Thursday, April 12, 2007

Night bus from Baghdad

(Click on map to enlarge)

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times

"....The White House and the State Department insist Syria allows and/or encourages jihadis to cross its border into Iraq - going as far as stating that 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq have crossed from Syria. They seem to ignore Colonel William Crowe, the Pentagon official in charge of all those Americans on the Iraqi side of the border, who has said, on the record, that there is "no large influx of foreign fighters".

Moreover, "Damascus" has repeatedly confirmed that most of the 724km-long border has been fitted with barbed wire and reinforced sand barriers - and no fewer than 1,500 potential jihadis have been captured or deported.

But the fact is that any enterprising jihadi with geographical positioning and minimal tribal connections could cross this border at will. In theory, "Damascus", from President Bashar al-Assad on down, is interested in combating smuggling and jihadi traffic. The devil is in the details - how the Syrian police/military hierarchy actually deals with the problem.

For starters, Syrian business is in the hands of a powerful Sunni oligarchy. Its members will obviously be tempted to lend a hand to their Sunni muqawama (resistance) brothers in the east. Syrian military forces at wasteland border points - as in Attanf - consist of no more than a few bored men with rifles. Corruption is the norm. Evading surveillance is a matter of walking a few kilometers in the desert.

Historically, Iran, Iraq and Syria were united by the Silk Road. Attanf, for instance, is not very far from fabled Palmyra. The interaction has never ceased. Nowadays we may be seeing a new Silk Road pipeline - not only of men, ideas and commerce but also of weapons. Whatever comes from Iran has to pass through Iraq and Syria to reach Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas). Same for Sunni solidarity with Iraq, expressed through men, ideas, commerce or weapons from either Lebanon or Syria.

Accusing Syria of being a suicide-bomber factory is nonsense. The majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudis, and they cross from US ally Saudi Arabia. Syria, since the fall of Baghdad four years ago, may have witnessed an inflation of Islamists, nationalists and former Ba'ath supporters of Saddam Hussein.

For the Syrian government, having its own Islamists crossing the border to fight the Americans in Iraq has always sounded like a good idea: a way of sweeping a problem under someone else's carpet. But to imply that Syria has become a sanctuary of Islamic fundamentalists and radical Ba'athists at the same time is also nonsense......."

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