Across the Bay

Monday, December 14, 2009

Petraeus: Izzat al-Duri is Living Freely in Syria

In addition to the strong statements made by Gen. Ray Odierno (see here and here), Gen. David Petraeus made some statements of his own in an interview with Al-Arabiya today.

Petraeus said, "What is worrisome about what's happening there [in Syria] is the presence of people like Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri and Muhammad Younis Ahmad, and these are persons who were close to Saddam, and they are now allowed to openly call for the toppling of the government of Iraq." He added, "they live freely in Syria, and some of them own satellite stations, and this creates an atmosphere of tension between the two countries."

Furthermore, Petraeus downplayed any Syrian role in the decrease in the numbers of fighters crossing the Syrian border into Iraq. Instead, he attributed this to the decrease in the capabilities of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its desire to only recruit suicide bombers, whose numbers are much fewer, even if they cause a lot of damage. Moreover, Petraeus noted, the fighters' countries of origin have made it more difficult for them, prohibiting, for example, the travel of young males with one way tickets to Damascus.

Recently, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the Iraqi Interior Ministry's chief of intelligence and investigations, was quoted as saying:

Iraqi officials suspect the Aug. 19 and Oct. 25 bombings, which targeted the Foreign, Justice and Finance ministries, among other entities, were planned at a secret meeting in Zabadani, a city in southwestern Syria, close to the Lebanese border. He said al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders met with former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party on July 30 to chart out a new strategy.

"They made a plan to carry out major joint operations in central Baghdad targeting important buildings," Kamal said in an interview.

In a statement that seemed to support the Iraqi official position, Gen. Odierno noted that AQI and Baathists were essentially merging:

He said al Qaeda in Iraq has teamed up with remnants of the Baath Party -- a statement that gave more weight to the Iraqi government's claims.

"We have been able to significantly reduce the capability of several groups to include al Qaeda and some of the Sunni rejectionist groups, so what I think we have seen happen over the last year or so is that these groups have started to work together. And so they have started to coalesce, especially at the local level. ... So it blurs the lines sometimes. And I think sometimes it's semantics. Some people say al Qaeda, some people call them Baathists. I would argue that they are probably both involved, they are coordinating at the local level," Odierno said.

When asked if the investigations had indicated any links to Syria, he added, "My experience is there probably was some movement of fighters or explosives coming from Syria."

Update: From AFP: Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bolani told parliament on Monday that a suicide bomber who attacked the foreign ministry in August made a phone call to Syria before detonating his payload, an MP said.

"He told us that the security services found the SIM card of the bomber in the attack on the foreign ministry, and that the last number that appeared was a number in Syria," Shiite MP Abbas al-Bayati told AFP.