Syria and Iraq

I have been away from my blog for 10 days and much has happened. I will try to cover the main events briefly.

1. President Bush's state of the Union speech largely gave Syria a pass. He mentioned Syria only once as a troublemaker. The focus was Iran. The number of covert plans being prepared to squeeze Iran and limit its regional reach has been expanded according to the Washington Post. 

Friday, the Washington Post reported Bush's authorization of a new, more intensive policy that allows for more stringent measures against Iran.  This includes, primarily, the authority to capture or kill Iranian agents active in Iraq, a story Bush and other US officials did not deny. However, the new policy extends far beyond Iraq.

The Post reported that the new plan is part of a wider US strategy aimed at destroying Iranian influence from Afghanistan to Lebanon, as well as to hinder Iran's nuclear program. In this context, the plan addresses known terrorist entities within the sphere of Iran's influence, such as Hizbullah.

According the Post, during the Lebanon war, senior US officials concluded on the importance of exposing the connection between Iran's nuclear plan and its extensive assistance in arming, training and funding terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hizbullah and insurgent militias in Iraq.

As part of the new plan, US intelligence has now begun covert operations against Hizbullah.  It is also focused on weakening Tehran's funding chain to Hizbullah and to various Palestinian terror organizations.

Iran politicians are trying to step back from the brink and take some of the heat out of their inflamed relations with the US. This is being done by giving Ahmadinejad his comeuppance. The New York Time's Sunday Magazine has an excellent story on this. (posted on a free site.)  It would be a mistake to read the power struggle among Iran's politicians as a indication that it is changing its policy significantly. Iran has announced an ambitious plan on to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq, just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs. 

Evidence that the Iranian government is supplying weapons or fighters to militias in Iraq is weak argues Gareth Porter in his article: US lacks 'explosive' evidence against Iran. In fact, US military brass have said as much. Porter writes: "For 18 months, the administration of US President George W Bush has periodically raised the charge that Iran is supplying anti-coalition forces in Iraq with arms. Previously, high administration officials have always admitted that they had no real evidence to support these claims. The LA Times has this article: Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link.

The NYTimes reports that the United States has said that evidence gleaned in a Baghdad raid, made on an Iraqi Shiite leader’s residential compound, proves the Iranians were involved in planning attacks, even though US officials gave little evidence. Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Qumi ridiculed the evidence that the American military has said it collected.

Next week, American military officials are expected to make their most comprehensive case — based on materials seized in recent raids — that Iran's elite Quds force is behind many of the most lethal attacks. The New York Times is now also suggesting that the evidence will be less than compelling. David Sanger writes that "the administration does not have definitive evidence that Iran is moving toward producing a nuclear bomb" either.

Jalal Talabani, Iraq's President visited Syria last week and was quite expansive about Syria's effort to patch up relations between the two countries, although Iraqi officials want Syria to turn over leading Baathists, which they have yet to do. Bashar al-Asad clearly believes that the present Iraqi government is going to survive in some form and that Syria's best interests lie in moving ahead with good relations. For the time being Washington is winning the game of chicken the it has played with Syria over Iraq. Syria hoped it could use the Iraq card to break Washington's isolation policy. Washington used the card right back, insisting that if Syria encouraged the Iraqi resistance, Damascus would inevitably pay the higher price because lawlessness, fundamentalism and sectarianism would wash into Syria. Syrian officials are undoubtedly telling themselves that by improving relations with the American backed Iraqi government, Syria will ultimately make it easier for Malaki and the Shiite government to turn against America.

Here is the good press Talabani gave Syria. 

Talabani gestures during an interview in Damascus

"There is no justification for a stern (U.S.) stance on Syria," said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Sunday. "I personally will seek to give a true picture about Syria's intentions and policy to the U.S. administration and I will seek to encourage our American friends to have a dialogue with Syria," he told Al Arabiya television.

He will push for dialogue between the United States and neighbouring Syria, which he said was helping Baghdad clamp down on terrorism. Talabani, who paid a landmark visit to Syria earlier this month, said "Syria wants … stability in Iraq and is backing us in fighting terrorism."

