How Involved will Syria become in Iraq? More Mehlis
Will Iraq succumb to civil war? This question at the center of an important debate now being waged in Washington, Iraq and an on the blogs. Jim Lobe has an excellent summary of the main arguments (copied below). Central to the debate is the question of whether the US troops in Iraq are making things better or worse and when they should be withdrawn. Juan Cole has been addressing the issue and recently hit his tipping point. Last week he changed his assessment from arguing that they must stay, to arguing "Why we have to get troops out of Iraq."
This opens the debate about what Syria's role will be in each of the possible outcomes: if there is civil war, if Iraq divides into three states or two states, or, if the constitutional process comes together and a unified, but loose, federation emerges. Washington is now trying to come to grips with these possible outcomes. Scott Lasensky, a Senior Researcher at the United States Institute of Peace is working on a report explaining how Iraq's neighbors will respond. He recently called. Christopher Dickey at Newsweek is working on something similar for his magazine. International Crisis Group needs a report on the same thing. Now that everyone is coming to grips with the fact that the situation in Iraq is not going to improve anytime soon, the new neighborhood must be imagined. Out with the democracy dominoes and in with war dominoes.
Can the US Military Presence Avert Civil War?
Analysis by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 (IPS) - The growing spectre of a full-scale civil war in Iraq -- and the likelihood that such a conflict will draw in neighbouring states -- has intensified a summer-long debate here over whether and how to withdraw U.S. troops.
Some analysts believe that an immediate U.S. withdrawal would make an all-out conflict less likely, while others insist that the U.S. military presence at this point is virtually all there is to prevent the current violence from blowing sky-high, destabilising the region, and sending oil prices into the stratosphere.
The Bush administration continues to insist it will "stay the course" until Iraqi security forces can by themselves contain, if not crush, the ongoing insurgency. But an increasing number of analysts, including some who favoured the 2003 invasion, believe Washington will begin drawing down its 140,000 troops beginning in the first half of next year, if for no other reason than the Republican Party needs to show voters a "light at the end of the tunnel" before the November 2006 elections.
Indeed, reports in the British press over the weekend strongly suggested that London is already planning a major drawdown next May, although Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted Sunday that "no arbitrary date has been set".
Even these plans, however, could be rendered irrelevant if the current slide towards civil war in Iraq accelerates, as a growing number of experts believe it will.
In fact, some of these analysts believe that a civil war -- pitting Sunnis against the Kurdish and Shia populations -- has already begun. "A year ago, it was possible to write about the potential for civil war in Iraq," wrote Iraq-war booster Niall Ferguson in the Los Angeles Times. "Today that civil war is well underway," he asserted.
While that remains a minority view, the likelihood and imminence of civil war in Iraq is no longer questioned by analysts outside the administration.
Ferguson blames the situation on Washington's failure to deploy a sufficient number of troops in Iraq to crush any insurgency. But a report released Monday by the International Crisis Group (ICG) pointed the finger at the U.S.-sponsored constitutional process, which will culminate in a national plebiscite Oct. 15, as having further alienated Sunnis from the two other major sectarian groups.
Barring a major U.S. intervention to ensure that Sunni interests are addressed, according to the report, "Unmaking Iraq: A Constitutional Process Gone Awry", "Iraq is likely to slide toward full-scale civil war and the break-up of the country."
Similarly, no one outside the administration doubts the under-reported judgment made here just last week by visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
"Iraq is a very dangerous situation and a very threatening situation," he said. "The impression is (that it is) gradually going toward disintegration. There seems to be no dynamic now that is pulling the country together."
"All the dynamics there are pushing the (Iraqi) people away from each other," he said, adding that, if current trends persist, "It will draw the countries of the region into the conflict..."
This view was shared by members of a high-powered panel of Iraq and Iran specialists at the quasi-governmental U.S. Institute for Peace earlier this month.
Amid these gloomy, not to say apocalyptic, warnings, a public debate over U.S. withdrawal -- and specifically whether the U.S. military presence is making all-out war more or less likely -- has intensified outside the administration.
The mainstream position still sees the U.S. forces as a bulwark that is preventing, or at least braking, the trend toward war. According to Ferguson, who was a war-booster, the current situation, as bad as it is, is just "a little local difficulty" compared to the alternative of all-out civil war and its regionalisation.
"The kind of violence that we could see in Iraq if we quit now, leaving full-scale civil war to rage, would dwarf all that has happened since 2003," he predicted.
