Iraq Wants US to Engage with Syria and Iran. Facebook Minister Soaped

Iraqi security adviser tells US to engage with Iran and Syria
By Roula Khalaf in Manama, Bahrain
December 10 2007: The Financial Times Limited 2007

Iran and Syria have taken measures to curb violence in Iraq, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday in a rare acknowledgement of a shift in tactics by the two allegedly troublesome neighbours.

Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq's national security adviser, also called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and "you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran".

Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.

Mr Rubbaie pointed to signs that Tehran had tightened control over its border and made arms shipments to Shia militias "more difficult". Syria too, he said, was stopping militants from crossing the border with Iraq and had improved controls at Damascus airport.

American military officials confirmed that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria had been substantially reduced. But Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US central command, told the FT that he did not see "such a clear change" in Iranian behaviour, which the US alleges includes supplying Iraqi Shia militias with sophisticated explosives, charges that Tehran denies.

"I believe there's some restraint in the activity of the extremist militias but I don't know the cause and effect," said Admiral Fallon.

However, in a veiled criticism of perceived US efforts to build a Sunni Arab front against Shia Iran, Mr Rubbaie yesterday said his country was becoming a stage where Iran and Saudi Arabia were playing out their rivalry.

"Until they [the US] engage with Iran and Syria, long-term regional security will be in doubt," he said. "We cannot continue playing on Tehran and co. versus Riyadh and co."

But senior American officials attending the conference, organised by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, showed no sign of an easing in US policy towards Iran, and were instead seeking to limit the damage provoked by last week's US intelligence report, which said Tehran had halted its atomic weapons programme in 2003.

The National Intelligence Estimate baffled America's European and Middle Eastern allies and is likely to complicate the US-led drive to drum up international support for a tightening of UN sanctions against Iran.

In an apparent effort to reassure supporters of diplomatic pressure, Robert Gates, the US secretary of state, struck an unusually tough tone on Saturday, accusing Iran of provoking instability in the region.

"There can be little doubt that their destabilising foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the US, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing," he said.

He stressed that the National Intelligence Estimate also said Iran was keeping its options open and could resume its nuclear weapons programme at any time – "if it has not done so already".

The Arab world has reacted to the NIE with a mixture of relief that the prospects of military action against Iran have diminished, if not disappeared, and concern that diplomatic pressure will now also ease, boosting Tehran's confidence.

But the intelligence report also revived favourite conspiracy theories, including long-standing Arab concerns that the US was paving the way for a comprehensive deal with Iran that would be struck at the Arabs' expense.

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"Syria sees isolation fading after Annapolis" is a good Reuters article by Alistair Lyon. (Read it in Arabic …[إقرأ المزيد] )

Syria … is emerging from Western and Arab ostracism without sacrificing its anti-Israeli alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

No one expects a dramatic warming of U.S.-Syrian ties, but Syrian analysts and Western diplomats spoke of modest prospects for constructive engagement after years of mutual mistrust….

"Syria is rising now and the United States is collapsing in the region," said Imad al-Shuaibi, a Syrian political analyst familiar with government thinking. He dismissed the idea that a U.N. tribunal to try Hariri's killers posed any threat to Syria.

Syria is now looking to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed Arab countries before an Arab League summit in Damascus in March, without dropping Iran and its other allies.

"After Annapolis, we hope we are entering a new phase," a European diplomat said. "Syria's overall behavior on Annapolis and Lebanon shows it is trying to reintegrate itself in the Arab family and play things in a way that would benefit the region."…

better ties with Baghdad go down well in Washington and could further reduce U.S.-Syrian tensions. Such a detente would have repercussions across the region. But any notion that Syria can easily be "flipped" away from Tehran is premature.

"No one should imagine that Syria will get rid of its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah," Shuaibi declared.

Iran signs $2bn oil deal with China Dec-09 (Only a week ago China said it would join sanctions on Iran.)

Iran has signed a $2bn oil contract with Sinopec of China, sending a signal to western companies that they might miss out on potentially lucrative contracts if they continued to heed US-inspired sanctions against Tehran

Assad fires official who barred Facebook


Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday replaced Syria's communications and religious affairs ministers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Assad issued a decree naming Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabbouni as minister of communications, replacing Amr Nazir Salem. Sabbouni had been Salem's advise.

