Can the US and Syria Work Together in Iraq?
Common US and Syrian Goals in Iraq
Iyad Allawi, the ex-Prime Minister of Iraq, who was backed by the Americans in the last Iraqi elections is campaigning in Syria among Iraqi exiles here. I have been asked to meet with his campaigners and write about his platform by some of his supporters. (I don't have time to do this, but some reporter should.) But, it is worth mentioning, that Allawi has the support of the Syrian government. This is not surprising because he represents the best hope of secular Sunni Iraqis to form an alliance with secular Shiites and preserve the unity of Iraq. It is also worth noting that Allawi is also heavily supported by the US government for the same reasons. This should give pause to the people who claim that the US and Syria are working at cross purposes in Iraq and who insist that Washington should refuse Syria any role in helping to find a solution to the Iraqi situation. (This is the stand of WINEP. Robert Rabil recently wrote for the Washington Institute that the US should deny Syria a role in Iraq because it is a bad country.) This is foolish politics and ensures that US demands for Syrian cooperation at the border will not be carried out as enthusiastically as possible. Both governments support Imad Allawi for the same strategic reasons. Both Syria and the US want a stable, unified, and secular Iraq. Both have an interest in limiting the role of Iran in Iraq. Syrian Sunnis from the north-eastern tribes have taken up Allawi's cause here. They believe he is the only salvation of their Sunni cousins in Iraq. Both Syria and the US are trying to buy the Iraqi Sunnis into the political process in Iraq in order to find a way out of the escalating sectarian violence and to put an end to the resistance and terrorism.
Why can't Washington be smart about this? It has consistently refused Syrian cooperation in Iraq. It has refused to allow Syrians delegations to attend conferences on border control. It has refused to supply Syria with much needed night-vision goggles and other high-tech equipment to help survey the border. It has kept the Iraqi government from establishing links and dialog with the Syrians. It has rebuffed Syrian attempts to keep intelligence sharing on Iraq and fundamentalists open at high levels. It has refused to permission of high-level American military representatives to come to Syria to confer with their counterparts here on border issues. America's attempts to isolate Syria have undermined intelligent Iraq policy.
Lebanon's supporters in the US and neo-cons have blinded themselves to the possibility of Syrian cooperation in Iraq. Some of this is understandable. Syria did encourage Jihadists to go to Iraq during the first months of the war. All the same, Syria is now cooperating with the US because the US has declared its intention to eventually leave Iraq, a process Syria hopes to hasten. Syria is also rightfully worried about Iraqi blowback should the resistance continue. The Jordan bombings were a clear demonstration of this danger to all Iraq's neighbors. Lebanese are rightfully fearful that should the US open the door to Syrian cooperation in Iraq, Damascus will try to use their assistance and positive role in the East to buy continued lenience for meddling in Lebanon and foot dragging over the Mehlis investigation. These are understandable fears, but Washington should not let their Iraq policy be driven by Lebanese interests. Washington can separate its Lebanon policy from its Iraq policy, making it clear to Damascus that help in Iraq does not mean a license to fiddle in Lebanon. To those who insist that “pressure works” and only pressure will get the attention of Damascus, let them continue to use pressure. There is no law that pressure and dialog cannot be used together.
It is now clear that the US is not going to achieve regime-change in Syria – even the kind of cheap regime-change of the Qaddafi-deal variety. So long as the “isolate Syria” supporters could hope for dramatic success in getting Syria to make a strategic pirouette by refusing all dialog with Damascus, there was some justification for not cooperating on the Iraq border even though Syria was willing to. Today, that refusal is just stubbornness and short sighted. It may be costing US and Iraqi lives. It certainly means US efforts to increase dialog between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is firing without all its pistons. The US should enlist Syria to play a constructive role in this effort. Iraq’s Kurdish President is keen on bringing the Syrians into the picture and enlisting their support. He has asked the government to stop anti-Syrian propaganda. Allawi is also campaigning for Syria’s help. These are America’s two closest Iraqi allies. Why not listen to them, rather than clip their wings? Use Syria to counterbalance Iran. Refusal to do this only forces Syria and Iran together. It makes western fears of a Shiite crescent in the region self-fulfilling. Syria is an overwhelmingly Sunni country. Although Bashar al-Asad is an Alawite and thus technically closer to Shi`i than Sunni Islam, he is above all secular and interested in preserving his regime and Syria’s position in the region. Harnessing these interests to US goals should be a priority.