But others argue that, in the words of sociologist Michael Schwartz, "the U.S. presence doesn't deter, but contributes to, a thickening civil-war-like atmosphere in Iraq", and that if the U.S. were leave Iraq quickly, "it is far more reasonable to assume ...that the level of violence would be reduced, possibly drastically, not heightened."
In a widely-read essay posted on www.tomdispatch.com, Schwartz argued that the U.S. military is already killing more civilians than would likely die in a threatened civil war (he estimates more than 25,000 civilian deaths a year).
He said that the U.S. presence is actually aggravating terrorist violence, rather than suppressing it, and that much of the current terrorist violence, particularly that associated with the radical Islamist group of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, would be likely to subside if the U.S. left.
"The longer we wait to withdraw, the worse the situation is likely to get -- for the U.S. and for the Iraqis," he wrote.
Schwartz, who is situated on the left side of the political spectrum, did not explicitly embrace some of the more cold-hearted arguments made recently by conservative critics of Iraq policy, in particular Andrew Bacevich, a decorated Vietnam veteran who teaches international relations at Boston University, and retired Lt. Gen. William Odom of the Hudson Institute, who have called for the earliest possible withdrawal..
"We created the civil war when we invaded (Iraq); we can't prevent a civil war by staying," Odom wrote last month in an essay entitled "What's Wrong with Cutting and Running?"
He and Bacevich both argued that, instead of creating a vacuum in Iraq that would draw in neighbouring powers, Washington's withdrawal would force neighbours and other great powers -- who have been relegated to the sidelines by the Bush administration's high-handedness -- to form a coalition to ensure a conflict would not get out of hand.
Some of the administration's critics, however, argue that an immediate withdrawal will indeed make things far worse, particularly for Iraqis.
"I just cannot understand this sort of argument," wrote University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole on his much-read blog (www.juancole.com).
"The U.S. military is killing a lot of Iraqis, but whether it is killing more than would die in a civil war would depend on how many died in a civil war," he wrote. "A million or two could die in a civil war, and that's if the war stays limited to Iraq, which is unlikely."
"A U.S. withdrawal would not cause the Sunnis suddenly to want to give up their major demands; indeed, they might well be emboldened to hit the Shiites harder," wrote Cole, who favours both the withdrawal of most U.S. ground troops and, in the absence of NATO or U.N. peacekeepers, the maintenance of Special Forces and U.S. airpower in the region precisely to prevent sectarian forces from escalating the conflict into a conventional civil war, as in Afghanistan. (END/2005)
The Syrian press condemns the lack of global reaction to Israeli remarks on the Golan (Translation thanks to mideastwire.com)
Syrian newspapers on September 29 reject Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mufaz's statements in which he said that the Golan Heights would remain forever under Israeli control. The newspapers stress that the Golan will sooner or later return to Syria.Secretary of State Assistant for the Middle East Affairs David Welch, in an exclusive interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, denied that “there is an American decision to overthrow the Syrian regime.” He said that “holding meetings with non-violent Syrian opposition members did not mean that the United States is seeking to change the regime.”
Syrian newspaper Al-Ba'th newspaper website says Mufaz's statement "shows Israel's expansionist intentions and exposes its hostile tendencies." In a 400-word article by the "political editor," the paper says this "provocative" Israeli position "increases tension in the region, pushes it towards further collapses and chaos, and once again proves that Israel is determined to continue its destructive approach against the peace process."
The paper says: "Israel and its protectors are ignoring the eloquent lessons of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past six decades. The most important lesson is that Israel, for all its military superiority, is absolutely unable to impose the fait accompli and force the Arabs to submit to its will."
The paper adds: "The experiences of the liberation of south Lebanon and the withdrawal from Gaza prove that Israel might be able to achieve military victories and occupy Arab territories, but its inevitable end will be a retreat in the face of people's steadfastness and a withdrawal under the blows of the resistance. What happened in south Lebanon and Gaza will definitely happen in the Golan, the West Bank, and Jerusalem sooner or later. And contrary to Mufaz's allegations, the Golan will always remain Syrian Arab territory, and its return to the motherland is inevitable, no matter how long it takes and how huge the sacrifice."
Al-Thawrah newspaper website says in an unsigned front-page article that Mufaz, through his statement and call for the intensification of settlement activity in the Golan, is "challenging international law and defying Security Council resolutions, which call on Israel to withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan to the June 4, 1967 border and consider all the Israeli measures there null and void."