"It would be more appropriate for the United States to have a dialogue with Syria," Talabani said when asked what would be his advice to U.S. President George W. Bush, who had rejected direct talks with Syria and Iran, ignoring a recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Syria's U.S. ties went frosty when President Bashar al-Assad voiced opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003. Iraqi and U.S. officials have often accused Syria of not doing enough to stop the flow of militants crossing its Iraqi borders to fight U.S.-led troops. Damascus repeatedly said it was doing all it can to control the long desert border. U.S. relations with Syria plummeted further in 2005 after the killing of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Syrian ally turned foe. Many Lebanese politicians accused Syria of killing Hariri, a charge Damascus denies vehemently.

Talabani said during his visit to Syria that Iraq would ask Syria to hand over senior Saddam Hussein aides suspected of stealing millions of dollars and helping the anti-U.S. insurgency. Asked if Iraq has asked Syria to hand over Iraqi opposition figures, he said: "We will not ask for handing over political opponents and Syria would not be willing to hand them over."

"All we want from Syria in this regard is not to allow the presence of leaderships of Iraqi organisations that work with weapons against the legitimate Iraqi government. We ask it to advise the leaderships of these groups to … join national reconciliation and the peaceful democratic process in Iraq."

Syria, for the first time calls militia violence in Iraq "terrorism."

Syria vows to stabilise Iraq, condemns rebel attacks: 20 Jan 2007, DAMASCUS, Jan 20 (Reuters) –

Syria on Saturday condemned insurgent attacks on the U.S.-backed Iraqi army and security forces, calling it terrorism, in a fresh shift in the position of the Damascus government towards its neighbour.

In a communique issued at the end of a visit by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to Damascus, Syria vowed to help stop civil strife in Iraq despite opposing the U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003 but ushered in sectarian conflict.

Secretary Rice has become an Arab nationalist! Here she is quoted in the NYTimes admonishing the Arabs to become more nationalist: “There’s still a tendency to see these things in Sunni-Shia terms,” Ms. Rice said. “But the Middle East is going to have to overcome that.” She added that neighboring Sunni-led Arab states should understand that Iraq’s Shiite-led government primarily saw itself as Arab and that the only way it would ally itself with Iran, which is Shiite but not Arab, would be “if people deny the Shia-led Iraq a place in the Arab world.”

Meanwhile America's best ally, Israel, is warning against Arab nationalism. Amotz Asa-El argues in "Middle Israel: The problem with Syria" that Israel must see things in Sunni-Shiite terms. He does not want a peace deal with Syria so long as it is ruled by a "heretical Shiite sect, the Alawites." Taking a noble stand for democracy, Asa-El explains that the silent majority in Israel must not make deals with religious minority rulers in Syria because it would be doing an injustice to orthodox Muslim sentiment. He reminds us that "To the Sunnis who dominate the Arab world, and constitute 75 percent of Syria's population, the Alawites are heretics." Hence Israelis should not trust or deal with the "secular" regime, because it is a mirage which will soon crumble. One can only presume, he advocates waiting until fundamentalists take power in Syria before handing back the Golan. Israel made the same argument in the case of the Palestinians – no deal with the PLO because they are not representative – but when Hamas was duly elected and Haniyyah took over from the secular Arafat, Israel reversed its position. It couldn't deal with fundamentalists and preferred the PLO. Delicious irony, perhaps, if it weren't so – the old bait and switch. What is more, Syria under an Alawite president has been infinitely more stable and capable of fulfilling its commitments than it was under previous Sunni presidents. This is a red haring.

Ibrahim Suleiman, the US based Syrian who carried out unofficial peace negotiations with Israeli counterparts for two years, explained In an interview with the Ynet Internet site that Israel was offered "a confidence-building measure" that had been prepared by himself, European and Syrian officials. "This was a critical thing, a confidence-building measure … The Israelis would have loved it. They would have celebrated it. Olmert's deputy said yes, then a week later he sent an email that said: 'No, we've changed our minds.'"

He said that it was something of which Israelis never dreamed and would have cost them nothing.

