By Abid Mustafa – London
On the October 26 2008, four U.S. helicopters flew 8 kilometers into Syria from Iraq, and attacked a farm compound in Eastern Syria. The operation led by US Special Forces killed eight people including four children and Al Qaida operative Abu Ghadiya. Immediately after the raid, the Syrian regime vehemently denounced the attack as a violation of its sovereignty and carried out a series of retaliatory measures in protest. This included the removal of Syrian troops from the Iraqi border, mobilization of crowds to vent anger against America, closure of the American school and the US cultural centre. Additionally, Asad’s regime demanded an official apology and compensation for the victims. However, beyond the fiery rhetoric, new details have emerged that suggest Syria’s complicity in the attack.
On November 2 2008, the English newspaper The Times revealed that Syria had given permission for the raid to go ahead and when the operation was bungled, Syria’s notorious secret intelligence services flooded the region to clear up the mess and muzzle local villagers. The paper further disclosed that the farm area was a heaven for jihadi fighters who were free to train and move across the Iraqi border. Some spoke with thick Iraqi accents. The revelations are not new and confirm long standing suspicions that Syria is covertly assisting America to stabilize Iraq.
After the fall of Saddam, many Iraqis fled Iraq and sought refuge in Syria. At present their numbers stand at approximately 1.5 million. Under American auspices, Syria set up militant training camps to recruit and train the Iraqi refugees into fighters with the explicit purpose of infiltrating the Iraqi resistance, providing real-time intelligence to US officials, and executing covert operations in Iraq, especially those that encourage sectarian discord. Syria also established checkpoints every 4 kilometers along the border that abuts Iraq. Through such endeavors the Syrian regime was able to monitor and keep track of jihadi fighters moving across the border. This arrangement resulted in the arrest of several thousand independent resistance fighters as well as the elimination of several high value targets— latest addition being Abu Ghadiya. Subsequently, Syria was able to some extent pacify Iraq’s western border and aid America’s control over the area. To provide greater political legitimacy to Iraq’s ailing pro-American government; Syria recently normalized diplomatic ties and sent its first ambassador to Baghdad in 26 years. Not surprisingly then, that in September Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president, told US President George Bush that Syria no longer posed a problem to Iraqi security. So if Syria posed no threat then why did the US conduct the raid?
It appears that the timing of the attack was meant to achieve three objectives. First, America was presented with valuable information to apprehend Abu Ghadiya. A few weeks ago, several militants were captured in Baquba a base for al-qaida fighters in Iraq and information gained from them prompted the raid. Second, the removal of Syrian border troops is helping America pressurize the Iraqis to sign up to a new security pact that will keep US forces formally in Iraq till 2011. Third, America exploited the raid to announce its much expanded pre-emptive war doctrine. On October 28 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that the US will hold any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction.” The cross-border raids against Syria and Pakistan from US forces stationed Iraq and Afghanistan is a manifestation of this strand of thinking.
Syria’s collusion with America is not just limited to Iraq but encompasses Lebanon and Palestine. Damascus’s support of pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon and Syria’s peace overtures to Israel are designed to facilitate America’s stranglehold over the region.
– Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specializes in Muslim affairs. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.