Imad Moustapha on Raid: Newsweek & FP

FP interview with Imad Moustapha:

Imad Moustapha:  last month in New York in September, while we were attending the U.N. General Assembly meetings, [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice out of the blue requested a meeting with our foreign minister. So we sat with her, and the meeting was pleasant. Two days later, this meeting was followed with an extensive, in-depth meeting with Assistant Secretary of State David Welch. Every issue was discussed, and in general the overwhelming tone of the meeting was very positive. He told us clearly that the United States was reevaluating its policies towards Syria. We thought, “Things [are] finally starting to move in the right direction.”

And suddenly, this [raid in eastern Syria] happens. I don’t believe the guys from the State Department were actually deceiving us. I believe they genuinely wanted to engage diplomatically and politically with Syria. We believe that other powers within the administration were upset with these meetings and they did this exactly to undermine the whole new atmosphere.

Interviewed by FP, here (H-t FLC)

“…Do we know why? Of course not. The only analysis we have is that they are doing this for pure domestic political reasons that have everything to do with the elections and the electoral campaign. They want to come out with a story. But we are still waiting for the U.S. administration to come out and tell the American people: “We killed [Abu Ghadiya], and here is the proof that we killed him.” We have presented our side of the story. We have published the photos of the eight people that were killed, their names, and what they were doing. This is our side of the story. Let the United States come with its side…”

Syria’s ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, in an interview Thursday with Foreign Policy, complained that the Syrian government had approached the United States about cooperating to seal the Syria-Iraq border from foreign fighters — only to be repeatedly rebuffed by U.S. officials. This claim gained more credence today, as ABC News published an “exclusive” report revealing that Gen. David Petraeus had proposed visiting Syria shortly after assuming command of U.S. forces in the Middle East. The general’s proposal, however, was quickly rejected by Bush administration officials.

This is less of a scoop than ABC would have its readers believe.

Joshua Landis, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma who is sympathetic to the Syrian regime, reported back in August that General Petraeus tried to visit Syria in December 2007. However, there are signs that Petraeus remains skeptical about Syria’s stated desire for cooperation. Landis reported that “there are real issues at the border,” and that Petraeus’s interest in going to Syria stemmed in part from a desire “to read Syria the riot act about compliance [on border security].”

Moustapha also revealed in the interview that Sen. Joseph Lieberman personally assured him that a John McCain administration would be be inclined to sit and talk with Syria. Check it out.

Newsweek’s Dan Ephron interviews Syria’s Ambassador to the US

Imad Moustapha : The only version is what actually happened. Four U.S. helicopters penetrated Syrian territory. They attacked a small residential house in the Sukarieh village. Two helicopters started firing from above while two helicopters landed. The criminals [U.S. troops] came out of those helicopters shooting on everyone that was there. Those who were already injured on the ground, they just shot them again to make sure they’re dead and left. Only one woman and a man survived. The rest were all killed, one father and his four sons, a husband and wife and a fisherman.
Don’t these incidents point to a security breakdown within Syria?
I wouldn’t say at all it’s a breakdown in security. We’re a country surrounded by a hammer and a hard place. We have two major occupations surrounding us, the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories and the American occupation of Iraq. The whole region is troubled by extremism.
Were the people in the house armed?
No, they were not armed. They were civilians, they were defenseless residents of that village who were working on constructing a small house, a village-type house.

What about reports that an Al Qaeda operative nicknamed Abu Ghadiyah was among the dead?
Absolute rubbish. This is just a small addition to the huge series of lies [that America has told] about what is happening in and around Iraq.

Then why did the United States launch the raid in the first place?
For the past five years they have fabricated a huge amount of lies about the role of Syria in the violence in Iraq and how infiltrators are coming from Syria to Iraq. But they never ever did anything like this. In the last six months they have publicly admitted that the situation has improved dramatically in Iraq. Syria has done everything possible to try to secure the Syrian-Iraqi border and then this unprecedented criminal attack happens. Give me an explanation.

What s your explanation?
It has everything to do with domestic politics here in Washington, D.C. It has nothing to do with what’s going on in our region.