Suleiman said that a week after the meeting with Turbowicz, the European mediator received an email saying that Olmert was not interested in the initiative. "For some reason beyond my understanding, the Americans don't want peace between Syria and Israel," he continued. "Syria is trying and I'm trying, but damn it, there's a limit to how much we can give."

Rime Allaf of Chatham House explains that Suleiman's negotiated deal with his Israeli counterpart was too generous and gave away more than her father offered in 1990. Many of the comments suggest many Syrians agree with her.

'Dialogue with Syria now'
Former Shin Bet Chief Yaakov Peri says peace negotiations with Damascus would neutralize threat of rocket attacks from the north, stop Syrian funding to Hizbullah and stop Syria's support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad
Full Story . . . 
Former Shin Bet Chief Yaakov Peri (Photo: Yaron Brener)

Turkish economic officials said on Thursday Turkey is giving priority to boosting commercial relations with Syria more than those with any other neighboring country.

Iraq continues to witness escalating violence. 250 Insurgents Killed in Iraq yesterday, but the numbers are probably higher. 

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is one of the best reporters in Iraq. His recent stories for the Guardian: 'If they pay we kill them anyway' – the kidnapper's story, January 27, about his meeting with the commander of a Shia death squad. And 'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans' are both chilling and explain how broken the government has become.

Robert Malley of ICG argues forcefully that the Iraqi government is broken and beyond repair in testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee, presented as part of a series of hearings that led the committee to reject the Bush strategy as it now stands.

Comments (33)

Innocent_Criminal said:

Welcome back. and to add to the list above check out below. Guess the Abu Mazen’s trip to Damascus was not that successful. he is pulling a stunt similar to his fellow pro-americans in Lebanon.

January 29th, 2007, 3:18 pm


Fares said:

Josh you forgot to report on this story…I hope you play a more active and visible role in trying to get our prisoners out

Michel Kilo is Still in Prison after 255 days

January 29th, 2007, 4:39 pm


norman said:

Help the deal: The U.S. should back, not thwart, talks with Syria
Monday, January 29, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The good news is that Israel and Syria may be approaching a resolution of the principal problem blocking better relations between them, the future of the Golan Heights.

The exasperating news is that the United States appears to be opposing negotiations between the two Middle Eastern states, on the basis of U.S. antipathy in general to dialogue with Syria, based on its assessment that Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism and therefore not fit to talk to.

The main bone of contention between Syria and Israel is the Golan Heights, seized by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war. At times in the past, Syrian governments have taken the position that prior Israeli agreement to the unconditional return of the Golan was a precondition to commencing talks. If current reports, including in the Israeli press, are correct, it now appears that private talks have been under way between the two governments for some time and that a workable compromise has been agreed upon.

The problem now, according to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is under attack by the Israeli right, is that the United States is opposed to such an agreement between Israel and Syria, disregarding what Israel would gain and focusing instead on what Syria would gain. The bones the United States are picking with Syria, apart from the charge of terrorism support, include: Syrian interference in and support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, its help to Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Syria’s sometime alliance with Iran, insufficient (in Washington’s view) Syrian cooperation and help in Iraq, and a U.S. itch to effect regime change in Damascus and displace President Bashar Assad.

The problem with the Bush administration’s argument is twofold. The primary weakness is that all of those elements are also obvious to Israel, and if Israel chooses to proceed to an agreement with Syria anyway, that means it has taken them into account before making its decision.

The second problem with the administration’s argument is that an Israeli-Syrian agreement would actually open the door for the United States to address all of those issues with Syria itself, with positive changes becoming real possibilities.

In any case, taking Syria out of the column of obdurate, die-hard opponents of Israel in the Middle East is a goal that is very much worth pursuing. It is unfathomable that this administration may now be opposing an Israeli-Syrian accord.

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January 29th, 2007, 4:57 pm


qunfuz said:

Wecome back Josh

Do you, or anyone else, have any information on the jund as-samaa’ group who some reports say provided the canon fodder for yesterday’s battle outside Najaf? Are they a shia apocalyptic group, or a sunni-shia apocalyptic group, or just baathists? I’ve read all theories today. Did they really plan to kill senior shia clergy? Or what? Any information will be gratefully received.

