neutral” overview of the Hussam Taher story; a simple description of the facts and the TV presentation made by him. Yet the headline is interesting enough coming from such a newspaper: “The Mehlis Report based on two false testimonies”. The second article, more interesting, is entitled “Le clan Hariri aurait manipulé un témoin clé de l'enquête » (The Hariri Family could have manipulated a key witness in the inquiry). This article has been written by George Maibrunot, the journalist who was taken hostage in Iraq along with another of his colleagues, Christian Chesnot. The article includes some interesting comments, and questions the reason the French secret services continued to play along with both Saddiq and Hussam although the CIA and the Saudi’s and even the French interrogators themselves discredited both witnesses. The reply as quoted by an unnamed diplomat was that the “highest spheres of French politics wanted to help out (i.e. Chirac himself wanting to help the Hariris). I am including the links to the stories, it would be more interesting to read them directly rather than my commentary on them.
Here is one.
Here is the other.
[These links only take you to the international page of Le Figaro and not the actually story. Perhaps Nicolas can find the stories for us. Joshua]

The story of political manipulation of a judicial process, the Outreau process, coincidentally, came at the same time as a major French judiciary story took place today. A group of people where falsely accused of pedophilia and were finally declared innocent. The Minister of Justice himself took the rare step of going on French TV to apologize for the grave mistake and seek an inquiry in the mechanism of the investigation.

This is leading to believe that even France is not buying the Mehlis investigation/report anymore. Although politics is more complicated than this, but a good deal of shift in the French mood is taking place. I have sensed this in many conversations I have had on the matter with my French colleagues at work (who are normally Lebanese leaning) and even another friend (a Tory Brit with usual wit mostly directed against Syrians). On TV one commentator said mentioned that he fears that it might get too personal between Mehlis and the Syrians; most of his guests (no friends of Syria at all) seemed to agree with (maybe influenced by the Outreau story, but still…). Everyone, including myself, seem to believe that at the present moment where we stand today, the victor in this battle of wills in no-one else but Bashar Assad himself.

Coincidentally again, a story is being circulating that Total (the French oil giant), is in talks with the Syria n government regarding building an oil refinery in Syria. Maybe this is the olive branch that Syria extended to Chirac (btw: a lame duck president). But Total would not have started such talks with the Syrians without a green light from the Elysees, and in return the Elysees would not have given that green light had Chirac not started to turn the page on the Mehlis episode. This is also a strong signal that sanctions may not really be a top priority, and if this is coming from France, then... (however, this story still needs confirmation).

I hope this would help the interesting debate that is going on this forum…thanks for the opportunity Josh.

Regards to all, Nicolas

Here is Peter Lee's analysis:

Dear Prof. Landis:

Thank you, once again, for your excellent website collecting information and views on Syria.

Further my previous interest in what is (to me, at least) the unexpected French harshness toward Syria, I posted on my website a speculative analysis, France and the Emerging Levantine Axis.

The gist is contained in the following paragraphs:

France has decided to align itself with the cosmopolitan Middle East: sophisticated, open, vibrant free-market societies, like the society France imagines itself to be. These include first and foremost Lebanon. France has made the strategic choice to disregard Syrian aspirations in favor of Lebanese ones, to maintain France’s position as a respected and legitimate champion of Lebanese interests.

To further this agenda, I believe that France decided to make common cause with the United States—if the US would acknowledge France as the dominant Western power and agenda-setter in Lebanon. Accommodation with Israel—and acquiescence to the joint desire of the Bush and Sharon administrations to do away with Bashar Assad-- is certainly the quid pro quo that Washington would demand in return for respecting France’s aspirations in Lebanon.

Looking into the crystal ball further, I would say France is betting that a pluralistic, open, and free-market society can replace Ba’athist rule in Syria, perhaps with attention and assistance from France directly and through Lebanon with the help of the Hariri billions, and France will be able to exploit its favored position in Lebanon to midwife a cosmopolitan, coastal, and relatively non-aligned (or Euro-centric) Levantine axis of Lebanon, Syria, and, to a certain extent, Israel and Palestine.


