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12/12/2004

Syrian Cooperation With US

Carla Anne Robbins and Greg Jaffe, U.S. Sees Efforts By Syria To Control Border With Iraq, Wall Street Journal, 12/10/04:

The suggestion of a new approach from Syria is at odds with recent harsh criticism coming out of Washington and from Iraqi officials. In an interview this week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the "damage [Syria and Iran] are doing inside of Iraq is killing Americans." Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie yesterday accused Syria of allowing insurgent leaders to direct operations from Damascus and to allow insurgents to freely cross the border into Iraq. "It is very difficult to convince me that the Syrian government does not know about these activities," he told Reuters.

The view from key U.S. military officers in the field appears to be different. Another senior military officer described a series of recent steps the Syrians have taken to tighten up their border with Iraq, including increasing the number of troops and checkpoints and building berms to make crossing over more difficult. According to this officer, the Syrians have made "hundreds of arrests at the border" and have used their security forces "to go after guys" that the U.S. has asked for.

Meanwhile, a civilian U.S. official said the Syrians arrested one comparatively big fish in recent weeks, at the request of the U.S. The person arrested is believed to be a former Iraqi military officer involved in the Iraqi insurgency. The Syrians haven't turned the former officer over to the U.S. or to Iraqis, "but there is intelligence coordination going on," according to the U.S. official, with Syria sharing the result of his interrogation...

One Pentagon official who favors harsher treatment of Damascus dismissed any changes in Syrian behavior as cosmetic, and said the Syrians recently allowed a meeting of former Iraqi Baathists supporting the insurgency to take place in Lebanon.

Indeed, views differ over how seriously to take recent changes in Damascus's behavior -- and whether to meet it with more engagement or additional pressure...

It isn't clear why there is such a gap in perception with regard to Syria and its support for the Iraq insurgency. One reason for the rift may be that U.S. officials still don't have a clear picture of how the insurgency in Iraq is organized and financed.
"If you ask each of the division commanders [in Iraq], `Who is the enemy?' you will get a different answer from each -- if you get a coherent answer at all," said one senior defense official who has recently traveled to Iraq.

 

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