January 29th, 2007, 4:58 pm


Atassi said:

EXCLUSIVE-Syria to speed up economic reforms-Finance Minister
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
29 January 2007
Reuters News
(c) 2007 Reuters Limited
DAMASCUS, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Faced with huge oil import bills, the Syrian government will step up economic reforms to attract investment, including opening the Damascus bourse, Finance Minister Mohammad al-Hussein said on Monday.
“It is no secret that our crude oil production has been falling and now for the first time we are seeing the cost of importing fuel exceed our income from exporting crude oil,” Hussein told Reuters in an interview.
Syria’s crude oil output fell to 404,000 barrels a day last year from 414,000 bpd in 2005.
Latest figures show Syria earned $4.1 billion from oil exports in 2005. Imports of oil products were worth $922 million.
“The government is committed to supplying refined fuel, but we urgently need to implement our plans to raise refining capacity,” Hussein said.
The minister was referring mainly to gas oil, which is mostly imported and sold at subsidised prices costing at least eight percent of gross domestic product.
For years the government has been seeking foreign investors to build a 140,000 barrel per day refinery but no deal has been struck. The country has two ageing refineries.
Hussein said the government, which is subject to U.S. sanctions, will take bolder measures to open the economy after decades of central planning, but does not plan immediate, radical changes to the way it provides subsidies and services.
President Bashar al-Assad, who in 2000 succeeded his late father Hafez al-Assad, has slowly introduced reforms but kept a firm grip on the political system and mostly avoided structural economic changes, such as privatisation.
“We’re not hesitating in passing new laws to attract investors, although this region appears destined not to know political stability. We will not slow down, regardless of the political circumstances,” Hussein said.
He said an investment law passed this week allows full private ownership of assets and property, complete repatriation of capital and forbids expropriation at the government’s whim. It also exempts imports for investment projects from tariffs.
Investment had been governed by Law 10 of 1991 which opened the economy to private foreign capital but left many restrictions.
“The new law opens almost every sector of the national economy to local and foreign investment. It will help attract capital on top of the liberalisation we have seen in the banking and insurance sectors,” Hussein said.
Foreign banks opened branches in Syria three years ago after they were allowed entry into the market. An amendment is being finalised that allows 60 percent foreign ownership of banks from a present ceiling of 49 percent.
Another law expected to be passed by the end of April converts family businesses that dominate a growing private sector to shareholding companies. It also encourages them to stop cooking their books by scrapping punitive taxation and antiquated foreign exchange accounting rules, the minister said.
“It will open a new era in the taxation system by solving the problems of the past and introducing transparency,” he said.
Hussein said it will take up to 2-3 years to perform valuations on family companies, which would will help them go public on a new stock exchange under formation.
The government shut down the Damascus bourse in the late 1950s. The economy underwent heavy nationalisation a few years later, when the Baath Party took power in a coup.
Hussein said the bourse will re-open by August and 46 companies will initially trade.
Businessmen say the opening of the bourse raises confidence but have urged the government to pass new commercial and company laws that have been under study for years. An arbitration law needs also to come in force.
They say international accounting standards have yet to be applied widely, leaving Syria behind in regional competition.
Hussein said the government was working on introducing such standards even to state-owned firms, but he was guarded about how to tackle the public sector and fuel subsidies.
The government raised petrol prices 20 percent last January, but did not increase prices of gas oil, widely used for transport and heating.
“Steps must be taken as far as subsides but this is not an issue for the moment. It is part of the general direction of the government,” Hussein said.
Despite increasing imported fuel costs, Hussein expected the budget deficit to remain steady at 4.2 percent of GDP in 2007. “We are still within the limits,” he said

January 29th, 2007, 5:14 pm


MSK said:

Dear Qunfuz,

I suggest you read Juan Cole’s post on the issue:



January 29th, 2007, 6:17 pm


t_desco said:

USS Nimitz to deploy in March:

“More farewells are yet to come. San Diego’s second carrier, the Nimitz, is scheduled for deployment in March.”
San Diego Union-Tribune

The Nimitz will probably be sent to the Gulf to relieve the Eisenhower. So, for a short period of time in early April, three carrier strike groups will be in the region, with a fourth carrier (relatively) nearby:

The USS Reagan, “joined by its California-based carrier air wing, plus the cruiser Lake Champlain and the destroyer Russell” deployed to the Western Pacific. Interestingly, Scott Ritter believes that the Reagan may join the other battle groups in the Gulf. The Stennis CSG had “combined forces” with the Reagan CSG in its pre-deployment Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) in November.