How does this affect domestic politics in Washington?
There is a slight possibility—but we don’t believe this is serious—that they got terribly wrong intelligence. But we don’t believe that they think there really was an Al Qaeda activist there. What we believe is that for purely domestic reasons, the United States of America decided to escalate the conflict and tension in the region because certain politicians here are saying that U.S. troops should not really be in Iraq, they should be in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda. So now they [the Bush administration] want to circulate a story saying Al Qaeda is not only in Iraq, so we need to maintain our troop levels in Iraq, we need to attack neighboring countries. We believe in Syria that it’s a purely domestic political issue in America that led to this crime.

You re saying there are no infiltrations of jihadis from Syria into Iraq?
Prior to the United States invasion of Iraq there was not a single Qaeda activist or man in Iraq or Syria. Now, the whole region—Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt [and] Lebanon—are suffering from these extremist groups that were spawned as a natural reaction to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. So today Syria is caught between two troubled areas. The northern part of Lebanon has become a hotbed for extremist Salafi fundamentalists and there are terrorist groups there. They have attacked targets in Syria in the past. And of course Iraq is a hotbed of extremism and of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Now, can they cross into Syria? Of course it’s a possibility. We have 600 kilometers [370 miles] of open borders, desert borders with Iraq. We have done everything possible within our capacity to try and secure these borders. We have asked the United States many times for help to [secure] these borders but we were always turned down.

What kind of help?
We told them, as an example, that we need some technological means to control these borders: advanced telecommunications systems, night-vision goggles, things we really need to improve the situation. They never listened to our request. We have done what we can. We increased the number of our troops along the Syrian-Iraq border from a few hundred before the invasion to tens of thousands presently. This is a huge burden on us. Meanwhile, 1.5 million Iraqi refugees have crossed into Syria. If some of them are recruited by extremist or terrorist organizations, how can we control this? We did not invite them to leave their country and come into Syria. It’s the United States building democracy and prosperity in Iraq that created the largest exodus in the history of the Middle East. We are also cooperating with the Iraqis themselves. We have bilateral committees on security and intelligence issues, and this raid will also jeopardize our cooperation with the Iraqis. However you look at it, this is very bad.

What about the Syrian general who was killed on the coast a few months back? Who killed him?
I don’t know. There’s an ongoing investigation.

The United States has said in the past, 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq cross through Syria. How does that square with what you re saying about your efforts to seal the border?
Ninety-nine percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq are Iraqis. This is a fact. Now, is there 1 percent that might be coming from outside Iraq? Yes. But this does not mean we are allowing this to happen. If you think we’re responsible for every outsider who penetrates these borders, I can give you lists of thousands of people we caught trying to cross these borders. We are doing everything possible to try to seal these borders, but we can’t hermetically seal a desert.

Prior to this infiltration, it had looked like relations were thawing somewhat between the United States and Syria. Is that perception accurate?
Contacts with the administration had been improving in the last six months. Only a month ago, back in September in New York, Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice requested a meeting with her Syrian counterpart. She sat with us and said that the United States wants to engage with Syria, wants to re-evaluate its relationship with Syria. And we thought that was a very positive sign. And suddenly this raid happens out of the blue.

What is the state of Syria s indirect talks with Israel? The Israeli prime minister gave an interview a few weeks ago saying he understood that Israel would have to part with the Golan Heights for peace. In that case, why aren t the two sides closer to an agreement?
For a simple reason: this has to do with the domestic political scene in Israel. As you know, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert resigned. His successor failed to form a government. As far as we are concerned we had three successful meetings in Istanbul. We agreed that both parties want to have peace. The political desire for peace is there. And the principle is land for peace. The Israelis understood that in order to make peace with Syria they need to return the Golan to us. And we thought it was a very good starting point for the peace negotiations.

The United States had no role in the Turkish-brokered negotiations?
The U.S. tried in every way possible to convince the Israelis not to sit and talk to us, but they failed. They were successful at the beginning—this is what the Israelis told us. But then they decided not to heed the voice of the Bush administration and to sit down and talk with us. We are optimistic. The three rounds of talks were very successful.

Did the Israelis commit to withdrawing all the way to the line of June 4, 1967?
Olmert did say this.

In a newspaper interview or through proxies in the talks?
I’m not going to get into details. I’m only going to tell you that we are very satisfied with the three rounds of talks.