The full post is reproduced below, as well as being available on my website at the link given above. I think it would be useful to air this article or at least its arguments on Syria Comment for comment, confirmation, or rebuttal.

To me, the French role in the Syria crisis is "the dog that didn't bark", i.e. the anomalous fact that may supply an insight into the dynamics of great power politics in the Middle East.

Sincerely, Peter Lee

France and the Emerging Levantine Axis: Thanks to France, we seem to be seeing a sea change in Middle Eastern power politics.

It can be seen most clearly in the rapid isolation of Syria as a result of the UN resolutions 1559 and 1636, co-sponsored by France and the United States.

Traditionally, France has positioned itself is a sympathetic rapporteur for Arab/Iranian nationalism in the West and in international venues, with a policy that was tilted away from Israel and toward the Palestinians.

Despite the close ties between Chirac and Hariri, one might have expected the US/Israeli campaign against Syria to recapitulate the one that occurred during the run-up toward the Iraq war. In 2002, the United States was determined to slake its thirst for the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Instead of adopting the Desert Storm narrative of George H.W. Bush—including the Arab world in the coalition by making nice noises about the Palestinians—the second Bush administration decided to insist--instead of implore--in creating its coalition. The US ostentatiously ostracized the Saddam Hussein regime, made no secret of its determination to affect violent regime change in Iraq, and went to the UN on the shakiest of diplomatic and evidentiary grounds to insist that the world side with the US or against it.

The world was also told that US action and Israel’s behavior would not be held hostage to any assumed need to conciliate the Arab states to the invasion on the issue of Palestinian aspirations.
As it transpired, most of the world made the wise choice, opting out. Leaving aside the gaping credibility problems of the US case—and the perilous unknown represented by the idea of invading and occupying a country on grounds that were not even preventive, let alone pre-emptive--it seems most nations were unwilling to underwrite a unilateralist campaign for American hegemony in the Middle East with their own blood, treasure, and prestige.

France, of course, infuriated the US government by opposing the invasion and apparently using the crisis to make political hay in the Middle East.

It would seem to be that history should be ready to repeat itself in the case of Syria. The US approach—harsh, inflammatory rhetoric, condemnation, marginalization and isolation, the use of the UN process to push Syria into a pariah status that would enable sanctions, legitimize regime change subversion, and could ultimately justify military action “to enforce UN resolutions”—is taken from the Iraq playbook.

But Syria is no Iraq.

Any assertion that Syria is a pariah state that threatens the security of the US is risible. The one area in which Syria could contribute to Middle East stability—positively as well as negatively—has been removed by its withdrawal from Lebanon.

Syria appears to be run by a hapless, reformist schnook. It has attempted to reach some sort of modus vivendi with the United States—by agreeably interrogating and torturing our prisoners and, perhaps, by awkwardly attempting to use the flow of jihadniks across the border with Iraq as a bargaining chip. (Syria’s overtures have been rejected by the US, which clearly smells the pungent odor of a regime change opportunity.)

In other words, Assad is no Saddam. And the US emphasis on regime change—and the degraded form of Middle East democracy it brings with it, corruption + fundamentalism + factionalism + sectarian violence—has been so discredited by the disaster in Iraq, one might expect that the French would step up once again to oppose the US and resist attempts to create an existential crisis for Syria by aggressively advancing the Mehlis investigation.

But it hasn’t happened. Russia and China do seem to be reprising their traditional roles—resisting US use of the UN process to assail independent-minded regimes in the Middle East that might otherwise lean toward Moscow and Beijing.

But the French cosponsored the October 31 resolution, which adopted Washington’s favored war on terror rhetoric and apparently pushes Syria to the point that Assad must either terminate his regime by gutting its leadership and prestige by complying with the commission, or resist and provide the US with sufficient casus belli and moral high ground to stigmatize Syria as an outlaw state and destabilize it as America sees fit through sanctions and military action.