Local Syrian Web sites in recent months had been critical of Salem, who had been nominated to the post in February 2006, for blocking some Web sites including www.all4syria.org and the Arab online newspaper www.elaph.com as well as online social networking site Facebook.

Recent reports have said that Syrian authorities blocked Facebook, the popular Internet hangout, over what seems to be fears of Israeli "infiltration" of Syrian social networks on the Net.

Residents in Damascus said that they have not been able to enter Facebook for more than two weeks. An Associated Press reporter got a blank page when he tried to open the Facebook web page Friday from the Syrian capital.

Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Muslim weekend, but some reports have suggested that the ban was made to prevent Israeli users from infiltrating Syrian social networks.

Lebanon's daily As-Safir reported that Facebook was blocked on November 18. It said the authorities took the step because many Israelis have been entering Syria-based groups.

Here is the WSJournal's editorial on the Iran NIE

Iran Curveball
This latest intelligence fiasco is Mr. Bush's fault.

Saturday, December 8, 2007 12:01 a.m.

President Bush has been scrambling to rescue his Iran policy after this week's intelligence switcheroo, but the fact that the White House has had to spin so furiously is a sign of how badly it has bungled this episode. In sum, Mr. Bush and his staff have allowed the intelligence bureaucracy to frame a new judgment in a way that has undermined four years of U.S. effort to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions….

The Chinese are backing away from whatever support they might have provided for tougher sanctions against Iran, while Russia has used the NIE as another reason to oppose them. Most delighted are the Iranians, who called the NIE a "victory" and reasserted their intention to proceed full-speed ahead with uranium enrichment. Behind the scenes, we can expect Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to expand their nuclear efforts as they conclude that the U.S. will now be unable to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

We reported earlier this week that the authors of this Iran NIE include former State Department officials who have a history of hostility to Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies. Instead of being candid this week about the problems with the NIE, Mr. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, tried to spin it as a victory for their policy. They simply weren't believable.

It's a sign of the Bush Administration's flagging authority that even many of its natural allies wondered this week if the NIE was really an attempt to back down from its own Iran policy. We only wish it were that competent.

Comments (20)


1. ANNIE said:

Wonderful newsabout facebook.
Is blogspot going to be freed next ? and all4syria? That would be greater still.
Josh is not banned and yet he is heavily infiltrated by the ennemy.

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December 10th, 2007, 7:48 am

 

2. kingcrane jr said:

Josh,
The single most important problem with access to the internet in general in Syria is that the network was not set up to support the current frenzy caused primarily by a recently offered cheap access fee, but I do not know which company or companies are the inadvertant culprit(s).

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December 10th, 2007, 1:55 pm

 

3. offended said:

So now that the Minister who had ordered the facebook block is gone, is facebook unblocked by any chance?

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December 10th, 2007, 2:00 pm

 

4. Zubaida said:

I doubt that the minister would have been solely responsible for shutting down Facebook access. There could be other reasons for his dismissal — telecoms is a highly politicised and lucrative sector.

Coincidentally, Turkcell, Turkey’s leading mobile-phone company, has just issued a statement to the Istanbul bourse that it is looking to acquire at least 51% of Syriatel. It seems that Rami Makhlouf and his partners are looking to cash in before the duopoly they have enjoyed for nearly seven years comes to an end in Feb 2008.

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December 10th, 2007, 4:54 pm

 

5. George Ajjan said:

Great, maybe I can get http://www.syriapol.org unblocked too.

King Crane of the Basilian Aleppian Order, please email me.

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December 10th, 2007, 5:10 pm

 

6. trustquest said:

Anyone trying to find scapegoats and excuses to the regime by blaming ministers and administrators for blocking and for the crackdown on free speech and communications other than the regime “which consists of the top circle and the Mokhabarat” is deceiving himself and the public. Syria is a dictatorship, no one move a hair without permission.

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December 10th, 2007, 5:47 pm

 

7. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The Syrians are afraid of facebook and amazon but are not worried about selling a controlling interest in a major mobile phone company to a Nato member???? Are there any clear thinkers in the regime?

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December 10th, 2007, 7:24 pm

 

8. Bashmann said:

AIG,

Do you think Rami Makhloug gives a rat about Syria? He would sell his mother if he was able to. Isn’t it disgusting that a cousin of the President is able to yield so much ecnomic power and leverage?