What about the Israeli demands? What did the Syrian side say about Israel s demands vis- à -vis Syria s ties with Iran and support for Hizbullah? How clear was Syria on these issues?
The Israelis know us very well. Historically, whenever we signed an agreement, we fully respected and fulfilled our obligations. On the other hand, we’re not going to negotiate with Israel our relations with third countries. We’re not telling the Israelis, for example, that we are unhappy with their relations with Georgia so they have to sever the relations.

Who killed Imad Mugniyah , the Hizbullah military commander who died in a car bombing in Damascus in February?
Israel killed Imad Mugniyah. Do you have any doubt?
Do you?
No, I don’t have any doubt.
Is that the conclusion of the Syrian investigation?
I can tell you yes.

Who Authorized the Syria Raid? By Noah Shachtman at Wired

Comments (16)


norman said:

What do all of you think about this,

Questions raised over Syrian complicity in US raid
Syria has denounced a US strike on its territory but sources say Damascus secretly backed the raidMarie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi
Video: Syrian minister criticises US raid

The 38-year-old farmer was watering his maize in the scrubby vastness of eastern Syria when four Black Hawk helicopters swooped in low over the palm trees, heading from the border with Iraq formed by the Euphrates River.

It was late afternoon. The light was fading and the chill of the desert winter night was setting in. The helicopters, following their leader in a disciplined arc, hovered just above the one-storey concrete and mud homes of the village of Sukariyeh before the attack began.

Two of them landed next to a ramshackle building site and uniformed men hit the ground firing. Two other helicopters gave aerial cover.

Related Links
US says attack on village was ‘warning to Syria’
A warning Syria’s President Assad must heed
Syrian minister condemns US ‘terrorism’
“To begin with I thought they were Syrian helicopters, but then I saw eight or nine soldiers armed to the teeth. They carried big black M16s,” said Mohammad al-Ali, the farmer. His land lies closest to the site where an American commando squad last week staged an unprecedented strike in Syrian territory.

The guns were the clue to their identity – only Americans or their allies carry M16s; the Syrian army has Russian-made AK47s.

Ali said the troops raced to a compound of new homes, where men of the al-Hamad family were working. “Even before they ran from their helicopters they began to shoot at the workers,” Ali said. “The whole operation took 10 to 15 minutes and they left behind seven corpses.”

According to one eyewitness, the Americans took two men, alive or dead, back with them.

The Americans’ target was an Al-Qaeda commander identified as Badran Turki Hashim al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born terrorist in his late twenties. It is believed that he died in the firefight and his body was removed.

The Syrian regime immediately denounced the raid for violating its sovereignty, froze high-level diplomatic relations with Washington and protested at the United Nations in a ritualised show of anger.

However, sources in Washington last week revealed to The Sunday Times an intriguingly different background to the events in Sukariyeh.

According to one source, the special forces operation had taken place with the full cooperation of the Syrian intelligence services.

“Immediately after 9/11, Syrian intelligence cooperation was remarkable,” said the Washington source. “Then ties were broken off, but they have resumed recently.”

Abu Ghadiya was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus. It would be expedient for Syria if America would eliminate him.

The threat to the Syrian government has made the regime of President Bashar al-Assad jittery. In September a car bomb exploded in Damascus near its intelligence headquarters. Many of the 17 victims were Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims at a nearby shrine.

The Washington source said the Americans regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya.

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet “snatch and grab” raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya’s whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

According to defence sources, when the four US helicopters approached the Syrian border, they were detected by Syrian radar. Air force headquarters in Damascus was asked for permission to intercept.

After an Israeli airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in the same region last year, Syrian air defence has been on high alert. The request was turned down by senior officers because the American operation was expected.

It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

Ninety minutes after the raid, according to a local tribal leader, agents of the feared Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence service, flooded into the village. “They threatened us that if anyone said anything about what happened in this area, their family members would die,” he said.

Local residents were happy to identify the seven dead villagers as Daoud al-Hamad, who owned the land, and his four sons, who were helping him to build the new houses, along with the site watchman and his cousin. The area is isolated and poor. Locals speak with Iraqi accents, as their tribe extends across the border, and smuggling is the most lucrative local profession.

The tribal leader revealed that everyone in the village knew that “jihadis” – extremist Islamic fighters – were operating in the area.

“You could often hear shooting from close to the border, which was not clashes but fighters training,” he said.

“There are areas along the border where the Mukhabarat doesn’t let people go and that’s where I think the jihadis are. The areas are some of the best ways into Iraq.”