France has gone out of its way to deny that Syria has any wiggle room on the issue of Mehlis and the onerous UN process, which appears to make a serious dent in Syrian sovereignty.

Of course, Chirac was extremely close to Hariri, personally, diplomatically, and perhaps financially. But two dozen innocent people (albeit not including in their number a charismatic billionaire politician) are routinely blown to smithereens by both US and insurgent forces in Iraq, and France doesn’t think of turning the region upside down as a result.

And it would seem, by the old calculus, the France would have something to gain by acting as mediator in the crisis, giving Syria some breathing space while a face-saving compromise was worked out, instead of pushing Bashar Assad into a corner.

The US-French collaboration might be an example of the superior Powellized subtlety of the Condi Rice diplomatic team. But it seems more likely the US is responding to—instead of creating—a new orientation in French foreign policy.

Certainly, French politics have lurched to the right in recent months, in domestic as well as foreign affairs.

Most strikingly, France and Israel and, more importantly, Chirac and Sharon, have set aside their personal animosity for the sake of a rapprochement. I would think that these events have been paralleled by a tilt toward US and Israeli priorities for isolation and destabilization of Syria.
The Why certainly has to do with Lebanon. But I believe there is a larger story here, one that explains why France believes that its interests in the Middle East are no longer served by supporting the status quo in Syria.

In recent years, Arab nationalism has lost its most effective practitioners: Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Yasir Arafat. The US and Israel, in effect, declared war on any state that opposed not only Israel’s right to exist but its prerogative to manage the Palestinian problem as an internal affair, and by sheer bloody intransigence seem close to achieving victory. The post-Arafat Palestinian authority has abandoned confrontation in favor of accommodation, removing the logical and moral keystone from a regional Arab nationalist foreign policy that relied on unity, European support, and a favorable hearing from the UN to provide the legal and political basis for internationalizing the Palestine issue.

France could have responded to these events with a purely tactical foreign policy, simply seeking to strengthen its influence with states opposed to US policy as something good in itself.

But I think Chirac has decided to embrace a different philosophical vision for France in the Middle East, one that takes into account the defeat of the Intifada, the final disintegration of Arab unity, and the failures of the Bashar Assad regime.

Doubtless, France is disappointed with the political and economic drift of Syria. A state seriously out of step with the military and economic realities of the Middle East and unable to reinvent itself through vigorous leadership and judicious reform, it is terribly vulnerable and a weak reed for France to lean on.

And Syria might be worth abandoning if an alternate scenario presented itself to France.

Here’s what I think it is: France has decided to align itself with the cosmopolitan Middle East: sophisticated, open, vibrant free-market societies, like the society France imagines itself to be. These include first and foremost Lebanon. France has made the strategic choice to disregard Syrian aspirations in favor of Lebanese ones, to maintain France’s position as a respected and legitimate champion of Lebanese interests.

The second society is Israel. With chances of Palestine becoming anything more than a degraded, miserable satrapy of Israel—and effective regional champions of militant Palestinian nationalism limited to the unnerving theocratic leadership of Iran—increasingly remote, Paris might have decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and pursue conciliation with Tel Aviv and its open economy.

To further this agenda, I believe that France decided to make common cause with the United States—if the US would acknowledge France as the dominant Western power and agenda-setter in Lebanon. Accommodation with Israel—and acquiescence to the joint desire of the Bush and Sharon administrations to do away with Bashar Assad-- is certainly the quid pro quo that Washington would demand in return for respecting France’s aspirations in Lebanon.

It would appear that the Syrians didn’t get the message either, or chose to ignore it, relying on France’s traditional forbearance vis a vis Arab nationalist states in general, as demonstrated in 2002, and favored treatment of Syria in particular.

