Posted by Alex on Monday, October 27th, 2008
(Addendum – Monday Morning): Recent information has caused me to trim my sails a bit on the notion that Petraeus is angry about this raid. It was probably constructed by Special Forces and not Cheney’s office. Evidently there are real issues at the border and Petraeus has been warning the Syrians that they must do more. His interest in going to Syria in the fall of 2007 was as much to read Syria the riot act about compliance as it was to seek intelligence sharing, although that had been a principal subject of the Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Mu`alem and Rice in May. Bashar al-Asad is no mood to give anything to Bush or Rice in the closing months of their administration.
Satellite intelligence probably picked up smugglers, which were interpreted to be al-Qaida. Quite possibly these poor people killed in the raid were a family of smugglers. The US is now claiming that the raid sucessfully killed their target, a facilitator for Iraqis. Seymour Hersh wrote a brilliant story about a similar raid five years ago that killed a eight smugglers. Here is a bit of “The Syrian Bet: Did the Bush Administration burn a useful source on Al Qaeda?“
Army helicopters and Bradley Fighting Vehicles attacked two groups of cars heading into Syria, triggering enormous explosions and fireballs that lit up the night sky. A gas station and nearby homes were destroyed. Task Force 20 sped across the border into Syria….
“The operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people—occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby—were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline….
In short, this may have been a simple botched operation based on bad intelligence. But in the larger scheme of things, it is the price of refusing to repair relations with the Syrians when they could have been.
[Older Landis Analysis]:Overnight, the US has managed to turn the press coverage to its favor by putting out releases that focus on "rat lines" and the like, i.e. "The US and Iraqi government accuse Damascus of being reluctant to guard its borders and not doing enough to stop militants, including those from al-Qaeda, crossing the border into Iraq."
But the real question is why now. Syria has been improving border compliance steadily. Petraeus announced this month that Syria has brought down infiltration from 100 to 20 a month. (As quoted in the LA Times)
In the past 5 years, the US has had plenty of reason and opportunity to pursue cross border raids, but did not do so because it believed that the way to solve the problem was by cooperating with Syria, not by bombing it. Undoubtedly, policy makers also feared that Syria might punish the US in response. Both the State Department and DOD have consistently pushed for intelligence sharing with Damascus only to be shot down by the Vice President’s office. This was told to me by a high ranking intelligence officer in Washington.
Secretary of State, Rice asked Syria’s F.M. at Sharm al-Shaykh in May 2007 for permission to send two US generals to Damascus to restart intelligence sharing. Damascus was excited by this prospect because it is in Syria’s national interest. But Damascus demanded that Washington appoint an Ambassador to Damascus in recognition of Syria’s support and cooperation. The White House refused to permit the normalization of relations, so Syria refused to allow the US generals into Syria.
In Dec. 2007, Petraeus himself tried to go to Damascus to restart intelligence cooperation. The Vice President refused him permission. This was the time that Petraeus announced that Syria had improved compliance and cut back infiltration across the border.
I think we can assume that this cross border raid was not inspired by Petraeus. It has the finger prints of the White House. Petraeus and Rice have consistently fought to improve relations with Syria in order to win better coordination on the border.
This would explain why press releases on this issue are being released from “sources” in Washington and not being made by boots on the ground in Iraq. My hunch is that Centcom in Iraq is furious about being pressed to carry out this raid during the last minutes of Bush authority. They understand that it will complicate any future efforts to improve Syrian-US relations, which is the only real way to get better cooperation on the border issue. By ordering this raid, the Bush administration has administered a poison pill to US-Syrian relations and to Syrian-Iraq relations.
As Jonathan Marcus of the BBC has written, ”With the Bush administration on the way out, this US military incursion may represent something of a parting shot against the Syrians.”
The White House may be counting on Syria not to respond to this provocation, believing that Damascus will be constrained by its interest in cultivating a new relationship with an Obama administration. There is much hope in Damascus that an Obama administration will resume dialogue and allow the Defense Department to re-establish intelligence sharing and allow the State Department ot restore proper relations with Damascus.
[end of Landis analysis]
"This month Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq, said [Syrian] efforts had helped cut the number of foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border from about 100 to 20 a month. But he made it clear that more needed to be done."
The Iraqi government on Monday said that it is talking to US officials over the American raid on the remote Syrian border village of Al-Sukariya and that it hoped the incident would not spoil Iraq’s ties with Damascus.
“The Americans failed to reply to all the requests by the Syrian government and to allow the Iraqis to build up security co-ordination across the border,” Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Centre for International Studies, a Syrian think-tank, told al-Jazeera.
Aljazeera English reports on the US raid into Syria.
Syria says U.S. military helicopters attacked the Bou Kamal border area on Sunday, killing eight civilians. The United States, which accuses Syria of not doing enough to stop al Qaeda fighters and other insurgents crossing into Iraq, has neither confirmed nor denied the incident.
"This is an outrageous crime and an act of aggression, of course," Syria’s press attache in London, Jihad Makdissi, told the BBC.
He said the U.S. strike hit “a building under construction, a civilian building”.
"If they (the United States) have any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information," Maqdisi said.
“This administration … have proved to be irrational and they have no respect for international law or human rights. We expect a clarification, and of course Syria reserves the right to respond accordingly in the proper way.”
Syria’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Damascus to protest over the raid.
Syria also called on the Iraqi government to carry out an immediate inquiry into the attack and to ensure that Iraq was not used for “aggression against Syria”, the state news agency SANA said.