Addendum: Just received this from a reader:
Josh,Here is a list of the people, compiled by "Shril" who are on trial in front of Syrian State Security Court this period. One can see that most are accused of belonging to Islamist groups or the Iraqi Baath. This is consistent with Damascus' declaration that it is worried about Iraqi-style violence spreading into Syria and the government's declared aim of helping the Iraq government stop Jihadist infiltration and the violent resistance in Iraq.
Just read your latest posts. Poor Ziad Abdelnour. Got everything he ever wanted, but had nothing to do with it. He must have gone clinically insane. Is that interview for real?
As for Iyad Allawi, I don't pretend to be an expert on Iraqi politics, but I can tell you the election results from Iraqis who voted in the US in the first post-Hussein election:
1) Shiite alliance
2) Kurd alliance
3) Assyrian parties
5) Allawi's ticket
So even Iraqis living in the world's premier capitalist society had more confidence in communists than Allawi. Not exactly a stellar showing. Is he still running alongside Ghazi al-Yawer, who wears a dishdasha and kuffiya in Iraq but comes to DC and brags about how much he loves the Washington Redskins? Street creds, anyone?
Omar Darwish Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to Islamic brother hood
Radwan Darwish Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to Islamic brother hood
Muhammad Raadon Human rights activist
Jamel Hallol Islamic background
Khalid Alraaee Islamic background
Mahmoud Abo Mayalah Islamic background
Ahmad Omar Islamic background
Mahmod al-kateeb Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Ahmad al-kateeb Coming back from exile in Iraq- charged of Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Abdel majeed kayrawan Belonging to" bath al-yameen"
Muhammad Mahmoud Qasem Islamic background (Detained in 13-2-2005)Yalda "countryside" of Damascus
11 prisoners from al-qamishli Islamic background
Abdel sattar qattan Accused of relation with Islamic brotherhood
15 January 2006
prisoners from al-tal area
"Baraa Mania"- "Ghassan al-khateen" – shaher al-zarqa"- "Murad al-zarqa" "Asem Basheer" Islamic background
seven prisoners from Al-Tal aria (countryside of Damascus Charged with belonging to al-wahabia al-takferia
5 February 2006
Nizar Rastanawi Human rights activist
Abdelrahman alsharef Islamic background- Detained in February 2004
Osamah Cash Islamic background- Detained in August 2003
The arrest of opposition member Kamal Al Labwani at the Damascus International Airport - more info from the Syria Human Rights Information Link.
Syrian opposition member Kamal Lubwani was arrested during his return from Washington and meetings with a number of American officials at The White House, National Security, and American Foreign Affairs. The arrest took place during his exit from Damascus International Airport and at the hands of officers from the civilian police, one of whom is ranked a major, while his wife was preparing to meet him.Shril also describes the:
Al Lubwani traveled to London a little over two months ago to make an exhibition for the pictures that he drew during his imprisonment on the basis of what has been called “Damascus spring”. After that he traveled to Brussels and met with officials at the European Union; then he moved on to Washington where he did not reach an agreement with The Reform Party leader Farid Al Ghadari. He announced that he is with The Syrian National Council (Al Majlis Al Watani Al Suri) and signed a joint declaration with Doctor Najeeb Ghadban and Al Diri, and told thousands from Washington that he met with American officials for the purpose of discussing change from within and without a repeat of the Iraq scenario, as well as that he discussed the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic change. However, a number of the Syrian opposition members who signed the Damascus Declaration said that Al Lubwani was not present during the preliminary negotiations of the declaration.