Yet another “surge deployment” to the Middle East:

the guided-missile frigate USS Hawes left port on Saturday.

January 29th, 2007, 6:36 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

Its official, new Saudi ambassador to washington

January 29th, 2007, 8:13 pm


t_desco said:

Statement by the President

The Situation in Lebanon

I am deeply disappointed by the recent violence and bloodshed on the streets of Lebanon. It is all the more troubling that the violence occurred while Lebanon’s legitimate leaders and friends were gathered together in Paris to help secure a peaceful and prosperous future for the country.

While Lebanon’s friends seek to help the Lebanese government build a free, sovereign, and prosperous country, Syria, Iran, and Hizballah are working to destabilize Lebanese society.
White House

CIA gets the go-ahead to take on Hizbollah
Daily Telegraph, 10/01/2007

PA officials accuse Iran, Syria of encouraging civil war
JP, 28/01/2007

“Elliot Abrams’ Uncivil War”
SyriaComment, 08/01/2007

Connect the dots.

January 29th, 2007, 10:36 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“Connect the dots.”


As with those children’s coloring books, connecting the dots is necessary in order to see the full picture. Right?

So in your case, what dots really need to be connected? It’s all there for everyone to see. Clear as day habibi!

How about “connect the katyushas”? How about “connect the Iranian bank accounts”? How about “connect the arms shipments from Syria”? How about “connect the Southern Lebanese safehouses”? How about “connect the Hezbollah orchaestrated military coup in direct opposition to the Lebanese consitution”? And lastly, how about “connect the assassinated anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials”.

January 29th, 2007, 11:47 pm


norman said:

Time is running out for a peacfull solution in the Midleast ,The US goverment is determent to impose it’s well on the people of the Midleast and Syria and Iran and the Arab nationalist who refuse the idea of peace at any cost will have to confront that attack with force ,War is coming and half solutions are not axceptable by the US or the people of the Midleast like Syria ,Iran , Hamas and Hizballa so expect the Midleast to be set on fire by the summer ,
I guise my mom will not be going to Syria this year .!

January 30th, 2007, 1:29 am


Alex said:

T-Desco .. the dots are easy to connect … we just hope that the picture we see describes what they WANT to do, not what they CAN actually do.

If we are lucky, the next two years will be NEAR-total-chaos … but with Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq (not to mention IRAN)… two years is a long long time to manage all those conflicts without at least one of them exploding.


Ok, while you still have many Israeli security concerns to remind us of, I am still waititing for your answer for the question I posted last week:

Assuming we can somehow come up with a solution where Israel will have most of the security guarantees it needs … would you support implementing the land for peace UN resolutions? would you return the 1967 lands that Israel occupied? or would like like to keep them?

January 30th, 2007, 1:35 am


norman said:

Alex , to save you time , I think Israel will use the security isue to keep all the land , Propably Sinai was the last land they were willing to give and that was to keep Egypt out of any future war on the real point ,The Palestinian rights and the Golan Hights.If Akbar is honast he say that.

January 30th, 2007, 2:46 am


Enlightened said:

Back from holidays; hi all compliments of the new year, may peace reach us all this year!

Akbar said;

How about “connect the katyushas”? How about “connect the Iranian bank accounts”? How about “connect the arms shipments from Syria”? How about “connect the Southern Lebanese safehouses”? How about “connect the Hezbollah orchaestrated military coup in direct opposition to the Lebanese consitution”? And lastly, how about “connect the assassinated anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials”.

I propose that apart from joining the dots, we also get a snakes and ladders board!

January 30th, 2007, 3:14 am


ugarit said:

After the Damascus Spring

Syrians search for freedom online.

