Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 14th, 2008
The following two articles are from Forward, a magazine published by Abdulsalam Haykal and edited by Sami Moubayed in Damascus.
Murder in Abou Kamal
By Ambassador Imad Moustapha
Reprinted with permission of Sami Moubayed of Forward
November 14, 2008
The journalist from the Foreign Affairs monthly fidgeted in his seat as he sat in front of me. After all, he came to ask me the tough questions; it was I who was supposed to be in the hot seat. Our roles would abruptly switch, leaving him to ponder over a question even simpler than the one he posed. “Why are you not securing your border with Iraq?” he asked.
“You think we can secure it?” I responded.
“If we can secure it, then you surely believe that it is a securable border?”
“Of course,” he said, still sounding resolute.
“Does the border not have two sides? If one expects minimally resourced Syria to solely secure the border, surely the US with its massive resources and superior armed forces can single-handedly accomplish the task, and with far better results, right? Now if you agree with me on this, then I want you to explain to me the following: why wouldn’t he US use its superior military resources to secure these borders from the Iraqi side and end this story once and for all? How come the US allows these borders to be a gateway for insurgents who freely cross these borders to harm their service men and women, when it is bound by duty to protect them? Instead, the US leaves this task to the Syrian state while criticizing Syria for ‘not doing enough.’ I need an explanation for this before you start interviewing me.” The answer I got was a complete silence.
This was a telling reflection of the complaisance and naiveté with which the American public and media continue to handle issues pertaining to American foreign policy. When discussing the Syrian-Iraqi border, no one asks the American administration, “what have YOU done lately?” No one poses the “tough” questions. Issues that require diligent and firm questioning of policy are continually rendered unchallenged. Bafflingly, the lessons from the lies leading to the Iraq War have yet to register with the American mass media.
The bottom line is that the Syrian-Iraqi border was never a priority for US troops. They understood the struggle came from within Iraq, from Iraqis fighting what they perceived an occupation of their land. This border, and the issue of foreign fighters have always been a mere distraction and diversion mechanism to provide explanations of violence when all else fails. The bloody massacre on October 26 that killed eight innocent Syrian civilians was yet another example. However, this will prove as one of the Americans’ more costly tactics.
Syria never amassed its troops at the Iraqi border in heed to American demands or to protect their soldiers. Syria did so first and foremost based on our national interest. As American policies fueled terrorism across our region, Syria was stuck between the hot-bed of religious extremism in Northern Lebanon and the post-occupation presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. With the contagious characteristic of insecurity and instability, achieving stability in our neighborhood was a matter of paramount national interest. For this reason, we exerted all our efforts to end the political stalemate in Lebanon, and worked closely with the Iraqis in an attempt to help stabilize Iraq.
Second, we secured the border for the sake of the Iraqis, whom we consider our Arab brothers and sisters with a long history of common heritage and strong ties. We would not allow anyone seeking to wreak more mayhem and cause more bloodshed in Iraq to come through Syria.
In another miscalculated, belligerent act, the US undermined all our efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation and stability in Iraq. We have tolerated and ignored the baseless, constant American criticism of our efforts on the border for five years, due to our conviction in the necessity of securing these borders for Syria’s sake, and for Iraq’s. However, while we became accustomed to the long list of US lies pertaining to the Syrian-Iraqi borders we never expected that the burning desire of this administration to influence the presidential elections, and scare the US electorate, will translate itself to a criminal terrorist attack against defenseless innocent civilians. The US administration has thought that by portraying Iraq as a place in which the fight against al-Qaeda and neighboring rogue states is still a critical national security mater that needs the firm hand of a certain candidate, it will help tilt the US public opinion in his favor.
If the Bush administration has undergone this atrocity to create a side show for the elections, and to help sway voters, then they very well might end up losing both the elections and Syria’s goodwill to help secure the Syrian-Iraqi borders.
