By Abd al Bari Atwan of al Quds
The latest acts of president George Bush’s administration are characterised by confusion and indecisiveness, especially in the Middle East. The latest operation carried out by the US military in the Abu Kamal region within the Syrian borders, which resulted in the deaths of eight Syrian civilians, is the most prominent example of this.
This unprecedented raid by air has raised numerous questions with regards to its timing, motives and expected results. Especially with regards to the repercussions which will follow it not just with regards to Syrian-American relations but within Iraq and the Arab world as a whole. What was unique this time was the near complete silence of US official spokespeople, with only the slightest of comments regarding the raid, as opposed to the ‘unprecedented transparency’ with which Syrian politicians and media have dealt with the crisis, granting journalists unfettered access to the Syrian civilians there and to the targeted building as well as providing photographs and information about the incident. The Americans have said that the targeted area was a base of operations for an al Qaeda cell, but there is no tangible evidence to show that this is true. Even if what the Americans say is true, then dealing with such issues could have been coordinated through the relevant security channels which are active, either between the American command in Iraq and its Syrian counterpart or between the Iraqi and Syrian governments themselves, as has been done before on numerous occasions.
Even if we assume that there was some al Qaeda cell in the area, that does not give the United States and its forces the right to raid on the territory of a sovereign country and commit a massacre of innocent civilians. This is a clear act of terrorism which confirms that the US administration pays no heed to the international treaties and documents that it so ardently defends and upholds, punishing others who transgress with sanctions and isolation.
In our estimation the situation involves much more than the presence of some cell of al Qaeda, or even the presence of a major coordinator for smuggling arms and volunteers into the Iraqi hinterland. For it is no coincidence that the raid took place at a time when US hopes of a security agreement with the government of the “New Iraq”, which should have been ratified by the parliament before the end of the year to grant ‘legitimacy’ to the presence of over 150,000 American soldiers on Iraqi soil.
It is no secret to anybody that Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Syria in particular, oppose the presence of US troops permanently in Iraqi bases, which pose a strategic threat to them. For the latest security agreement, and the clauses within it, places Iraq under an American mandate for decades to come. This makes the United States a permanent feature in the area.
The Iranians did not hesitate for an instant to openly oppose the agreement, issuing fatwas from Shia authorities forbidding the signing of the treaty and enjoining its allies, of whom it has many, in Iraq to stand against it. Even the government of Nouri al Maliki refused to ratify it, delaying presenting it to the parliament whilst requesting that the US administration modify a number of clauses to which it had previously agreed to, in fear of provoking Iranian anger. An anger that wil threaten grave implications should it be ignored.
The Syrians also oppose the treaty, though in their own special way – under the table. This whilst they give out clear signals indicating their wish to cooperate with the Iraqi government and the American project for Iraq through the opening of an embassy after twenty years of broken relations as well as receiving Iraqi leaders with noticeable warmth.
The US administration, which has lost 4200 American soldiers in Iraq and 700 billion dollars, is currently behaving like a wounded bull as it sees the allies it helped to power refusing to ratify an agreement that would legitimise its presence, in spite of its continued threats with grave consequences if they continue in this position, and for this it is starting to get desperate in its actions and decisions.
In other words, the administration cannot send its helicopters to strike the Iranian Revolutionary guards inside Iranian territory under the pretext that they arm and train militias opposed to the US presence in Iraq. That is because it knows full well that any such attack would provoke a painful response through sleeper and active cells which are operating in Iraq. It also, the US administration, is aware that it cannot dismiss al Maliki’s government because it knows that such a move would cost them, not only for the lack of a better alternative to him, but also because of the economic crises, military defeats and financial collapses which surround them from all sides.
The attack on Syria was the least expensive option for president George Bush Jnr. And his military command in Iraq, due to the fact that Syria is the weakest link in the chain. It has recently been subjected to numerous Israeli air raids, the most prominent of which targeted an alleged nuclear facility in the North-East of the country, as well as the carrying out, by the Israeli Mossad, of several high profile assassinations of Lebanese and Syrian personalities, such as General Muhammad Suleiman and al Hajj Imad Mughniyeh the head of the military wing of the Lebanese Hezbullah. The common denominator in all these raids and killings was the absence of any Syrian response and the adherence by the Syrian leadership to the highest levels of self restraint, avoiding falling into the trap of American backed Israeli provocation.
The American raid on Abu Kamal confirms this new development in America’s confused policies, which is that the US military leadership has decided to carry out its revenge on Syria by provoking it into a response for these attacks, instead of using the Israelis as was the case previously. This indicates that the new American strategy is to target Syria, paving the way for attacks on Iran, Hezbullah and Hamas the main backbone of the ‘Axis of Evil’ of the American presidential elections.
The Syrian government has shutdown the Cultural centre and American school in Damascus as an initial response to the raid, also delaying a meeting of the Syrian-Iraqi association which was due to take place in the next few days. It has also demanded explanations from the US and Iraqi governments regarding the raid. However, it is apparent that the Syrian response will not exceed the framework of non-violence at the present time. There are numerous cards in the hand of the Syrian government and which could lead to catastrophic results for the American project in Iraq if it decides to play them, individually or collectively. It is enough for the Syrians to scale back their cooperation on policing the border with Iraq, and ignore the smuggling operations which bring in weapons and fighters into Iraq, as well as stopping coordination with the American and Iraqi commands. For when the border with Iraq was open for volunteers to join the ranks of the Iraqi resistance, the number of operations targeting US forces exceeded 1000 a month, whilst al Qaeda was able to carry out over 700 suicide operations within a period of three years.
We do not expect the Syrian government to abandon its position of self-restraint, and risk provoking the raging American bull with wounds in the closing months of this defeated administration. It is behaving as other countries in the region and the world are, biding its time until the curtain is lowered on one of the most hostile American administrations towards Arabs and Muslims ever, in the hope that a new administration would learn from their mistakes and choose a policy of dialogue rather than confrontation in the Middle East.