Thursday, June 02, 2005

US Policy in Syria Muddled

America is making a muddle of its policy along the border with Syria. It insists on Syria solving the problem in Western Iraq as it pulls out its troops from the region, leaving foreign fighters a free hand in the border region. What is going on?

Imaad Mustafa, Syria's ambassador in Washington says that there is a complete breakdown in US - Syria cooperation. He has gone to great lengths to explain that it is not Syria that has cut intelligence and defense sharing, but the US. Washington is refusing dialogue and cooperation, he insists.

The US has insisted that Syria arrest a list of Iraqis living in Syria who they suspect of working with the Iraqi opposition. Syria handed over several Iraqis to the Iraqi authorities over a month ago but refuses to turn over the entire list Washington demands. Instead, Syria says it is not a "charitable organization" and Imaad Mustafa has called for a tripartite committee of Americans, Iraqis and Syrians to meet regularly to manage relations. Mustafa says the Americans won't meet him and don't want to open the door of mutual cooperation and political deal making. This is where relations have come to a stand still.

Salim Abraham, one of Syria's best reporters, has written an excellent article in the L.A. Times about the current tug of war going on across the border with Iraq. He tries to explain why the United States has selected Syria as its whipping post even though Iraq has six borders over which foreign fighters pass into the country and even though the US admits that most of the foreign fighters come from Saudi Arabia. To be fair to the US, however, the Syrian border does seem to be quite porous and Syria is not sure how to respond.

Syria government officials are now discussing the possibility of imposing entry visa requirements on foreign Arabs to safeguard Syrian security.

All the same Syria has announced that it has arrested 1,200 foreigners trying to infiltrate across its border into Iraq and Saudi has confirmed that at least 30 of its nationals have been sent by the Syrians to Riyadh.

Meanwhile, The US seems to be abandoning the west of Iraq to foreign fighters. There are approximately 2,100 Marines there now, compared with about 3,600 last year. Despite launching operation Matador in the region a month ago, in which nine Marines were killed and 40 were wounded, the US is withdrawing troops and ceding the ground to the foreign fighters that have congregated there.

Here is a very interesting article from the L.A. Times

Insurgents Flourish in Iraq's Wild West
The center of the rebel movement has shifted to Al Anbar province, near the border with Syria. But the U.S. has been moving its forces away.

By Mark Mazzetti and Solomon Moore
May 24, 2005

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's plan to pacify Iraq has run into trouble in a place where it urgently needs to succeed.

U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad agree that Al Anbar province — the vast desert badlands stretching west from the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi to the lawless region abutting the Syrian border — remains the epicenter of the country's deadly insurgency.

Yet U.S. troops and military officials in the embattled province said in recent interviews that they have neither enough combat power nor enough Iraqi military support to mount an effective counterinsurgency against an increasingly sophisticated enemy.

"You can't get all the Marines and train them on a single objective, because usually the objective is bigger than you are," said Maj. Mark Lister, a senior Marine air officer in Al Anbar province. "Basically, we've got all the toys, but not enough boys."

The Pentagon has made training Iraqi troops its top priority since Iraq's national election in late January. But in Al Anbar province, that objective is overshadowed by the more basic mission of trying to keep much of the region out of insurgent hands.

Just three battalions of Marines are stationed in the western part of the province, down from four a few months ago. Marine officials in western Al Anbar say that each of those battalions is smaller by one company than last year, meaning there are approximately 2,100 Marines there now, compared with about 3,600 last year.

Some U.S. military officers in Al Anbar province say that commanders in Baghdad and the Pentagon have denied their repeated requests for more troops.

"[Commanders] can't use the word, but we're withdrawing," said one U.S. military official in Al Anbar province, who asked not to be identified because it is the Pentagon that usually speaks publicly about troop levels. "Slowly, that's what we're doing."

Such reductions are especially problematic because U.S. commanders have determined that it is the western part of the province to which the insurgency's "center of resistance" has shifted. The insurgency's base of operations was once the eastern corridor between Fallouja and Ramadi. Now, Pentagon officials say, it is in villages and cities closer to the Syrian border.

Commanders also believe the insurgency is now made up of a larger percentage of foreign jihadists than the U.S. military previously believed, an indication that there are not enough U.S. and Iraqi troops to patrol miles of desert border.