Imad Moustapha is Syria’s Ambassador to the United States
Twenty orphans and widows
BY Yaacoub Qadduri
Ali, aged 22, woke up early on October 26, 2008. It was a long day for his big family in the Sukariyya village in the town of Abu Kamal, near the Syrian-Iraqi border. His family included, in addition to his father, a total of 12 borthers and sisters. The day ended leaving Ali with only 7. The rest were killed by a US air raid on Abu Kamal. On the day of the funeral-one day after the attack-Ali seemed a broken man, grieved by the loss of his father and brothers. He watched the coffins collectively passing by, with undescribable sorrow and pain in his eyes. On the second day, however, he seemed stronger, surrounded by family and friends, who all grieved for his loss. He still could not speak about what happened, however, and his uncle Utawi Abdullah, offered to speak to us instead.
On the day of the raid, Dawoud (50) woke up early to go to work with his sons Faisal (34), Ibrahim (24), Olayan (18) and Suleiman (16). Ibrahim had one child-with another on the way-while Faisal had eight, making Dawoud the proud grandfather of many children. All of them left home with Dawoud, in the company of a family neighbor named Ahmad Khalifeh (20) at 7 am, driving a small truck for their routine job as construction workers. That was the only profession any of them ever had.
At the construction site on the Euphrates River, there was much work to be done. Construction for the home they were building-with two rooms-had only began three days earlier. Four US choppers came in shortly after the family had finished work in the early evening, flying on low elevation over the Euphrates. They opened fire on the construction site, and two planes landed, killing the entire family. US soldiers disembarked and walked through the pile of dead bodies, shooting them at close range with guns, to make double-sure that everybody was dead. Utawi recalled no less than 10 bullets were found in each corpse, after the Americans left the scene.
When asked if any member of his family was a member of al-Qaeda, as the Americans implied, or outlaws, as the Iraqi government said, Utawi shook his head angrily: “All of them were illterate. The only one among them who had received any kind of schooling had not reached past 4th grade! They worked in construction and none of them had ever left Syria with the exception of Dawoud, who had tried working in Kuwait 10-years ago, with no luck. He returned to his job as a construction worker in Syria.” He further explained, “We are laborers; we know nothing of al-Qaeda. They house they were building was intended to be a small residence, not a military site to threaten the security of the United States!” A man listening to Utawi at the condolence service where we were interviewing him added, “If there was terrorism in our area it would have surfaced a long time ago. The Americans get frightened from any kind of construction activity in our district. Frightened people do stupid things!”
Dawoud left behind young children-orphans-and the widows of his sons, who all add up to 20. His eldest grandson-the son of Faisal-is only 12. He is blind and so is his sister. Ibrahim’s wife is preganent with a child who will never see his father or grandfather. Overnight the survivor Ali has become the oldest in the family; the bread provider for all the 20 women and children, thanks to the United States.
News Summary follows
How US claims about Syria became media facts
By Sharif Nashashibi
The Guardian, 14 November 2008
In any conflict, warring parties strive to convince the public that justice is on their side. The most effective way of doing this is through the media. It is imperative that journalists cast a critical eye on information they receive to avoid becoming unwitting tools in the propaganda war. In particular, they should not report claims as facts.
There were several fundamental failings in the British press coverage of the recent US raid into Syria. For example, Richard White in the Sun and the Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn both reported as fact that the raid killed Abu Ghadiya, an alleged al-Qaida figure who smuggled fighters into Iraq.
Similarly, the Times diplomatic correspondent Catherine Philp reported as fact that American commandos entered Syria and fought “a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiyah and members of his cell”.
Such news justifies the raid to readers because the target was important enough to violate the sovereignty of another country. However, Abu Ghadiya’s death, and the fight against him, were uncorroborated US claims. The news was not identified by the reporters as coming from American sources…
West queries IAEA aid for Syria during atomic probe
By Mark Heinrich
Reuters, 14 November 2008
Western powers have questioned an International Atomic Energy Agency offer to help Syria look into building a nuclear power plant while it is under investigation for alleged covert atomic activity, diplomats said on Friday.
But they said that whether the United States and close allies act to bar the “technical cooperation” project at an IAEA governors meeting in two weeks — a rare and politically divisive step — will depend on the findings of the agency’s first investigative report on Syria due next week….