The paper says Israel has proved that it is not willing to achieve peace in the region and that "it cannot hide its aggressive nature."
It adds: "Mufaz's statements should have provoked the United Nations and all the international forces that talk much these days about the need to implement international resolutions that were adopted only a few months ago, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1614 on the Lebanese resistance. Where is the reaction of the countries that claim to be concerned about international law and its resolutions to Israel's rejection of resolutions that were adopted decades ago and Israel is yet to implement?"
The paper blames American "hegemony" over the world for the absence of any international comment on Mufaz's statements, but it says the failure to take a position against the statements "damages the credibility of any demand to implement resolutions here or ignite wars there under feeble excuses, as happened in Iraq."
The paper says: "Mufaz's statements about the Golan were not the first of their kind, and will not be the last. But Mufaz and his ilk should carefully read the history of the Golan in particular. No matter how long it lasts, the occupation will inevitably disappear. The occupier must learn the lesson from the history of the Golan. The regional and international situation is not unchangeable, and the Syrian people will not relinquish a single inch of the Golan. Right will definitely return to its owners, and the invalid Israeli measures will not stop this."
The paper concludes by saying: "A few years ago the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was a Palestinian dream. But through the Palestinian people's steadfastness and resistance, Israel withdrew from the strip. The same thing happened in south Lebanon. Our kinsfolk in the Golan will not hesitate to make every dear sacrifice to remove the occupation, no matter how different their situation is from the situations of south Lebanon and Gaza." - Agencies, Middle East.
A National Security Council member said the same thing according to this article:
U.S. considering options on SyriaDavid Hirst writes in the Guardian, "A mixture of excitement and fear stalks the land in Syria." Here is the conclusion:
Military action on the table, but not likely, one official says
By WARREN P. STROBEL and JOHN WALCOTT
Knight Ridder Tribune News
Sept. 30, 2005, 9:41PM
WASHINGTON - President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.
Bush's national security team is due to meet today to review policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.
The meeting comes as a U.N. investigator nears completion of a report that's expected to provide evidence that Syrian security agencies were involved in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is drawing on debriefings from one or more defectors from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The defectors have provided evidence of Syrian government complicity in Hariri's death, according to two American officials.
The U.S. government also has accused Syria of allowing insurgents to cross its territory and enter Iraq and recently has ratcheted up its demands that the traffic be halted.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad warned in mid-September that "our patience is running out."
Syria represents a complex challenge for Bush and his national security team as they wrestle with the war in Iraq.
There's disagreement within the Bush administration over the extent of the Syrian regime's backing of the Iraqi insurgency, support that Syria denies.
The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency have reported that the evidence is inconclusive, one official said.
Others argue that military action could destabilize or even topple Assad's government, with no good replacement at hand.
Since Hariri's assassination, Bush has pursued a policy of increasing pressure on Syria, with backing from the international community.
"It's an undeclared posture of 'regime change' on the cheap," said Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst and author of a recent book on Assad. The administration hopes to topple Assad without resorting to a costly invasion as in Iraq, Leverett said.
The options on the table for today's high-level White House meeting include imposing more sanctions on Syria, authorized under the 2003 Syria Accountability Act; reaching out to Syrian opposition groups; and taking limited military action, such as the use of U.S. special forces, to stop the flow of insurgents, according to an official involved in the deliberations.
The Bush administration, he said, calculates that the Mehlis investigation is putting significant pressure on Assad and is helping to build an international consensus to isolate Syria. Another official said that U.S. ally Israel also is counseling restraint, arguing that any successor to Assad, a member of Syria's Alawite minority, would likely be worse — perhaps even ushering in a militantly Islamic regime.
Mehlis is due to make his findings public in late October, although U.S. officials say they expect any final report will be delayed until next year.
President Bashar Assad faces an unenviable choice - between cooperating with Mehlis or defying him - and he seems to be veering bemusedly between the two. By suddenly welcoming him to Syria, he was ceding what, on grounds of national sovereignty, he had hitherto effectively opposed. But if Mehlis goes on to demand the arraignment of suspects as high-ranking as their Lebanese counterparts - and, if Syria is indeed guilty, the trail will indubitably lead to the innermost circles of power - will he cede that too? For the weak head of a regime built around clan solidarity and the consensus of rival power fiefdoms, an attempt to save himself and a chosen part of it through the sacrifice of another part is, Syrians say, a red line he simply dare not cross. It is a recipe for the internal explosion which, in the absence of an effective opposition, has long been seen as the likeliest manner of the Ba'athists' eventual undoing.Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said illegal routes between Lebanon and Syria have been closed as party of a security plan to curb terrorism.