Some Pentagon officials and experts in counterinsurgency warfare say the troop shortage has hamstrung the U.S. military's ability to effectively fight Iraqi insurgents.

This was evident during this month's Operation Matador, the U.S. offensive near the Syrian border designed to stem the flow of foreign fighters and their weapons into Iraq. For seven days, Marines rumbled through desert villages and fought pitched battles against a surprisingly well-coordinated enemy.

On the first day of the operation, insurgents appeared to be willing to stand their ground and fight the Marines, but U.S. military officials now believe that may have been a tactic to delay U.S. troops from crossing into the Ramana region north of the Euphrates River. This delay, officials said, could have given many of the insurgents time to escape into Syria.

"It's an extremely frustrating fight," said Maj. Steve White, operations director for the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. "Fighting these guys is like picking up water. You're going to lose some every time."

A military news release declared the mission a success, saying that U.S. troops had killed more than 125 insurgents. Nine Marines were killed and 40 were wounded during the operation.

Yet as soon as the operation concluded, the Marines crossed back over the Euphrates River and left no U.S. or Iraqi government presence in the region — generally considered a major mistake in counterinsurgency warfare.

"It's classically the wrong thing to do," said Kalev Sepp, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who last fall was a counterinsurgency advisor to Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq. "Sending 1,000 men north of the Euphrates does what? Sometimes these things can be counterproductive, because you just end up shooting things up and then leaving the area."

Military officials in Iraq and Washington said there was little reason to expect that insurgent fighters would not return to the villages....
All of this begs the question of whether the US has a larger game plan for the border with Syria. Many US officers insist that the Syrian border and foreign fighters are a big problem. They want Syria to police the border, but won't give them anything in return for their help and cooperation. At the same time, the US is unwilling to commit itself to policing the Iraqi side of the border and is drawing down its troops. The result is that no one is doing the job and western Iraq has become a staging ground and free zone for mujahidiin of all types.

Washington threatens Syria with regime-change, or more accurately, implied regime change. But who will take Washington seriously. Regime change will surely create more chaos in Syria and hence along the border. It is daydreaming.

Now that Syria is out of Lebanon, it does not have to bend to the US game of threats. The world has little interest in punishing Syria for an unruly Iraqi border that it largely blames on the US. Because Europe and the UN are not invested in the success of Iraq as the US is, they will not put the squeeze on Syria to make it follow US policy - especially since most Europeans secretly believe Washington is wrong not to offer Bashar al-Asad a carrot from time to time. They all grumble about the way Washington has taken the Golan off the table, won’t offer to end economic sanctions, and refuses to assist Syria’s economic reforms.

Because the Europeans believe US policies are stubbornly fixated on the stick, Bashar al-Asad will walk the delicate line between them. Europeans cannot see the end-game of US policy. Bashar is trying to convince Washington that should no longer count on a policy of pure pressure with nothing given in return. This will lead to a clash of wills in the next month or so as Washington and Damascus play chicken.

The temporary arrest of the Atassi 8, the death of the outspoken Kurdish Muslim religious leader Sheikh Mohammed Maashuq al-Khaznawi while under investigation (see comments on last post), and the arrest of other human rights leaders and opposition members has cast a chill over Damascus.

Reporters are now pouring into Damascus for the Baath Party conference to be held on 6 June and everyone is spinning.


At 6/02/2005 05:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Small Reform Expected in Syrian Congress

Thursday June 2, 2005 9:31 AM

AP Photo NY115


Associated Press Writer

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - When he announced his country's pullout from Lebanon in March, Syria's president also promised that this year's meeting of the ruling Baath party would take ``a leap for development.''

Yet days before the party delegates gather in Damascus, those promised leaps of reform look like they will be little more than baby steps - dashing domestic and international hopes.

In the weeks before the June 6-9 congress, authorities have stepped up harassment of human rights activists, detaining eight for a week because they'd read a statement from the banned Muslim Brotherhood. A journalist who read the same statement is still in detention. Security forces also arrested a human rights group leader after raiding his offices.

If congress does not come up with real moves toward reform, Syria and President Bashar Assad will have forfeited a valuable opportunity to shed its autocratic image - and relieve some of the intense international and U.S. pressure it has endured for almost four months.