Turkish-Syrian relations: The Erdoğan legacy (This is an excellent historical overview)
Today’s Zaman, 14 November 2008
By Sami Moubayed
The rise to power of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan marks a new era in positive Turkish-Syrian relations. The new Syrian attitude towards Turkey represents a break from past: Syria considers Turkey a reliable partner for brokering a peace deal between Syria and Israel, and Turkey offers opportunities for political and economic cooperation for improving the welfare and security of two countries.
The Syrian administration considers Turkey’s partnership to be a key factor in its attempts to achieve integration into the international community, a solution of the problems with Israel, and the securing of territorial unity in Iraq.
…. Intensive diplomacy over the last six months has been aimed at getting the Americans to endorse the talks in Turkey. One method was to cuddle up to the Russians last August, at the height of the war in South Ossetia. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad went to Russia and made strong remarks in favor of the Russian war with Georgia, and more recently, sent a senior military delegation to Moscow to discuss military cooperation with the Russian Army. The aim was to tell the Americans, “Syria still has all its options open. It is in both America and Israel’s interest to invest in Syria’s readiness for peace at this stage, otherwise, if the wrong buttons continue to be pushed, the Syrians always have the Russian option on the table.” That message was badly received in Washington; rather than scaring the Americans into becoming proactive, it gave ammunition to the Bush Administration to further distance itself from the talks, claiming that the Syrians were not ready for peace.
Then came the Syrian effort at bringing the French to the negotiating table in Turkey. During his July 2008 visit to Paris, President Assad invited Nicolas Sarkozy to co-sponsor the talks with Israel. This September, Erdoğan met with Assad in Damascus, at a summit with Sheikh Hamad Bin Khailfa al-Thani and President Sarkozy. The Syrians and Israelis were willing to enter into direct talks, under both American and French sponsorship of the talks, along with Turkey….
The priorities of the Syrian government shifted after a terrorist bomb struck in the middle of Damascus on September 27, 2008, showing just how dangerous the situation is in neighboring north Lebanon and Iraq. All related parties should pay attention to the fact that the new priority on the Syrian agenda is internal security and combating trans-national terror networks operating in neighboring countries.
The Turkish government needs to invest in Syria’s desire for peace at this stage, which has arguably never been so strong since 2001, and which perhaps will not remain as strong …
The Syrians are uninterested in a rapprochement with the Bush White House, despite the latest meeting between Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They also need a US Administration that publicly and actively supports the indirect talks currently underway in Turkey, hoping that they can become direct talks after progress is achieved. Turkey should play a role in getting the new US administration more actively involved in Syrian-Israeli peace.
Both countries have a strong mutual interest in preventing the annexation of Kirkuk to Iraqi Kurdistan, because this would enflame the ambitions of Kurds in both Syria and Turkey. Turkey, Syria and Iraq should be persistent enough to support a strong central government in Baghdad, making current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maleki less reliant on his Kurdish allies in Parliament. The more he feels isolated within the Iraqi political system, the more he will lean on the Kurds and appease them through implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution, vis-à-vis the future of Kirkuk.
The Syrians believed Erdoğan, when he promised to work with them, “to extract milk, even from the male goat!” Sustainability of cooperation is what matters now in bilateral relations between Syria and Turkey. Investment in the Syrian market, along with continued support for Syria in the peace process, are what the Syrians are looking for to keep the honeymoon going between Damascus and Ankara.
Vladimir Putin ‘wanted to hang Georgian President Saakashvili by the balls’ (thanks to FLC)
By Charles Bremner
The London Times, 14 November 2008
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.
Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”
Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there…”
Archaeologists unearth 8th century church in Syria
By ALBERT AJI
AP, 13 November 2008
Archaeologists in central Syria have unearthed the remnants of an 8th century church, an antiquities official said Thursday. A Syrian-Polish archaeological team recently discovered the church in the ancient city of Palmyra, said Walid al-Assaad, the head of the Palmyra Antiquities and Museums Department. He did not say specifically when the church was discovered or the exact date the church was built.
He said the church is the fourth and largest discovered so far in Palmyra — an ancient trade center that is now an archaeological treasure trove.