I just spoke with a father of a friend of mine who just arrived in the US from Aleppo. He said things are horrible. Aleppo used to be the center for all consumer goods industrial activities, from shampoo’s to shoes to cotton cloths you name it, the new lifting of import tariffs on these goods are causing private small to medium size local factories to shut down faster than they can count them. The interesting news is that most of the companies doing the new imports are connected to the royal asad family.

AIG, there is much for you to learn about Syria my friend, its unfortunate that we seldom hear these things on SC.

Cheers

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December 10th, 2007, 7:35 pm

 

9. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Bashmann,
I would be happy to learn more. Unfortunately I cannot read Arabic.

If Syria cannot compete in textile and low tech where low salaries are important, what can it compete in? Perhaps Ehsani can enlighten us. Syria’s economy is a mystery to me. Is there anything substantial apart from oil that Syria exports?

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December 10th, 2007, 8:18 pm

 

10. SimoHurtta said:

The Syrians are afraid of facebook and amazon but are not worried about selling a controlling interest in a major mobile phone company to a Nato member???? Are there any clear thinkers in the regime?

AIG actually the biggest owner of Turkcell is TeliaSonera, which is a Swedish Finnish based company (formed from the old state owned telephone companies Telia and Sonera). Sweden and Finland are not NATO members. Well Turkey is, but what has NATO to do with Syrian telephone company and the Syrian regime AIG? Maybe you have misunderstood, NATO is not Syria’s enemy or on Israel’s side. USA is not NATO.

Didn’t you want Syria to open up and move to a more open society? Maybe it is you AIG who is not thinking clearly. 🙂

TeliaSomera owns parts of telecom companies in several countries of which some are not so “democratic”.

PS
AIG isn’t it strange that Israelis think that Lebanese and Iranians hold in German prisons are bargaining chips. And say that openly. Do democratic countries hold “bargaining chips” in prison after they have served their sentence for other countries?

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December 10th, 2007, 9:22 pm

 

11. trustquest said:

The of regime core own weight of being in power and holding the biggest chunk of capital in the hand of view will prove to be a burden more than advantage even it was originally planned back in the mid 90s as a strategic policy by the core to control the well being of the whole country for years to come. We should not forget that the planners have over looked at that time that Syria is a social country built on the Baath theories of (Unity, socialism and the funny third they called it freedom).
This kind of clear thinking will prove to be disastrous for them and for the country. Recent move to sell Syriatel could be the signaling of moving capital to work on the international stage, and that is right, these monies are theirs.

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December 10th, 2007, 10:44 pm

 

12. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Sim,
What part of NATO do you think Russia is exactly afraid of? Let me give you a hint, it is the American part. NATO was created to make sure the Russians understood that if they attacked Europe, America would be at war with the Soviet Union.

By selling a controlling block to Turkey, Syria is making it very easy for the US to gather intelligence from the mobile network.

As usual you have no shame. These Iranian murderers were released EARLY under a special German law. Both Germans and Israelis were against the release. The Israeli request was extermely reasonable yet you find fault in it. People that read this blog regularly know why.

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December 10th, 2007, 11:32 pm

 

13. SimoHurtta said:

Sim,
What part of NATO do you think Russia is exactly afraid of? Let me give you a hint, it is the American part. NATO was created to make sure the Russians understood that if they attacked Europe, America would be at war with the Soviet Union.

By selling a controlling block to Turkey, Syria is making it very easy for the US to gather intelligence from the mobile network.

Really AIG, you are a wise man. Do you know of what “NATO” is afraid on its Southern front. Why do you think the Germans, French, Italian etc NATO armies (+ Chinese) are having intelligence gathering operations on your northern border? And Russia on the Syrian side?

If a Syrian company is sold to Turkey, Syrians have certainly means to control the “Nato” spying. Do not be so childish AIG, governments have the ultimate control above companies operating there in Israel, Syria and Finland. No matter who owns them.

As usual you have no shame. These Iranian murderers were released EARLY under a special German law. Both Germans and Israelis were against the release. The Israeli request was extermely reasonable yet you find fault in it. People that read this blog regularly know why.

Why then the Germans (without shame) released them? Democracies do not have “bargaining chips”, Israel does. Laws (in this case a normal German law and procedure, not a special one) also go above public opinion. One thing that “you” Israeli settlers do not seem to understand.