But perhaps the assassination of Rafik Hariri was two things: a final straw and a useful pretext. The Syrians discovered too late to their dismay that blowing up one of Chriac’s personal friends would not be brushed under the rug by France as collateral damage in the endless, Sisyphean struggle to achieve stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

Instead, France decided that a regime that had fumbled its reform opportunities and compounded the failure with such a gross political error –all in an environment of extreme flux and danger—could not serve as an effective vehicle for French interests even if it was somehow able to survive. Therefore, France took the bold step of abandoning Syria, allying with the US, and identifying its Middle East agenda primarily with the values and outlook of its Lebanese entrepot.

Looking into the crystal ball further, I would say France is betting that a pluralistic, open, and free-market society can replace Ba’athist rule in Syria, perhaps with attention and assistance from France directly and through Lebanon with the help of the Hariri billions, and France will be able to exploit its favored position in Lebanon to midwife a cosmopolitan, coastal, and relatively non-aligned (or Euro-centric) Levantine axis of Lebanon, Syria, and, to a certain extent, Israel and Palestine.

The risks are considerable. France is abandoning an existing Syrian regime that is, if weak, at least pro-French. In return it is betting on a future that might be foreclosed by a new Syrian regime beholden to US guns and money and firmly in Washington’s camp, or fatally compromised by America and Israel reneging on their promise to respect Lebanon as France’s sphere of influence.

Perhaps—though I don’t think the UK’s calamitous experience with the US on Iraq and the Road Map have been conducive to Gallic gullibility—France believes that by siding with Washington it can fill the poodle role more instinctively and gracefully than the pathetic Blair, thereby moderating Bush’s Syria policy, and forestalling violent regime change.

I suspect, in the end, Chirac believes he and France are smarter than George W. Bush and the U.S. and Paris will gain prestige and influence through nimble, clear-sighted policies in the coastal Middle East while Washington blunders from crisis to crisis in the big, screwed up petro-states of Iran, Iraq, and—eventually—Saudi Arabia.

One final note: I wonder if France’s turn away from what I would characterize as continental, big state Arab socialism and nationalism in favor of a vision of prosperous, urbanized, corporatized, and Westernized upper-class Middle East including Israel contributed in any way to the alienation felt by the downtrodden Arab underclass in France—and helped fuel the riots there.

It would certainly be ironic if France, which is now being excoriated by the US right wing for appeasement and unwillingness to acknowledge worldwide jihad on its doorstep, was instead experiencing in part blowback from its embrace of US-style regime-change foreign policy in the Middle East.

Copyright Peter Lee 2005-11-9

Peter Lee is the creator of the anti-war satire and commentary
website Halcyon Days. He can be reached at

EHSANI writes:
Dr. Landis,

Peter Lee’s commentary can be summarized in one sentence. All he had to say was:
“France found itself on the wrong side of history and has therefore decided to switch”

He could have also said:

Chirac is a spineless leader (no offense to the many France lovers). He did not have the guts to join the treacherous terrain in Iraq at the time. Now that he found the U.S. in control of the agenda and future of the Middle East, he decided to join in on the cheap by beating up on a hapless Syrian regime. He at least admits to us that he is “the creator of the anti-war satire and commentary”. He brands Blair as “pathetic” and thinks that “Washington blunders from crisis to crisis in the big, screwed up petro-states of Iran, Iraq, and-eventually-Saudi Arabia”. With all due respect, this is a very amateurish commentary, which fails to understand the geopolitical reasons and rationale for America’s involvement in the Middle East. I would like to refer Mr. Lee to my comments on the subject in the previous post.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hussam and "Animal House"

Hussam Taher Hussam has accused Lebanese officials of an elaborate scheme of threats, bribery and torture to induce him to testify falsely against against the brother and brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad. He claimed that the inquiry's initial findings rested largely on his lies. Mehlis said the testimony Hussam had given to his commission "stands as the true testimony."

Syria says it expects Mehlis to take steps to halt the "deception, forgery and extortion," and has asked Mehlis to take out seven of the articles of his report which it claims are based on Hosam's testimony." It has also asked Mehlis to take out the articles based on the testimony of another witness, Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, who is now in prison in France and also accused of being offered money to give false testimony.

