Across the Bay

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Syria Knowingly Harboring Al-Qaeda

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdulkarim Khalaf told NOW Lebanon that before the cross border strike into Syria on Sunday, his government had informed Syrian officials that a "terrorist cell" was operating in their territory.

Khalaf told NOW Lebanon, in an exclusive interview on Friday, that "Syria didn’t take any measures to uproot the terrorists in the Bou Kamal border region with Iraq."

For one, this confirms what Maj. Gen. John Kelly said last week:

But we do know that there are operatives that live, we believe, certainly -- let me say, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side. And periodically we know that they try to come across.

But this also recalls, almost verbatim, what Jordanian intelligence officials had said about the Syrians and the Jihadis they harbor and redirect against neighboring countries:

Last year, an attempt on the Amman Airport was barely thwarted after the arrest of Mohammad al-Darsi upon his entry on Jordanian soil. He had left Libya a few days earlier to go to Damascus, where a jihadist recruiter dissuaded him from going to Iraq, directing him towards Jordan instead, where he was to self-detonate among the travelers at Amman Airport.

For the Jordanians, who had flagged -- in vain -- Darsi's arrival in Damascus, their neighbors [the Syrians] are buying their security by tolerating jihadists on their soil.

This is not to mention the case of Shaker al-Absi and other details which you can read about in the recent district court ruling against the Syrian regime.

So what we have here is a clear pattern -- a policy -- where Syria actively and knowingly allows freedom of movement and operation for Jihadis on its soil, and not only explicitly refuses to cooperate, but also redirects and uses these Jihadis to target neighboring countries, including allowing Zarqawi to plan operations on its soil against Jordan and against US diplomats in Jordan and to tolerate training camps as well as allow a logistical support line through Syria for foreign fighters headed for Iraq, not to mention redirecting these fighters into Lebanon, in what became known as Fateh Islam. Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have all suffered from this Syrian-sponsored terrorism.

The Iraqi spokesman goes on to say: "Iraq is surrounded by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but we face the most serious problems along the Iranian and Syrian borders."

This again echoes Gen. Kelly's statement:

[T]he Anbar Province, which we all call home, has three national borders. One with the Saudi Arabians -- that border is actually quite tight. There is no regularly scheduled or regularly opened port of entry except for one place during the hajj period that's coming up. But that's -- that's a good solid border.

The Saudis are great soldiers and they take care of this side very well. We don't have to worry too much about that.

Same comments for the Jordanian border; we have a very, very active port of entry there. A tremendous amount of commerce goes in and out of that port of entry. And the Jordanian side for sure; have that, their side locked up. I would say that we have absolutely no issues of corruption or security really on the Jordanian border at all. There are very, very good soldiers and police services in Jordan.

Syria, different story... The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side. We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement, not much, through Anbar because of our activities out there, with the police and with the Iraqi army and with the Iraqi border forces, so less and less of that kind of thing coming through.

Notice that the reduction in foreign fighter infiltration is not due to Syrian efforts, but to US efforts. In fact, the US has reduced that number and the death toll (which in October was the lowest since the war began), not because of any Syrian help, rather in spite of every effort by the Syrians to ensure failure and defeat for the US, its allies and Iraq.

As Farouq Sharaa said in 2003, "Syria's interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq." So much for all the hot air about "common interests" with the Syrians. The interests are diametrically opposed, which is why all engagement will fail (as David Schenker notes) as it has without exception in the past. And so, the US doesn't need to "reward" (after five years of direct war against the US and Iraq) Syria for "cooperation" -- a la the late and idiotic Baker-Hamilton report -- as it has been able to move towards its goals (thanks to the surge and its aftermath) despite Syrian sponsorship of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And the US has built good ties to the Iraqi Sunnis and the tribes, making the Syrians all the more irrelevant. The US didn't, as the Syrians had banked, come "crawling," begging for an "honorable surrender" as regime hounds such as Landis and Moubayed have been peddling.

If the Syrians continue to provide safe haven (in direct violation of UNSCR 1373) to senior al-Qaeda commanders, such as Abu Ghadiyah, the US military has shown that it will go after them inside Syria. As a senior US official put it: "As targets present themselves, and are identified... they become more and more at risk. Just like in Pakistan, there will be steps taken to deal with it."

Khalaf said that "the terrorists in the Bou Kamal region included Bou Ghadia, who is accused of murdering Iraqis in the Qaem border region, but the Syrians didn’t take any measures."

Yeah, so the US did -- five years past due, some would say.