Guy Taylor | February 2007 Print Edition

Shortly after I arrived in Damascus last June, Amr Nazir Salem, the minister of telecommunications and technology, told me that would be “a great site to check out.” Champress was a locally produced independent news website—an example, he assured me, of Syria’s advances in media freedom. I took his advice as evidence that the site must be government propaganda. But my interest was piqued a few days later, when I attempted to visit it from one of the city’s many Internet cafés and found only a blank page.


January 30th, 2007, 4:30 am


Enlightened said:

Yes Ugarit the government has a lot to say!!!!!

January 30th, 2007, 5:10 am


qunfuz said:

Thanks, MSK. It’s a great link.

January 30th, 2007, 7:56 am


Akbar Palace said:

Norman said:

“Time is running out for a peacfull solution in the Midleast…”

I’ve heard that for the past 40 years.

“… The US goverment is determent to impose it’s well on the people of the Midleast and Syria and Iran and the Arab nationalist who refuse the idea of peace at any cost…”

What is the “any cost” mean? What is the US government forcing “the Arab nationalist” to do at “any cost”?

“… so expect the Midleast to be set on fire by the summer…”

When was the ME NOT set on fire?

Alex said –

“Assuming we can somehow come up with a solution where Israel will have most of the security guarantees it needs … would you support implementing the land for peace UN resolutions? would you return the 1967 lands that Israel occupied? or would like like to keep them?”

There already are UN resolutions for land for peace. I would offer roughly the same package Arafat rejected 7 years ago. I am 100% for “Land for Peace”.

January 30th, 2007, 11:58 am


ugarit said:


“…….. Prostitution was legalized and professionalized under the Ottoman Empire. Back then there was fear in Damascus that the wandering soldiers would attack or rape young Syrians. That is why affordable prostitution centers were created for them in the Syrian capital, as a form of maintaining public security. This system was maintained when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918. The destruction of World War I, along with the poverty imposed on the Syrians, however, made many young women turn to prostitution for a living and the years 1914-1918 are considered the worst in the past 100-years of Syrian history. When the French came to Syria in 1920, they rofessionalized prostitution in major urban cities of Syria. Prostitution centers were registered in government records, and guarded by armed men from the colonial troops of France, mostly, from the Senegal. Any woman found to be engaged in illegal sexual conduct for more than three times would be arrested and sent to the prostitution center. There she would become an “official” employee. She would pay taxes to the central government, and receive check-ups twice a week at the Ministry of Health.

As early as 1922, there were 271 prostitutes registered officially in Syria. The Syrians knew that frequenting these places was wrong, both
morally and socially, and during the early years of the Mandate, the regular customers were often foreigners and Frenchmen. By the 1930s, the practice had become common to Syrian men as well. In 1953, the first serious attempt at combating the trend was undertaken by President Adib
al-Shishakli, who passed strict laws to prevent prostitutes from entering Syria. In 1957, a group of religious men approached President
Shukri al-Quwatli and Nazim al-Qudsi, the speaker of Parliament, asking them to close down cabarets, nightclubs, and all illegal venues for
prostitutes. Both men were religious but the Syrian President replied: “If I create heaven for you on earth, what do we leave for the God
Almighty?” The government’s job was not to interfere in the daily life of Syrian citizens, he added, but rather, try to keep a watchful eye on
it. The government’s job, he added, was to collect taxes and in turn, use them to provide a safer and better living for average Syrians. Punishment for immoral action—and reward for piousness—would be given by God in Heaven.

As a result, the trend continued to flourish in Syria and was outlawed—among other things—by President Gamal Abdul-Nasser of Egypt in
1959 during the years of the United Arab Republic (UAR). The law outlawing prostitution was decree # 10. Since then, rather than diminish, the industry has thrived in the black markets of Syria and
distorted the mentality of many promising young Syrians, preventing them from channeling their energy in the right and constructive manner.
Rather, it created an unnecessary and consuming tension that has damaged their psychology………”

January 30th, 2007, 12:19 pm


qunfuz said:

Another question. King Abdullah, Yusuf Qaradawi, Egyptian newspaper columnists and others are very worried about organised (no doubt Iranian) Shia attempts to convert Sunnis in Sunni majority countries. Does anybody have any evidence whatsoever that this is actually happening?

