Smile, You're Next To A Senior Syrian Official!


My friend Nicholas Blanford has written a very interesting piece for the Christian Science Monitor on Syrian involvement in the Iraqi conflict. Most interesting is his revelation, quoting the Iraqi ambassador in Damascus, that when U.S. troops entered Falluja, they captured several insurgents and found them with photographs of themselves standing next to a high Syrian official.

The ambassador said that the photographs were found in the possession of Moayed Ahmed Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed. He is the leader of the Jaish Mohammed group, which is composed of former Baathist intelligence personnel. One picture showed Mr. Yasseen standing beside a senior Syrian official, the ambassador said. He would not identify on the record the Syrian officials in the photos.

A European diplomat in Damascus is more skeptical of reports of great Syrian involvement in Iraq: "There is a high level of suspicion but not much evidence." Perhaps, but it is also true that the Syrians tend not to advertise that kind of thing, especially to foreign diplomats, and that numerous Syrian networks, including networks run by the various intelligence agencies and regime stalwarts, are operating between Syria and Iraq.

For example, last year, when Gen. David Petraeus was still commander in Mosul, he negotiated oil sales to Syria from the city in order to finance projects there, and he did it with the approval of Paul Bremer. More significantly, this was negotiated not with the Syrian government, but specifically with Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, according to several sources. Khaddam, a Sunni, is one of those who has well-developed networks in Iraq, which apparently includes maintaining contacts with Iraqi tribes.

In that context, one might argue that while the left hand in Syria might not know what the right hand is doing, with all these parallel tracks being run in and out of Iraq, where considerable amounts of money are switching hands and through which the Syrian elite has set up lucrative business contacts, the left hand may not want to know what the right hand is doing.

For more on this, you might want to check out the Syria Comment blog by Joshua Landis, who ends his entry with this tantalizing passage: "It is a problem that seems to be recognized by the Syrian government. Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan is reportedly trying to reform the intelligence services and bring them under a centralized command."

Indeed, but two thoughts come to mind: The Syria security system is run on the principle of allowing multiple security services that can balance each other out, so Kenaan's efforts will almost surely be in vain (otherwise, one might just as well hand the keys of the palace to him); secondly, one of Kenaan's main rivals is Military Intelligence, which has been repeatedly cited for running networks into Iraq and sending weapons there. So a unification of the security services would, if it were to take place, remove the deniability that the hydra-like structure of the Syrian regime allows today. Again, not likely.