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Into Syria We Went


The Bush doctrine continues to live a charmed life less than a week before the US Presidential elections.  It has made sovereignty nigh redundant – attacks on the soil of Washington’s close ally Pakistan, and now, Syria.  The Sunday attack on the village of Sukkariyeh near Abu Kamal, ostensibly to capture or eliminate the insurgent leader, Abu Ghadiya, is causing more problems than its worth.

Curiously for a country so addicted to such moral categories as ‘rogue’ states and outlaw regimes, the United States has maintained the Damascus Community School (in operation since 1950), and a culture centre at the embassy.  Presumably, hope still burned brightly that locals might desist in disliking the great power and ultimately embrace the virtues of Americana in droves.  In the end, such centers simply provided a base for US expatriates. 

That won’t be an issue now: the centers have been closed by the Syrian authorities in retaliation for the American incursion as Washington contemplates its next move.

Given that Syria remains one of the key powers in brokering settlements  on various fronts in the Middle East (the problems of Iraq, hostilities with Israel), such raids do little in the way of making any headway.

The mission had been authorized by the Central Intelligence Agency, using four specially fitted helicopters with special forces.  The target was, as ever, members of that ubiquitous yet amorphous network Al Qaeda.  Some people specialize in funnelling undocumented immigrants past porous borders; others prefer moving foreign fighters to such Iraqi cities such as Mosul where frontline forces can stage strikes on the Great Satan.  The latter cottage industry has proven particularly successful since US-led forces decided to beef up the reserves of terrorists by attacking Iraq, effectively creating a market Ghadiyah supposedly specializes in. 

The success of the operation, like so many CIA operations on the ground, is questionable. We do know that eight people were killed, including four children and a married couple.  A man may have been bundled into one of the helicopters to be whisked away to an uncertain fate.  It is questionable whether slaying four children in the course of an ‘elite’ raid raises expectations in military effectiveness, but that is something US authorities remain mute about.

The Syrians are very clear about the situation.  ‘Killing civilians in international law means terrorist aggression,’ said foreign minister Waleed Moualem.  ‘We consider this criminal and terrorist aggression.’  Syria’s press attaché in London, Jihad Makdissi, told the BBC that Damascus should have been approached first instead of ‘applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country’.  Maura Connelly, US charge d’affaires in Damascus, has been saddled with a demarche.

The Iraqis have commenced an investigation into the raid, which is only fitting, given that Iraqi territory was used as the staging ground for the assault.  Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, whose utterings are often more confusing than anything else, released a statement condemning the attack.  ‘The constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighbouring countries.’  But al-Dabbagh has also made it clear that Syria had to hand over combatants responsible for the deaths of Iraqi policemen from the Ministry of Interior.  Such is the price of impotence.

There has been condemnation by a host of countries, fearful that the hand of US unilateralism  has again shown itself.  Predictably Iran has weighed in, as has North Korea.  Many European states aren’t particularly comfortable with it either.  Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa suggests that the incursion ‘should not pass by without clear condemnation.’

The mess the US and its allies in the Middle East find themselves in seems intractable.  But an inability to appreciate the very concept of sovereignty (the current crisis over the status of US forces in Iraq being one such example) dooms the operation further.  And we still remain in the dark as to what actually happened to Ghadiyah.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge.  He can be reached at bkampmark@gmail.com



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