Across the Bay

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Syrian Mugshots in Iraq

Michael Young put up a very interesting post on the photos found in Fallujah of fighters posing with a high-ranking Syrian official.

What's most interesting to me is this section from Michael's post:

"[L]ast year, when Gen. David Petraeus was still commander in Mosul, he negotiated oil sales to Syria from the city in order to finance projects there, and he did it with the approval of Paul Bremer. More significantly, this was negotiated not with the Syrian government, but specifically with Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, according to several sources. Khaddam, a Sunni, is one of those who has well-developed networks in Iraq, which apparently includes maintaining contacts with Iraqi tribes.

In that context, one might argue that while the left hand in Syria might not know what the right hand is doing, with all these parallel tracks being run in and out of Iraq, where considerable amounts of money are switching hands and through which the Syrian elite has set up lucrative business contacts, the left hand may not want to know what the right hand is doing.

The enigma of the Syrian power structure since Bashar inherited the presidency continues to be tantalizing. It's still not clear what exactly is going on. How much is Bashar in charge and, if he's not totally in charge, who else is? The suggestion that Khaddam might have something to do with the Syrian schizophrenia is interesting on many levels, one of which is the fact that he is a Sunni. Josh Landis says he's pro-Iran (I'm not sure he's alone on this, considering how Bashar continues to further bind, and thus limit, himself with Iran and Hizbullah -- something that his father would never have done.) I wonder where Farouq Shara' fits here. Is he in the Khaddam line? As for Ghazi Kenaan, Michael has a couple of lines on him as well:

"Joshua Landis ... ends his entry with this tantalizing passage: "It is a problem that seems to be recognized by the Syrian government. Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan is reportedly trying to reform the intelligence services and bring them under a centralized command."

Indeed, but two thoughts come to mind: The Syria security system is run on the principle of allowing multiple security services that can balance each other out, so Kenaan's efforts will almost surely be in vain (otherwise, one might just as well hand the keys of the palace to him); secondly, one of Kenaan's main rivals is Military Intelligence, which has been repeatedly cited for running networks into Iraq and sending weapons there. So a unification of the security services would, if it were to take place, remove the deniability that the hydra-like structure of the Syrian regime allows today. Again, not likely.

This ambiguity played itself out in Lebanon after the attempt on Marwan Hamade's life. Did Bashar authorize the hit to send a message to Jumblatt? Or did he not know about it? Or, did he not want to know about it? All this provokes more questions on the current nature of the Syrian house. I'm leaning more and more towards the theory of multiple power centers (see Joshua's post linked above) and perhaps Michael's remark on the "hydra-like structure" of the Syrian regime might support it. Also, the accumulation of recent blunders (since the Iraq war at least) by the Syrians, might also indicate polyarchy in Damascus.

For more on the story, see Josh's most recent post.