But to defy Mehlis, as he hints at eventually doing, and portraying him and all his works as an American-led conspiracy against Syria itself, would seem almost as suicidal in the end. It would turn Syria into an international pariah, align Europe behind economic sanctions and, far from rousing an already disaffected and restive people in patriotic defence, further persuade most of them that their government is the prime source of their deepening woes, with the Hariri murder as a crowning blunder for which they pay the price.
The people's, especially the opposition's, excitement stems from the prospect of seeing at least some of their rulers get their come-uppance before an international tribunal. Their fear, even amongst this self-same opposition, stems from the belief that, thanks to the legacy of Ba'athist rule, a regime crisis would automatically degenerate into a national one, even civil war.
So serious is this fear that "après moi le deluge" is seen as Bashar's last great card, his only chance of clinching a grand bargain - yielding up all the strategic assets, in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, that always furnished the means to impede or assist American purposes in return for survival - and continued mastery - in his own house. If the Syrians themselves are so worried, shouldn't the world be too? Would it really like its "good" intervention, undeservingly, to go the grim way of its "bad" one - and risk a second Iraq? If, in the era of Bush's "freedom and democracy", it was cynical enough to strike such a bargain with a minor player such as Colonel Gaddafi, mightn't it do the same with an embattled Bashar, for much greater reward, at the strategic and emotional heart of the Arab world?
Here is the conclusion of Lee Smith's article in the Weekly Standard. He believes that civil strife in Syria is likely if Asad should fall. All the same, he argues that it is probably better to remove Asad and push Syria toward civil war than to allow Syria to continue exporting strife to its neighbors. This is the "tough luck" scenario that some regime-changers are now advocating. It is tough luck for Syria if Asad has successfully wiped out civil society and eliminated the possibility of a replacement to him emerging. The lack of an alternative to Asad should not stop us from deposing him, Smith argues, because civil war in Syria is preferable for America and the region than Asad's present control of Syria. I don't think many will buy this line of argument because it is based on the notion that a Syria in civil war will export less violence than Bashar does today. It invokes the old Bush adage: "better to take the battle to them and fight them over there than let them come to America." Even if one disregards what is good for Syrians, Smith's math doesn't add up. Syria in war would export more.
Assad State of AffairsThere has been a steady buildup of U.S. and Iraqi forces along the insurgents' two main transit corridors -- one in northwestern Iraq between the border and Mosul, the other in the far western reaches of the Euphrates River valley. U.S. figures show some success in curbing infiltration. Zahner said the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq, which had started to approach 200 a month in June, appeared to drop to 100 a month or fewer by the end of August. More than 315 foreign fighters have been killed since March and nearly 330 detained. Suicide attacks fell about 50 percent from May to August.
Arab nationalism dies in Syria.
by Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard
10/10/2005, Volume 011, Issue 04
Washington may hope there is some plausible alternative to the Assads, but none is in evidence--not a secular, democratic opposition, not a reform movement in exile, not moderate Islamists. (Not even Islamist extremists, whose organizational capacity the regime has invariably exaggerated for its own purposes.) Thus, the regime has effectively booby-trapped Syria, and if it falls it is quite likely Syrians will shed each other's blood.
Would a Syria in free fall cause trouble in the region and for the United States? Well, it's unclear whether a failed state exports more violence than one already determined to export violence, especially if it is going to take that failed state a long time to exhaust its own sectarian furies. Moreover, the fact is that Syria's intercommunal violence has already spilled over into Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Eventually, Syrians will have to learn how to construct a positive national identity out of a multisectarian, multiethnic society without dispatching their demons abroad or sweeping them under an Arab nationalist rug.
The U.S. has Launched an offensive against five Iraqi villages near the Syrian border and al-Qaim Saturday in an offensive aimed at rooting out fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq.
Inhabitants are flooding out of the region. U.S. warplanes and helicopters launched strikes on targets in Sadah, sending smoke billowing into the sky.
The force -- made up mostly of Marines, but also with soldiers and Navy sailors -- rolled into the village in the morning and gunfire was heard, said a correspondent for CNN embedded with the troops. Helicopters fired on three suspicious vehicles along the way, two of which turned out to be carrying suicide bombers and the third was being loaded with weapons, CNN reported.