Despite the furore over the raid, there can be little doubt that the Americans will celebrate the death of Abu Ghadiya, whom they described as the “most prominent” smuggler for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He allegedly ran guns, money and foreign fighters along the “rat lines” that lead across the desert into northern Iraq and sometimes led raids himself.

In February the US Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiya as a “high value” Al-Qaeda commander in charge of smuggling “money, weapons, terrorists and other resources . . . to Al-Qaeda in Iraq”.

It described him as a Sunni Muslim born in the late 1970s in Mosul and said he had been an aide to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006.

Damascus may have other motives for its cooperation with Washington. Some diplomats in the capital think the regime would like to stage its own cross-border strikes against terror groups in Lebanon, which it sees as a threat.

“Syrian cross-border incursions into northern Lebanon in pursuit of Fatah al–Islam [a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda] are plausible,” said one source. They may be relying on the United States to turn a blind eye to do so.

American officials refused to apologise for the botched raid on Syria. They said the administration was determined to operate under a definition of self-defence that provided for strikes on terrorist targets in any sovereign state.

For Al-Qaeda militants, the safe haven of Syria will be looking decidedly cooler as winter sets in.

Additional reporting: Hugh MacLeod in Beirut

November 2nd, 2008, 12:42 am


norman said:

Glenn Greenwald
Friday Oct. 31, 2008 08:11 EDT
Someone should tell ABC News what “exclusive” means
(updated below)

On October 26 — 5 days ago — Joshua Landis wrote on his blog, Syria Comment, about the U.S. bombing raid inside Syria, and said this (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

The Bush administration seems to be ratcheting up action against Syria during its last days in power. . . In late 2007 then-Coalition commander General David Petraeus praised Syria’s cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq . . . . Petraeus sought to go to Damascus in December 2007 to restart intelligence sharing, but was forbidden from doing so by the White House.

Today, ABC News is loudly touting what it claims is an “EXCLUSIVE” (h/t sysprog):

ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East.

The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

ABC’s so-called “exclusive” story today was reported, almost verbatim, by Jonathan Landis, on his blog, five days ago. This happens quite frequently.

Earlier this month, ABC News touted even more loudly what it claimed was an “exclusive” — that former NSA employees have said that the NSA routinely eavesdropped on the personal conversations of Americans calling to the U.S. from Iraq. In fact, that “exclusive” story was nothing of the sort, as one of the NSA employees on whom ABC relied — Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne — was interviewed on Democracy Now by Amy Goodman five months earlier, where Kinne made all of the same revelations (and more).

There’s this strange, self-serving “standard” used by establishment media outlets which provides that while they must credit one another when citing stories that they report, they are free to duplicate or just copy from non-establishment media outlets and can pretend that it’s original or “exclusive” to them. Certain cable news shows frequently copy wholesale from blogs in their stories without any credit — something that never happens when they copy from other establishment outlets. That sort of uncredited copying is perhaps impolite though not particularly significant. But claiming “exclusivity” for a story that others have worked on and previously reported is just highly misleading.

November 2nd, 2008, 1:46 am


Alex said:


This is just like what happened eight years ago … Canadian comedians asked George Bush at the time if he is happy that prime minister Jean Poutine (a popular Quebec Potato and cheese dish) announced he is endorsing him … George Bush said he is very happy for the endorsement.

Now we find out that just like President Bush at the time, Sarah also has no idea who is the Prime minister of Canada … the country next door.

Yet, on Tuesday she will get some 45 to 55 % of the vote.

And THAT is not funny.

November 2nd, 2008, 6:08 am


Alex said:

Here it is … before he was .. elected

November 2nd, 2008, 6:17 am


offended said:

Alex, you are right. It may have sounded funny at the time. But when you think of all that has taken place in the last 8 years, it’s terrifying to see people of such calibre get elected to be at the helm of the then world only super power.

It’s scary…

November 2nd, 2008, 6:53 am


Alia said:

Were the demonstrations staged?

What difference does it make? Were there enough outraged Syrian people to walk in a demonstration? Alex noted in this forum, on the day following the raid, that, all of us Syrians, from all walks of life, regardless of our affiliations, were outraged and that should be enough. If no one had gone out in a demonstration, what would have that proven?…that people do not care? Ridiculous sophistry.