January 30th, 2007, 3:27 pm


Akbar Palace said:

But Negroponte reiterated the Bush administration’s stance that Iran must first suspend its nuclear program, which the West views as an effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Syria must take steps to prevent an estimated 40 to 70 foreign fighters from entering Iraq each month to carry out attacks, he added.

“They know what they need to do,” Negroponte said.

January 30th, 2007, 5:24 pm


MSK said:

Dear Qunfuz,

I’ve heard the same allegations & have the same questions. In my personal estimate, converting Sunnis to Shi’ite Islam or vice versa on a meaningful scale (i.e. outside marriages or individual decisions) is almost impossible.

And no serious attempt to do so would go unnoticed. The fact that we haven’t read any news accounts on actual “organized attempts” leads me to assume that there aren’t any.

I personally know of Sunnis who have “converted” after a long spiritual and philosophical search. But that happened all the time and in all cultures/religions and is nothing new.


do you happen to have any other source for that “estimated 40 to 70 foreign fighters from entering Iraq each month to carry out attacks” claim than Negroponte?


January 30th, 2007, 7:47 pm


Rancher said:

40 to 70 foreign fighters? We can’t stop tens of thousands of illegal aliens crossing our southern border and were complaining that Syria lets in tens of foreign fighters? Pretty much everyone here is more knowledgeable of Syria than I am, so can anyone tell me how much control Assad has in the border region? We seem to be asking the impossible.

January 30th, 2007, 11:05 pm


t_desco said:

I think As’ad AbuKhalil had the best response to these conversion stories/rumors:

“For those of you out there who have been trying to convert the Saudi king from Sunni Islam: please stop. He does not want to covert, ok? Please, please, please leave the King alone, OK?”

In other words, they are completely ridiculous.

In general, I’m not too thrilled about the quality of Western media reports on Lebanon (one typical example: some days ago, the SPIEGEL published a photo of an orange-clad youth with the caption “pro-Syrian demonstrator”…), but I really liked this well-balanced report/analysis by Jim Muir:

“While Hezbollah is recognised as highly organised and disciplined, the same cannot be said of many of its allies in the opposition movement, which includes some Christian and other factions.

Nor is discipline and control a trademark of many of the groups supporting the government.

Within the anti-opposition spectrum there are also a number of shadowy extremist Sunni groups in the mould of al-Qaeda.

There is much talk, too, of a “fifth column” busily engaged in stirring up trouble by inserting snipers and agitators into hot spots.”
BBC News

January 30th, 2007, 11:17 pm


Akbar Palace said:

MSK asks:

“do you happen to have any other source for that “estimated 40 to 70 foreign fighters from entering Iraq each month to carry out attacks” claim than Negroponte?”

No, I do not have his source. But knowing how Syria has supported terrorism for so long, all these years, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

“Jeffrey White, former head of the Regional Military Assessments Group at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Syria was a serving as a crucial conduit and safe haven for the insurgent forces.
“Syria is critical to the insurgency — it’s the closest thing they have to a foreign base,” he said.”

January 31st, 2007, 1:06 am


Rancher said:

According to Omar at Iraq the Model

Eyewitnesses in some volatile areas said that large numbers of militants have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped in the incoming security operations.

January 31st, 2007, 2:42 am


majedkhaldoun said:

failure of Bush plan,means division of Iraq,which is the next step, which means defeat to US.

January 31st, 2007, 2:50 am


simohurtta said:

No, I do not have his source. But knowing how Syria has supported terrorism for so long, all these years, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Comon Akbar where is your sense of relativity. 40 to 70 foreign fighters monthly means 1 to 2 “fighters” daily. It means that the Iraq Syrian border is one of the most successfully guarded borders in the whole world if only a couple of unwanted “visitors” manage daily to pass that long border.

When USA is constantly whining about about Syria’s contribution to Iraq’s situation and then they publicly say that on the average one or two fighters come daily through Syria, it must be said that the Bush’s regime boys are totally “crazy”.