Sadah is a village of about 2,000 people on the banks of the Euphrates River about eight miles from the Syrian border in Iraq's western province of Anbar. The isolated community has one main road and about 200 houses cattered over a rural area.
It also aimed to stop foreign fighters from entering the country from Syria and improving security in the region before Iraq's Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution, the military said. Sunni insurgents have vowed to derail the referendum and have launched a surge of violence that has killed at least 200 people -- including 13 U.S. service members -- in the past six days.Top government officials in Damascus believe that no tangible evidence of wrongdoing by Syrians in Hariri's assassination exists and that international pressure against Syria is largely based on suspicion rather than proof.
The dual over whether Mehlis has nailed the Syrians or not is still being fought out in the press with the Syrians maintaining that they are inoccent and Mehlis has nothing on them and the Lebanese insisting Syria will be nailed. This article in the Khaleed Times quotes one Lebanese official as saying, “The work of the investigators is almost done. They have broken the case. Mehlis will go all the way and charge Syrian officials."
As-Safir writes: Mehlis didn't get much from the Syrians?
As Safir, a privately owned Lebanese newspaper, wrote on September 30 in its front page: “The sources said that the hearing of Syrian security personnel that were conducted in the area of Zabdani was a failure" and that “Mehlis aims to ask for the questioning of some Syrian security chiefs outside Syria.” - As Safir, Lebanon
Al Hayat reports,
"another Syrian source revealed to Al Hayat yesterday night that head of the [UN] investigation team, Detlev Mehlis, focused his questions for seven of the current and former Syrian security chiefs ... on three fields, which were: replying to the confession of the secret witness Mohammed Sadeeq, detailing the hierarchy of the Syrian security apparatus and its relations with the Syrian forces who worked previously in Lebanon, and an understanding of the political stand between Damascus and Beirut before Hariri’s assassination.” The newspaper said that until yesterday, it was still unknown if Mehlis would revisit Damascus, saying “the sources said: Nothing is certain.” Al Hayat said that “western diplomatic sources did not rule out the possibility that Mehlis might suddenly head from Vienna to Damascus.”
Al Hayat said that between October 21-25, Mehlis’ report could be leaked by UN Security Council member states, each according to its interests, as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will distribute the report to the members after receiving it on October 19. “The Syrian official,” the newspaper added, “said that the investigation that was conducted last week with seven Syrian leaders, points out that the investigation team does not have any suspect in Syria, adding that what Mehlis said to Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk (two days before) was that the investigation team did not reach any final results.”
The official added: “Unfortunately, some [in Lebanon] understood the Syrian patience and its forgiveness and non-reply to what was stated against her as a proof of powerlessness and as lacking justifications, and not because Syria already knows the dimension of the civil disturbance that is being prepared for Lebanon and the region.” - Al Hayat, United Kingdom
The Daily Star editorializes that there is "A surfeit of red herrings," when it comes to the Mehlis investigation and that Mehlis should tell everyone what to expect from his findings.
The Syrian government is on the verge of launching a diplomatic campaign to try to stave off mounting Western-led international pressure on the country following indications that some of its security officials may have been involved in the murder of former Lebanese premier, Rafik Hariri.Well-placed government sources in Damascus have told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the campaign aims to win support from Russia, China and India, as well as some other key international players.
Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, will spearhead the campaign by personally visiting some of the targeted countries while he will dispatch high-level delegations to others, according to the sources who spoke to AKI on condition of anonymity.
Part of this campaign includes Egypt, to which Asad just turned over video tapes of the Mehlis interviews with top Syrians. I presume in order to prove that they hadn't said anything incriminating.
I had lunch with a bunch of wealthy Damascene businessmen yesterday and naturally the Mehlis report came up. One Christian, who owns an engineering and construction firm, said he had recently spoken with one of the people Mehlis had interviewed. The person said that he had told Mehlis, "You know the Umayyad circle construction project?" (A big traffic tunnel being completed at one of Damascus' biggest interchanges.) Well that was supposed to be completed in six months. It has taken three years." (It is famous for having caved in and for having other major engineering problems, which caused it to be torn down and rebuild at least once.)
The point was obvious. The Syrian government is too stupid to undertake something like killing Hariri. Everyone at the table laughed. I doubt people were convinced by the story, but it was meant to reassure the table that the people Mehlis interviewed gave nothing. Many Syrians still do not believe that their government was involved in killing Hariri. If Mehlis proves that it was, it will take a toll on the government’s legitimacy.