Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Syria, Iran on spotlight

December 8 2004
PV Vivekanand

THE US and the US-backed interim government in Iraq are stepping up pressure against Syria as well as Iran by accusing them of allowing the guerrilla war against the US-led coalition forces in Iraq to be directed from their territories.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that American military intelligence officials have concluded that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognised from Syria.
The report does not say the Syrian government is directly involved in guiding the insurgency but Damascus is accused of hosting former Saddam Hussein loyalists who are channeling money and other support to those fighting the US-led coalition forces in Iraq.
"Based on information gathered during the recent fighting in Fallujah, Baghdad and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle, the officials said that a handful of senior Iraqi Baathists operating in Syria are collecting money from private sources in Saudi Arabia and Europe and turning it over to the insurgency," said the Washington Post.
In Washington, Iraqi President Ghazi Al Yawar as well as King Abdullah of Jordan said after separate talks with President George W Bush that external powers were meddling in Iraq.
Yawar said the guerrillas fighting in Iraq were getting help from Syria.
"There are people in Syria who are bad guys, who are fugitives of the law and who are Saddam remnants who are trying to bring the vicious dictatorship of Saddam back," Yawar said. "They are not minding their business or living a private life. They are . . . disturbing or undermining our political process."
King Abdullah said that the governments of both the United States and Iraq believe that "foreign fighters are coming across the Syrian border that have been trained in Syria."
A a global positioning signal receiver was discovered in a bomb factory in the western part of Falluja and this "contained waypoints originating in western Syria," said a US military statement last week.
In Baghdad, the interim deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh said on Tuesday that he was losing patience with Iraq’s neighbours. He did not name Syria, but noted that Iraqi police had arrested a Syrian driving a car bomb packed with artillery shells and other explosives. “There is evidence indicating that some groups in some neighbouring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people and such a thing is not acceptable to us,” Saleh said.
“We have reached a stage in which if we do not see a real response from those countries, then we are obliged to take a decisive stance.”
American officials have repeatedly complained that Syria is not doing enough to check the cross-border flow of insurgents to Iraq. The US government has also demanded that Syria either hand over the Saddam loyalists responsible for the insurgency or expel them from Syrian territory.
"The Syrians appear to have done a little bit to stem extremist infiltration into Iraq at the border, but clearly have not helped with regards to Baathists infiltrating back and forth," said a senior US military officer in the region quoted by the Washington Post. "We still have serious challenges there, and Syria needs to be doing a lot more."
Syria has rejected the charges outright. . "There is a sinister campaign to create an atmosphere of hostility against Syria," said Syrian Ambasador to the US Imad Moustapha.
In separate interviews, both Yawar and King Abdullah also said Iran is trying to influence the Iraqi elections with a view to creating an Islamic government that would dramatically shift the geopolitical balance between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the region.
Yawar charged that Iran is coaching candidates and political parties sympathetic to Tehran and pouring "huge amounts of money" into the campaign to produce a Shiite-dominated government in power in Baghdad.
According to King Abdullah, more than one million Iranians have crossed the border into Iraq since the Saddam regime was toppled and many of them would to vote in the election -- with the encouragement of the Iranian government. "I'm sure there's a lot of people, a lot of Iranians in there that will be used as part of the polls to influence the outcome," he said.
He said Iranians are paying salaries and providing welfare to unemployed Iraqis to build pro-Iranian public sentiment
"It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq . . . and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran," King Abdullah said.
He predicted that if an an Iranian-influenced government assumes power in Baghad, then a
new "crescent" of dominant Shiite movements or governments will emerge, stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
"If Iraq goes Islamic republic, then, yes, we've opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq. I'm looking at the glass half-full, and let's hope that's not the case. But strategic planners around the world have got to be aware that is a possibility," said the King.
He said Washington had communicated its concern to Iran through third parties and "there's going to be some sort of clash at one point or another."
"We hope it's just a clash of words and politics and not a clash of civilisations or peoples on the ground. We will know a bit better how it will play out after the election" in Iraq, he said.