The church’s base measures 51-by-30 yards, and archaeologists estimate its columns stood 20 feet tall and its wooden ceiling would have been about 50 feet high, al-Assaad said.
A small amphitheater also was found in the church’s courtyard where experts believe Christian rituals were practiced, al-Assaad said.
“In the northern and southern parts of the church there are two rooms that are believed to have been used for baptisms, religious ceremonies, prayers and other rituals,” he said.
Ancient Palmyra, located some 150 miles northeast of Damascus, was the center of an Arab servant state to the Roman empire and thrived on caravan trades across the desert to Mesopotamia and Persia.
Under the 3rd century Syrian Queen Zenobia, the city rebelled against Roman rule and briefly carved out an independent desert Arab kingdom before being reconquered and razed by the Romans.
Assad and Obama: a new beginning
By Elias Samo
The Daily Star, 14 November 2008
Like many countries, Syria is pleased with the passing of the Bush administration and the victory of the “globalist” Barack Obama. For Syria, which has been on the receiving end of President George W. Bush’s misconceived policies, the outcome of the elections was a blessing. For the past eight years – a dark period in Syrian-American relations – Washington used every conceivable means to break or bend the Syrian system, including economic embargo and political pressure. President Bashar Assad extended his hand in friendship to Washington, but President Bush chose to ignore the positive signs and increased the pressure and demands, actually dictates, on Damascus.
The problem was largely caused by Bush and the “old guard” around him who invoked their personal animosity toward Assad. This did not serve American interests. However, despite all the American threats, political pressure and economic embargo, the leadership in Damascus is confident and secure, surrounded by a sea of instability, thanks partly to Washington. To the east, the Americans are bogged down in a fragmented Iraq, to the west is a chaotic Lebanon and to the south the divided Palestinians and the contentious Israelis are deadlocked. Syria has a finger in each of these pies and Damascus can be either peacemaker or spoiler. Additionally, relations with Europe are improving: Damascus can barely keep up with the stream of official European visitors…
Israeli Bombs Are Source of Uranium at Shelled Site, Syria Says
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, 14 November 2008
Israeli missiles are the source of traces of uranium that diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency say were found at a suspected nuclear site in Syria, according to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
“The basis of American complaint and allegations, presented to the IAEA seven months after the Israeli raid, is that a reactor was under construction, not operating, so where did the uranium particles come from?” al-Moallem said late yesterday, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. “Why has nobody asked about the content and type of Israeli shells used in destroying this building, in light of the U.S. and Israel’s use of uranium in their shells?”
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Sept. 22 that United Nations inspectors, on a visit in June, hadn’t found any traces of nuclear material at the site in al-Kibar that was bombed by Israel in September 2007. U.S. intelligence officials, who suspected Syria of having a covert nuclear program in the 1990s, said they were certain the government in Damascus was building a secret facility with North Korean help in early 2007, according to Congressional testimony in April.
The IAEA will present findings on its investigation into the Syrian site to the UN agency’s 35-member board of directors before their next meeting on Nov. 27, ElBaradei said in Prague this week.
“I regret very much the fact that we were not allowed to investigate the issue before the facility was destroyed,” ElBaradei said Nov. 11 in a Prague press briefing. “The job has become much more complicated for us.”
Syria, which is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has denied the U.S. allegations. Israel’s government has declined to comment on the issue.
Al-Moallem said “leaks of information by some Western diplomats is a clear indication that the goal is to put pressure on Syria, particularly as the campaign came before ElBaradei reports to the board of governors. This means that the subject is not technical but political.”
Miliband lauds Syrian-Lebanese ties, but March 14 not so sure
The Daily Star, 14 November 2008
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is expected to visit Lebanon next week, praised Damascus on Thursday for having opened diplomatic relations with Lebanon. “I think that in a significant way there has been important change in the approach of the Syrian government, notably the historic decision to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon,” Miliband told a news conference on Thursday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree last month to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon for the first time since the two states won independence from France in the 1940s.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet will convene on Saturday at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, with 32 items on its agenda.The Cabinet’s secretariat general received a request from Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud to discuss the outcome of his talks in Damascus earlier this week…