Was the Syrian regime an accomplice to this act of aggression on its own territory?
It is possible but not probable. The American theatre is where the games are played at the moment. Cheney scolded Nancy Pelosi before her trip to Syria, Cheney renewed threats against Syria following the Israeli raid on the ” nuclear facility”, Cheney forbade Petraeus from visiting Syria recently…. What is Cheney’s next step against Syria going to be in the very near future as his time is running out? I hope Iran and Russian start some serious muscle-flexing.

November 2nd, 2008, 12:09 pm


why-discuss said:

For 8 years the Bush admnistration has shown to be a bunch of inefficient and dangerous bafoons. They have harmed the US international reputation for years to come. How can anyone trust a superpower governed by Dr Strangelove..and now Sarah Palin? where is the US going?
Obama could be the savior of this country, if these criminals let him become and stay the president.

November 2nd, 2008, 4:32 pm


Off the Wall said:

It was very funny but it was also very scary. Palin acted as a teenager who was smitten by the fact that she was talking to a “French Gentelman” with a funny accent. Psychologists will have a lot of fun analyzing her responses, or lackthereof, to some very outraguous comments the pranksters made in order to drop one hint after the other that this was a prank.

She was given so many opportunities to find that out and she failed in everyone of them. Mainly because of the exagurated french accent. What a shameful dumby.

November 2nd, 2008, 5:29 pm


offended said:

If the world could vote:

Barack Obama 86.8% (581,744 votes)
John McCain 13.2% (88,249 votes)

November 2nd, 2008, 5:29 pm


Rumyal said:

While we’re at it…. Worldly folks can be pranked too:

Ali G interviews the secretary general of the united nations of Benetton Boutros Boutros Boutros Boutros Ghali

Altough I think he just played along for the fun of it.

November 2nd, 2008, 7:27 pm


Shai said:


Peter Sellers is my all-time favorite comedian-actor. Robin Williams is also hilarious. And lately, I’m finding Borat/Ali G extremely funny as well. Shocking that we like the same actors, eh? 🙂 Btw, I heard Robin Williams say once that “Politicians are like Diapers. They should be replaced often, and for the same reason!”

November 2nd, 2008, 7:44 pm


Rumyal said:

That’s one out of three (Borat), you’re setting yourself as the unbridled optimist again Shai 🙂

November 2nd, 2008, 8:24 pm


Shai said:


Pessimism makes life worthless…

November 2nd, 2008, 8:36 pm


friend in America said:

I concur with the discontinuity observed by Ambassador Imad Mustapha between the recent border event with the meetings at the United Nations. It illustrates the conflicting policies in the present administration regarding Syria. Secretary Condeleezza Rice and the Vice-President have been at odds on foreign policy since January, 2001. Usually Chaney has had the upper hand, but in the past 2 years it appeared that the State Department was gaining support from the President. The reverse of events this past summer in the negotiations with North Korea, the stalemate in mid east negotiations and the grave misjudgment by the leaders in Georgia have been enough for supporters of the Vice-President’s strategy to say ‘We told you so.’ The reluctance of President Bush to adopt one of the conflicting policies will be regarded by scholars as one of the failings of this Presidency in the area of foreign affairs. Incidentally the almost total silence of the government in Washington about the border incident is illustrative of Chaney’s style in handling foreign matters.
Other reasonable conclusions are smugglers were the target in the border incident, that the border is porous and smugglers are numerous but this location was a if not the principal center for gathering foreign operatives before being taken across the border. Also, the government in Damascus now has an “action plan” for gaining public opinion which it lacked at the time of the Israeli raid on the suspected nuclear site. This time it played the ‘innocent victim’ strategy very successfully, although the government organized protest in Damascus was an over-sell. The publicity gained from the demonstrations shows the weakness of the Chaney strategy of don’t talk, don’t tell handling of international events. The response to this criticism by advocates of this strategy is problematical.

November 3rd, 2008, 5:50 pm


Friend in America said:

Alex –
Are you a lover of poutine? It is popular all over the Canadian Atlantic provinces, and unknown in Western Canada and in the states.

For those in the mid east, this incredibly high calory dish is french fried potatoes covered with melted cheese with beef gravy poured over the entire mound of food. It is sold at snack stands and the customers eat it with their fingers. If you want to put on weight, these Canadians have a dish for you! LOL.

November 3rd, 2008, 6:04 pm


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