The Transfer of Al Lubwani to the examining magistrate
During his questioning in front of the examining magistrate in Damascus, Doctor Kamal Al Lubwani rewiewed the positions that were declared during the interview he gave with Al Hurra satellite television, the substance being:
- emphasis on the absolute rejection of any military or economic pressure on Syria and the absolute rejection of violence.
- emphasis on transparency, clarity, and the rejection of clandestine efforts, along with condemning the bias in political rhetoric.
- emphasis on democracy and support for human rights organizations and basic freedoms, especially the right to participate and produce an opinion, as well as all of the civil and political rights.
The office of the prosecutor general rested its case on the accusations of weakening the psyche of the nation, weakening national consciousness, threatening national dignity, kindling the fires of sectarianism, and belonging to a clandestine organization; its case is based on his opinions and ideas, whether those that he expressed openly and transparently or those that he preserved for himself on his own private slips of paper, and the charges rest on articles 285-287 and 307-308 of the Syrian penal code.
The defense team learned that Doctor Al Lubwani has been exposed since his arrest to the worst detention circumstances which drove him to request the prosecution of the head of the branch of political investigation who slapped him in the face.
The defense team stresses that Doctor Lubwani’s preventive detention has lost its legal justification because all of the requested evidence is present in the file and there is no fear of its loss or destruction, just as there is no fear of the accused taking flight considering he is the one who showed up and returned to the homeland having faith in the integrity and justice of his cause. This detention gives the impression of a punishment or an advance on its settlement and is contrary to the constitutional and legal principle based on that the accused possesses the presumption of innocence until a final ratified judgment concerning him or her is issued.
Prevention of the gathering of The Council of the Damascus Declaration
The Syrian Committee for Human Rights (London) disapproved of the audacity of the Syrian security authorities in preventing the convening of the meeting of the temporary council for the Damascus declaration; an action which was carried out on the evening of Sunday, November 11, 2005, by barring the entrance of the building in which the meeting was chosen to convene by means of a massing of elements of the police and intelligence services.
Rhonda Roumani explains in the Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 17) why the Syrian opposition has distanced itself from Labwani:
But as the US has been trumpeting Labwani's plight, internal Syrian opposition has distanced itself from him. Wary of US intentions in the region, many view support from Labwani with suspicion.Kim Ghattas of the BBC has a good story entitled:
Labwani is one of only a handful of opposition figures within Syria who has called for stronger ties with the US. Many here are afraid of being labeled the Syrian version of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition figure who many say helped build the case for the invasion of Iraq.
Labwani, a medical doctor from Zabadani, a mountainous area on the border with Lebanon, gained notoriety in Syria when he was arrested in 2001, along with nine other prominent activists. He served a three-year term and was released in September 2004.
Upon his release, Labwani returned to politics, giving lectures on democracy and the Damascus Spring. This year, he announced the formation of the Liberal Democratic Union, a new political party advocating strong ties with the West. (Syrian law forbids the formation of new political parties.)
But in meetings with US officials, Labwani chose not to speak on behalf of his new political party, says his lawyer, but asked for US support of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for reform and was signed last month by a coalition of opposition leaders, including Islamists.
Labwani, who did not sign the declaration himself, was criticized by Abdel-Azeem, the spokesman for the Declaration, for taking it to US officials without being a signatory. "As for the arrest, we are against the arrest of any Syrian citizen under the emergency law," says Abdel-Azeem.
"I am not against Rice saying what she said," says Louay Hussein, an opposition figure and owner of a publishing house. "But I am not convinced of their sincerity. They do not care about human rights or the human rights of Kamal Labwani. This was only for their benefit, not the benefit of the Syrian people."
Riad Nakshbandi, an engineer who used to work on the Tharwa Project, a project on minority issues in the Middle East until it was shut down last month, is another opposition figure who is not opposed to reaching out to the US.
"But there has to be a framework in how we deal with the Americans - not just a single person," says Mr. Nakshbandi.