It will be tough for Syria to recover its reputation and credibility in the international community if the conference does not produce substantial change, Western diplomats say.

``The month of June, largely because of the Baath congress, should be a make-or-break month for the Assad regime,'' said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian novelist and analyst.

``If it seeks to survive, now is the moment for it to demonstrate its viability by loosening its grip on society,'' Abdulhamid wrote in The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper.

With chapters in several Arab states, the Baath party boasts a membership of 2 million Syrians, an affiliation that has long been a means of ensuring progress in the workplace or attaining coveted jobs. The party played a central role in ensuring Assad's smooth and swift ascendancy to the presidency after the June 2000 death of his father, the late President Hafez Assad

But the congress comes at a difficult time for Syria, and for the party.

Since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - a murder some Lebanese blame on Damascus and its local allies - Syria was forced to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon. It risks being slapped with punitive measures if U.N. investigators find it responsible for Hariri's death.

At the same time, the country is beset by economic woes, institutional corruption and archaic laws that hinder reform.

Assad said in the March 5 speech, mindful of how much is at stake: ``We are preparing for a regional conference of the Baath party, and hope this will be a leap for development in this country.''

It won't be easy going for the young president. He will have to appease party traditionalists to ensure a presidential nomination for the 2007 elections and cannot be seen to cave in to domestic and international calls for reform. That's why, some analysts say, the conference will only produce modest proposals dressed up as issues of substance to please traditionalists as well as the reformers and international community.

Some pro-reform Baath party members are already unhappy with preparations for the 10th congress of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, claiming recent elections of conference delegates shut out lower-level, yet often more qualified, Baathists. Almost all the 1,200 delegates chosen to debate the future of the party are hard-liners.

``Because of their senior ranks, they have no incentive to change,'' said party member Ahmed Haj Ali.

Ayman Abdel-Nour, an analyst and Baathist, said some party members have asked Assad to allow 100 to 200 reformist members to attend as observers.

``No one among those attending will want to say a reformist word. This shows we still have a disease in the Baath party,'' said Abdel-Nour. ``There will be some reform but not as much as we had expected.''

Abdel-Nour said the conference would endorse some loosening of central control, with moves to decentralize government procedures and hold free elections for local councils. The congress also looks likely to approve a drive toward a more open economy, he said.

But the endorsements will mean nothing if they get bogged down - or modified - in the long journey through party, presidential palace and parliament before becoming law.

``This will take no less than 1 years,'' Abdel-Nour said.

At 6/02/2005 06:00:00 AM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Josh, the truth is that Syria is the ONLY state on Iraq's borders that is doing much to stop jihadis from coming in. Last time I checked, the Jordanian border was wide open also. The Saudi border has never been policed going into Iraq. As of a month ago, there was almost no policing of the Iraq borders of Jordan, Syria or Iraq by the US or Iraq. Most of the border patrol sites have been blown up. The border patrol police are cowed, are often not paid, have little or no equipment and often even no uniforms.

The US abandoned the entire northeastern border region after the election and handed it over to Iraq. The Iraqis were promptly chased off. Syria has caught 1,200 trying to go across. Fine. How many has Jordan caught. Jordan doesn't even police its border going into Iraq. How many have the Saudis caught? 5? Official Saudi mosques constantly exhort young men to go to Iraq and nothing is done. In Jordan there is huge support for the anti-Shia Sunni forces in Iraq.

Syria, with a Shia regime, has no good reason to support Shia-hating Sunni jihadis heading into Iraq. The US does indeed have a stated policy of regime change for Syria and threatens Syria all the time. Sanctions have been levied against Syria and Syria is declared an enemy state. Based on that right there, Syria should halt all cooperation with the US and indeed should also halt all dialogue.

It's a good question, why the troop drawdown? US policy doesn't make sense. There will be no carrots offered to Bashar before 2009 by the US. It is as simple as that.

At 6/02/2005 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

I agree with Robert Lindsay.
Why is the US administration determined to pursue gesticulations that are only credible to people who watch Faux News?
PS: The Syrian authorities are indeed dominated by the Alawis, but they have been smart to play the "secular" card by asking Shi'a sects to tune down the 'Ashura style fervor.