Have you ever thought AIG how long Germans should have hold these “chips” in prison? By the way, why are about one third of Palestinian parliament members in Israeli prisons, I haven’t read any news of their trials? Quite a number “bargaining chips”. And AIG should the Americans free the Israeli spy in jail as “you” demand? He is no “bargaining chip”.

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December 11th, 2007, 12:02 am

 

14. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Sim,
In Finland does the government have ultimate control over companies, or do their owners? You are hallucinating. Of course the owners have ultimate control on everyday operations.

It is quite common for people to petition parole hearings and sentencing hearings and this is a democratic norm. I don’t know what you are complaining about. Also request for pardon. Nothing wrong with that.

As for the Palestinians, we are at war with them. Israel is a democracy for its citizens, not its enemies. Unlike Syrian regime, which is at war with its people.

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December 11th, 2007, 12:22 am

 

15. T said:

In the power tit for tat, the CIA has gotten back at Bush Co for the Valerie Plame outing via the NIE. And now the contrived controversy over the erased CIA torture tape is the Bush Co’s rejoinder to that. But the most significant bit is that it took the US intelligence community to restore a vestige of the system of checks and balances that the Israeli controlled Congress has ceded to another country. Our outlaw President has been momentarily restrained, even if it took the wrong branch of government to do it.
However, based on heavy precedent, this checkmate is only temporary- AIPAC, Bush Camp & Co are regrouping and will be back “to fight another day” in another way, like Al Qaeda hmmm… (Already Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has been summoned by Gabi Ashkenazi and Barak to get in line as Newsmax conveniently headlined another major 911 threat on their site today).
Scooter Libby trial appeal has also been dropped- a fact hardly noted by the press despite its being another element quite integral to the entire ME mess.

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December 11th, 2007, 6:08 am

 

16. SimoHurtta said:

Sim,
In Finland does the government have ultimate control over companies, or do their owners? You are hallucinating. Of course the owners have ultimate control on everyday operations.

Of course AIG it has. If the laws of the country say something about spying the customers in telecom companies, the owners have nothing to say. For example the former managing director of Sonera was trialled for illegal spying of customers. Also if the police has a court order the customer can be “spied” and the owners have nothing to say. Of course it is the governmental system which makes the rules.

Maybe it is in Israel different. If the Arabs buy your telecom companies, which they could do, because some of them are listed companies and they have the capital, could they spy how they want Israelis? Do not be so childish AIG.

As for the Palestinians, we are at war with them. Israel is a democracy for its citizens, not its enemies. Unlike Syrian regime, which is at war with its people.

You are at war against people who you have robbed and whose children you have been killing for decades? Well, well AIG. In some democracy do you live. “Bargaining chips” indeed. By the way aren’t you trying to make peace with your “enemies” who had a democratic elections or do you plan to steal more?

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December 11th, 2007, 7:39 am

 

17. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Sim,

As usual you contradict yourself. Why would there be a peace process with the Palestinians unless they were Israel’s enemies? And why does Israel or any other country have to give its enemies the same rights it gives its citizens? This is trivial common sense that you fail to acknowledge. The Syrian government on the other hans, is at war with its own people. Go figure that out.

In Israel the articles of the telecommunications companies are such that they cannot sell a controlling share position without government approval. It is because, contrary to your ridiculous claims, the government cannot control and monitor every piece of hardware or software that an operator puts in a network. And if there is a sophisticated operator, there is very little chance for the government to figure out if the network is compromised or not.

And as for the Arabs buying the publicly traded companies, you just do not understand how this works. Once you reach a certain percent ownership in a public company (usually 5%) you have to stop buying shares and declare your ownership and then if you want to purchase more you have to give an ofer to all shareholders. At this point the Israeli government can easily block the process and would block the process.

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December 11th, 2007, 12:44 pm

 

18. CWW said:

Foreign ownership of a company doesn’t make it easier for the country from which the new owner came to spy on its new customers. In Europe privacy laws are enforced regardless of the origin of the parent company.

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December 11th, 2007, 12:44 pm

 

19. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

CWW,
You are mixing up legal issues and technological issues.
Sure, the change of control does not make the law different, but it makes it much easier for the person controlling the company to circumvent the law. Intelligence gathering is already done in gray areas anyway, the change of control just makes things easier.

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December 11th, 2007, 1:35 pm

 

20. Alex2 said:

And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher’s arguments against the peace process ( samsonblinded.org/blog/we-need-a-respite-from-peace.htm )?

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December 15th, 2007, 2:32 pm

 

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