Syria's minority Alawites Fear for their Future
I am quoted saying, "Certain Alawites have been able to benefit from having an Alawite president, but [many] remain poor and don't have connections to the regime," says Joshua Landis. "They worry they are the ones that are going to eat all the revenge and discrimination, if the state falls, they are going to pay the price for the privileges of a few." (I was quoting JAM, so don't say I don't listen to the doubly heretical Alawite.)
One reader writes:
UN chief: Arab leaders worried Syria could become the next Iraq
Mr. Landis: David Duke, the former head of the KKK of Louisiana, is in Damascus to express his support and solidarity to the Syrian government. I think they will form a perfect partnership! Also, he is discussing plans to open a branch and a local office of his movement, i.e., the KKK, in the Syrian Capital...God Bless, God Speed!!!! Oh, Happy Thanksgiving by the way.
By The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who just returned from the Mideast, said Arab leaders are worried that Syria could become the next Iraq.
Annan said on Monday that the issue of Syrian cooperation with an investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri came up in every capital he visited.
"They're all concerned and anxious to see Syria cooperate and to see the issue settled diplomatically and not lead to a situation that destabilizes possibly Syria and Lebanon," Annan said. "They're worried if we are leading to another Iraq situation."
A UN interim report into the February 14 assassination implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services, and accused Syria of only limited cooperation. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on October 31 warning Syria of possible "further action" if it refuses to cooperate with the UN investigation, which has been extended until December 15.
Syria has objected to chief investigator Detlev Mehlis' request to interview six top Syrian officials about the assassination in Beirut. Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad reiterated Monday that Lebanon "creates problems, sensitivities and other issues."
Last week, Mekdad said Syria had proposed alternative venues including the headquarters of the UN observer force in the Golan Heights, at the Arab League office in Cairo, or at UN facilities in Vienna and Geneva.
Mekdad said the location issue was discussed at a meeting in Barcelona, Spain two days ago between Mehlis and Syrian officials.
Asked about reports that there was an agreement on Cyprus as a compromise venue, he replied, "not yet - there still needs to be some work."
Mekdad said Syria is insisting on a memorandum of understanding spelling out the kind of cooperation the UN investigating commission requires in its interrogation and investigation.
After Mehlis arrived in Lebanon, he signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in June, "and in Syria we want to do the same, so that we know how ... we organize our cooperation and work together," Mekdad said.
"It is not in our interest to delay things," he said. "I think it is against our interest and we hope that Mr. Mehlis and his team will expedite the work so that we can proceed directly to the investigation and the interrogation processes."
Annan refused to respond to reports of U.S. criticism for allegedly interfering in the Mehlis investigation, but he said "I have had the chance to assist him sometimes to push people along, encourage leaders in the region to urge Syria to cooperate and to cooperate fully."
"I have also had the chance to talk to Syrian authorities since the resolution several times urging them to cooperate with Mehlis - and I think it is my duty as secretary-general to do whatever I can to assist to make sure that everybody cooperates," he said.
Stressing the widespread concern in the region, Annan said he has made it clear to the Syrians that the Security Council wants "to get to the truth and then show that the culprits are brought to justice and a message will be sent out that impunity will not be allowed to stand."
In tandem with the suspicions about Syria's hand in Hariri's assassination, the United States, joined by the new Iraqi government, has accused Damascus of not doing enough to patrol its border with Iraq.
At the very least, argue Iraqi and U.S. officials, Syria is turning a blind eye to hundreds of so-called foreign fighters crossing into Iraq and who are believed to be behind some of the most violent attacks in that country, including the near daily suicide bombings.
Syria has disputed those claims, saying it is doing all it can, but that it would be impossible to fully patrol such a long and porous desert border.
Damascus has also repeatedly has denied any role in the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. But Syria's opponents in Lebanon accuse Damascus of ordering the slaying because Hariri had increasingly resisted Syria's control of Lebanon.
Syria withdrew its soldiers from Lebanon in April under intense international pressure, ending a 29-year presence in its smaller neighbor.
"We want to see a situation where the countries in the region respect each other's sovereignty and do not interfere in each other's affairs," Annan said.
"So if there is pressure on Syria, it's pressure for a behavioral change," he said. "That's the way I see it."