UN Fitzgerald Report Damns Syria
The Fitzgerald report of the UN is damning. Warren Hoge of the New York Times quotes the following bits from the United Nations report on the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri:
U.N. Cites Syria as Factor in Lebanese Assassination
By WARREN HOGE
Published: March 25, 2005
The mission said it had been told by a number of people close to Mr. Hariri that he had reported that in his last meeting with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the Syrian leader had threatened him with physical harm if he continued his campaign to assert Lebanese independence from Syria. The report said the Syrians had refused to discuss the meeting with the mission's investigators.
"It is clear that the assassination took place in a political and security context marked by an acute polarization around the Syrian influence in Lebanon and a failure of the Lebanese state to provide adequate protection for its citizens," it said....
The report said the explosion had been caused by a ton of TNT, detonated most likely above ground.
It said Mr. Hariri was unanimously described to investigators as the most important figure in Lebanese public life and his assassination was therefore an indictment of the poor protection offered by Lebanese security services. It said the security services ignored threats on the life of Mr. Hariri and other political figures. In what it called a case of "stark negligence," it noted that Mr. Hariri's security detail was cut to 8 people from 40 after he left office.
The report provided a breakdown of the security offices and said that, contrary to the assurances of its leaders, the Syrian services played a commanding role in the management of security affairs in Lebanon.
In a section detailing repeated errors and breakdowns in policing, the report said the investigation was deeply flawed, noting that the crime scene was not properly managed; the crater created by the bomb was allowed to fill with water from a broken main, destroying evidence; people were permitted to move freely in and out of the crime scene and remove objects; and vehicles involved in the blast were removed, preventing proper ballistic analysis.
It's your turn to pull out, Syria tells US: Syria's ambassador to Washington, in an attempt to underline that Syria is not the only occupation force in the region, said on Wednesday he hoped the United States and Israel would follow his country's example and withdraw from Iraq.Husni Mubarak says Syria will announce its pullout timetable shortly
The BBC reports on the state of media reforms and how the new permissiveness cannot be turned back in Hoping for media freedom in Syria. Despire Syrian government promises of even greater reform, however, censorship is still widespread. (Not of this blog, however)
George Thomas of CBN quotes me at some length in his article, Losing His Grip: Syrian President Struggles to Retain Power
Bashar al-Assad is the public face of the Syrian regime. But how much control the 39-year-old has over his country has always remained a mystery.
The question of Assad's grip on Syria has dogged him ever since he took over from his father, the late president Hafez Assad.
U.S. intelligence believes that since taking power shortly after his father's death in 2000, President Bashar al-Assad has been an ineffective leader. The reality is that the generals and the secret service are in total control of the country.
Five years later, most experts agree that the young Assad still lacks the killer instincts that his father was once famous for. But the question of control has taken on greater importance today, in light of the unfolding events in the region.
Like most Syria-watchers, Joshua Landis, an American professor living in Damascus, believes that authority in Syria is increasingly turning into a family affair.
Landis said, “The Assad family is very much in control, and what we have seen over the last four months is a consolidation of power within the family.”
But the family firepower has done little to shield the young and inexperienced leader from facing the toughest test of his presidency. Some speculate that the tensions between Lebanon and Syria have weakened the House of Assad and diminished Syria's influence in the region.
Landis stated, “It has always punched above its weight in the Middle East, in Lebanon, in Palestine issues; this is going to reduce its geo-strategic interest quite significantly.”
Those around him with entrenched agendas may view the crisis as a danger to their country and are liable to act against him. The daily images of tens of thousands of Lebanese people demanding freedom are not helping the man and his regime either.
Experts say some of that Lebanese "people power" could spill over into Syria.
There's no doubt that there's a large effect,” Landis remarked. “Every Syrian has been saying, 'Look, here are people overthrowing government.' There is a clear desire for reform in the country and many Syrians are dissatisfied.”
Syria's crumbling international support has left the country isolated. And experts warn that the impeding loss of Lebanon will be a huge economic loss for Syria. But supporters of the regime feel this whole ordeal is part of a U.S. conspiracy to blacken Syria's image around the world.
Edward Awabdeh is a dentist who lives on the west side of Damascus.
“I feel hurt, commented Awabdeh, “I feel the pressure is not fair on Syria and the Syrian government, and nothing is satisfying the West, and in particular, the U.S.”
The uprising in Lebanon and the uncertainty in Syria comes at a time when the Bush administration is pushing hard to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East.
The Syrian regime has been under fire for its occupation of Lebanon, its support for terrorism and its role in sending insurgents to fight American soldiers in Iraq.
And according to U.S. intelligence reports, Syria has an active chemical and biological weapons program, and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Some experts also believe that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have a found a home in Syria or Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Bottom line: the U.S. regards Syria as a rogue state, and it has been put on notice.
Landis stated, “The Syrians are very aware that they have become a key particle in this greater Middle East. They know that there's a battle going on between reform in the Middle East and the status quo.”
All President al-Assad can do now is fight to preserve that status quo.
Landis said, “In many ways, President Assad is the anti-Bush in the region. Bush stands for revolution in the region, democracy and freedom, Assad says the Middle East is not ready for freedom. The Middle East is a complicated place, riven with tribal and sectarian differences. If we shake it, there's going to be war, there's going to violence, and there's going to be death.”
In Assad's world, America and Israel are the problem. In Bush's world, Syria is just one of several bad actors in the region.
Landis commented, “Bush says, no, revolution! We are going to kick down these doors of these regimes and we are going to bring democracy! That's the struggle going on.”
And so far, that struggle has yielded some dramatic changes across the political landscape of the Muslim world, changes that President Assad is keenly aware of.
Back on the streets of Damascus, Syrians watch daily as thousands of Lebanese continue to light the fuse of democracy. President Assad's main challenge now will be to keep those flames from spreading over into his country, while trying to get a better grip on Syria. The question is, can he do both and still survive?