Mehlis has called Syria's attempt to discredit his work by putting Hussam's testimony on TV a "poor Syrian propaganda gimmick." The Syrians are claiming Mehlis of propagating propaganda of his own. They claim that the Lebanese have been fiddling with the evidence to get the international community to sanction Syria look more credible today than they did a week ago. Michael Young denies that Mehlis' credibility has taken a hit. He writes that "viewers of Syrian television were treated to the Baathist equivalent of "Animal House," as one Houssam Taher Houssam, an alleged Syrian intelligence agent, claimed he had been alternatively beaten by Lebanese security forces and offered mouth-watering bribes by the Hariri camp." Michael believes that these "stalling tactics," as he calls them, are insidious and will backfire on Syria by making Russia and China more inclined to impose sanctions. He also believes the Hussam evidence will isolate Assad further in the Arab world.

I find this a bizarre interpretation of events. Young doesn't entertain the thought that someone in Lebanon with intimate knowledge of the Mehlis investigation has been stovepiping manufactured evidence to the prosecutor. Perhaps he believes that the Syrians paid Hussam to give evidence to Mehlis that would incriminate Syria's top security chiefs in order that they could then undermine the investigation at the 11th hour after nearly being sanctioned? I doubt even he would attribute such risky cunning to the authors of Animal House. Maybe the Lebanese are not all boy scouts as Michael would have us believe? Perhaps they are not above a bit of guile and cunning of their own?

As for stalling, the rush to judgment on the Syrians was precipitous. There is every reason to believe the Syrians are suspect number one, but they should not be accused on trumped up evidence. Certainly those who have been calling for "justice" will take satisfaction that Hussam's manufactured testimony has been revealed for what it is. Now that Lebanese authorities have arrested Hussam's young Lebanese fiance and her father, they may get closer to the truth. If it took a bit of stalling on Syria's part to gather evidence for its defense, this shouldn't be begrudged. Every legal defense plays for time in order to strengthen its evidence; every prosecutor tries to rush the date of trial in order to keep the defense on is heals. My hunch is that the Arab World as well as Russia and China may now cut Syria some slack for stalling, particularly if they begin to discover that the Lebanese have been running their own version of "Animal House. "

Speaking of black operations:
U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press Troops write articles presented as news reports. Some officers object to the practice, who argue that attempts to subvert the news media could destroy the U.S. military's credibility in other nations and with the American public. The Pentagon pays subcontractors to pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets. The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled "The Role of Press in a Democratic Society."

Mehlis Seen Quitting Hariri Probe by December 15, but U.N. Investigation will Continue
A local press report said Thursday U.N. chief investigator Detlev Mehlis would submit his resignation from leading the probe into Rafik Hariri's assassination when he presents his December 15 report to the Security Council about his findings....

The Lebanese government is inclined to demand an extension of the probe beyond the Dec. 15 deadline, adding that the commission would interrogate the 5 Syrian intelligence officers in Vienna from Dec. 5 to Dec. 7.

Gambari, who is Mehlis' direct boss in the U.N. hierarchy, said the commission would probably question several other Syrians without giving names "to seek further evidence." Mehlis, in turn, told a news conference that the Syrian investigating committee had put witness Husam Husam on TV screens before interrogating him, calling the move a "poor Syrian propaganda gimmick."

Mehlis confirmed that Husam was actually the 'Masked Witness' but "not the primary witness." Mehlis said the testimony Husam had given to his commission "stands as the true testimony."

Gambari: 'Mehlis has Become a Symbol, but International Probe will Continue with or without him'
U.N. investigators will start questioning five Syrian officials on Monday about the assassination of ex-premier Rafik Hariri and the probe needs to be extended beyond Dec. 15, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday. Undersecretary-General for ...more

David Ignatius writes that Condoleeza "Rice believes that Damascus is doing better in controlling terrorist infiltration into Iraq," and is satisfied that "the Syrian government is now moving toward cooperation with the United Nations investigation into the death of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri."

The Syrian pound regained some of its value against the U.S. dollar