At 6/02/2005 04:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever it's said in the medias and from american officials.
The syrian regime still protected by the americans and their israeli allies.

At 6/03/2005 12:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lebanese journalist, Syria critic, is killed
Anti-Syrian leaders link car bombing, killing of ex-premier


A journalist and leading critic of Syria's hold over Lebanon was killed in a car bombing yesterday, and the opposition immediately blamed Syria for an assassination that came during a series of parliamentary elections that could end Damascus' control of the legislature.

Syria denied any involvement in the attack on Samir Kassir, killed by a bomb placed under the driver's seat of his car.

Anti-Syrian opposition leaders called for a general strike today to protest the killing, carried out even as an international team was investigating the February killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri, whose death led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces after nearly 30 years in Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian leaders were quick to make a link between the two killings. Hariri's son and political heir, Saad Hariri, said that the same people were behind both assassinations, "and God knows what's coming."

"We will not be afraid.... We want our freedom, we want our independence, we want our sovereignty and no one is going to stop us," Hariri told reporters.

The attack raised political tensions in a country preparing to vote in Sunday's second round of parliamentary elections - a four-round ballot the opposition hopes to win to remove the last vestiges of control by its neighbor.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned the attack as a "heinous act." Javier Solana, the visiting EU foreign-policy chief, said that it was a tragedy, adding that Kassir was "a very honest man." Jeffry Fieltman, the U.S. ambassador to Beirut, said that Kassir had symbolized Lebanon's "desire for freedom, sovereignty and democracy."

Kassir was killed inside his car at midmorning in the Christian Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh, where he lived.

Interior Minister Hassan Sabei estimated that the bomb weighed about a pound. He said initial reports indicated that it was placed under the car and detonated by remote control.

Kassir, a 45-year-old Christian, was an academic and founding member of the Democratic Left Movement, a small group that joined the anti-Syrian opposition and played an active role in the protest campaign against Damascus' control. He wrote a column in An-Nahar, a leading newspaper that frequently criticizes Syria, and was a regular on TV talk shows.

In a recent television appearance, he said he had long received threats by security agents trying to silence him.

At 6/03/2005 12:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syria activists speak of dangers they face:-
DAMASCUS, Syria | June 02, 2005 9:11:52 PM IST

Syrian rights activists met with the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva to discuss the dangers and restrictions they face.

Activist and lawyer Akram Bunni told UPI Thursday he was with a group of Syrian activists that recently briefed the commission on human rights and public freedomsin Syria and the recent arrests of several opposition politicians and activists.

We talked about the judicial situation of the activists who are imprisoned, especially Members of Parliament Maamoun Homsi and Riyad Seif and the head of the Arab organization of Human Rights in Syria, Mohammed Raadoun, Bunni said.

We also reviewed all the dangers and restrictions facing the activists and the commission expressed full support to Syrian activists, he added.

We discussed the commission's program for protecting human rights activists, especially against physical torture and psychological pressures, he said.

Several human rights and political activists have been rounded up in Syria in recent months. A few were released while many remain behind bars.

At 6/05/2005 05:08:00 PM, Anonymous absolutely not kosher said...

syria...Lebanon...Iran ...suddenly very important in the media. of course in a biased negative way.
But what is the real relevant issue here ?


Perle & Wolfowitz wanted very badly to expand the so called war on terror in irak ??? to syria and iran ... conveniently still the biggest ennemies of the zionist terror state. You see ,even in the US the jews can not be trusted.

the jews are the nazis of today : they murder people, steal their land , and deport an entire population.
bet that they will play the victim role once again when the oppressed take their rightful revenge.

At 6/06/2005 05:23:00 AM, Anonymous melvinmaxwell said...

These questions need to be answered before we determine the size of Nail to crucify Syria.

1) Did Syrian Army invaded Lebanon and force their presence on Lebanese Govt. and people?

2)Were the Syrian Govt. mandated by the U.N. or the Arab League to go into Lebanon to help and stop Lebanese religious, tribal wars, and Israeli invasion?

3)Is there any defense treaty between Lebanon and Syria that allowed Syria to be in Lebanon before their pull-out?

I have more to Comment on after these questions are answered.

Melvin Maxwell.


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