Even if we take the upper limit of Negroponte’s estimation it means a force of 1000 poorly trained and equipped Egyptians, Algerians, Lebanese, Saudis etc coming yearly through Syria. Hardly a relevant force against USA’s mighty army.

Thousands of Syrian commandos in civil clothing coming equipped with modern weapons would give USA a reason to put pressure towards Syria. But certainly not those few freelance militants who manage to pass the border.

If USA’s excuses for not to talking with Syria and Iran about Iraq really is those few jihadists crossing the border and Iran’s nuclear program, it is obvious that they do not want help. What has Iran’s nuclear program to do with negotiating about Iraq’s situation? Every rational person understands that those are completely separate issues.

January 31st, 2007, 2:53 am


Mo said:


be serious, you know the “Washington Times” is not a reliable source to be quoted! It’s the “Baath” newspaper version of the B Administration!
No sorry, I meant “al-Thawra”, the former being = the “Weekly Standard”!

January 31st, 2007, 11:31 am


Akbar Palace said:

Mo said:

be serious, you know the “Washington Times” is not a reliable source to be quoted! It’s the “Baath” newspaper version of the B Administration!

I’m not sure who oversees newspapers in Syria, but in the US there are a number of organizations that oversee what is print in the news. Not to mention the legal system.

Recently, CBS and the NYT had to fire a number of upper-level management because they fabricated the news. I am not aware of anything similar happening to personnel at the Washington Times.

Personally, I find it refreshing to read news that is “right-of-center” in the US media when 90% of the news outlets lean toward the left.

simohurtta said:

“When USA is constantly whining about about Syria’s contribution to Iraq’s situation and then they publicly say that on the average one or two fighters come daily through Syria, it must be said that the Bush’s regime boys are totally “crazy”.”

I agree, if the US was only concerned about foreign fighters sneaking across the Syrian frontier it wouldn’t be a HUGE problem. But I think we both know, the US has “bigger fish to fry” regarding the actions of Syria and Iran, and this little problem is just added irritation used to beat the Baathist Boy Wonder over the head with…

January 31st, 2007, 11:53 am


Akbar Palace said:

On the issue of accurate news in the (government)media, as a public service, I would like to warn the readership here not to touch the “poisoned balloons” which the Zionists “dispersed by IDF aircraft” (LOL)…

“Lebanon’s official news agency claimed that they were “poisoned balloons” dispersed by IDF aircraft.”

January 31st, 2007, 12:04 pm


t_desco said:

A funny case of Chinese whispers or how Ahmed Al-Jarallah became a trusted source:

This article (also here), America ‘poised to strike at Iran’s nuclear sites’ from bases in Bulgaria and Romania, by the Sunday Herald is partly based on a piece written by Ahmed Al-Jarallah and first published by Al-Seyassah (Ehsani posted the link at the time). It was then translated into English and published by the Arab Times where it came to the attention of Michael Carmichael who used it for his own article, Planned Attack on Iran: Bush Will Expand War Before Blair Resigns. Then a journalist working for the Bulgarian news agency Novinte combined Carmichael’s with Sam Gardiner’s article, Pieces in Place for Escalation. The Novinte article in turn forms the basis of the Sunday Herald report and in the process prediction becomes certainty: Gardiner’s “As one of the last steps before a strike, we’ll see USAF tankers moved to unusual places, like Bulgaria” becomes the “American build-up along the Black Sea” and Gardiner himself becomes “”a US secret service officer stationed in Bulgaria”(sic) !

Fortunately, not all information in the Sunday Herald piece is badly sourced. The following seems to be correct:

“Last week, the Bucharest daily Evenimentual Zilei revealed the USAF is to site several flights of F-l5, F-l6 and Al0 aircraft at the Kogalniceanu base. Admiral Gheorghe Marin, Romania’s chief of staff, confirmed “up to 2000 American military personnel will be temporarily stationed in Romania”.”

The timing is interesting. According to this Romanian report from last December, the deployment will begin in April:

Primii militari americani vor ajunge la baza Kogalniceanu in aprilie 2007
ZIUA, 9 decembrie 2006

January 31st, 2007, 12:20 pm


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