- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

A factor complicating the coalition mission of bringing stability to Iraq is the covert role played by Syria in financing and supporting the present insurgency, and the ineffectual attempts by the United States to counter it or even publicly acknowledge it.

A number of current and former U.S. intelligence officers experienced in counter-terrorism who were interviewedbytheauthors believe that Syria should have been long ago included on Washington’s “axis of evil” list although it is still not. But the State Department, acknowledging recent publicly cooperative gestures from Syrian President Bashar Assad (a British-trained eye doctor who “inherited” the presidency and the leadership of the Ba’ath Party from his bloodthirsty deceased father, President Hafez Assad) considers Syria a “partner” in the war on terror. This, in spite of a documented list of Syrian perfidy against the United States that begins with the bombings of the American Embassy and the Marine compound in Beirut in 1983 that killed more than 240 young Marines and sailors. There was no punishment for those murders then or since, even though the bomb-making materials passed through Damascus on their way to Beirut, and Syrian intelligence assisted in the fabrication of the device and in the attacks’ operational planning.

The Syrians went on to shoot down two U.S. Navy jets in 1983, again without the slightest response on the part of the United States. By 1985, as Hezbollah began to morph from various radical elements in Lebanon into a full-fledged terrorist organization, Syria provided access for the movement of men, supplies and materials to move freely through Damascus on their way to and from terrorist centers and camps in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and Tehran.

When Pan Am 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, the world soon focused on Libyan intelligence as the culprit. And it was. But the planning for the operation had been conducted in Damascus under the watchful eye of Syrian intelligence.

When the Khobar Towers were bombed in Saudi Arabia in 1996, at a cost of 19 U.S. servicemen’s lives, it was Syria which had been nurturing Hezbollah with cash and secret bases.

Yet last year, after a meeting in Damascus with Mr. Assad, Secretary of State Colin Powell held a news conference in Washington to tell the American public he had received assurances that Syria would crack down on terrorists and evict the many terrorist organizations headquartered in Damascus. To date, no terrorist groups have left, and there are no visible signs that Syria has cracked down on anyone.

In the earliest stages of the ground war in Iraq, U.S. forces engaged uniformed Syrians near Baghdad, killing more than 100 of them. Current intelligence reports on battlefield kills, captures and interrogations, show that hundreds of Syrians are fighting alongside insurgents in the Sunni Triangle.

In October of this year, U.S. intelligence sources identified three relatives of Saddam Hussein, who had fled to Syria and were funneling millions of dollars to the Iraqi insurgents through middlemen and front companies.

U.S. intelligence sources have told the authors that Syrian intelligence officials have identified targets for the insurgency, provided its members with logistical support and helped plan operations against coalition forces.

Syrian intelligence officials have allegedly shown visitors a video of the beheading of two American soldiers who were captured in Iraq, possibly in fighting near the airport in the early days of the invasion. They were allegedly beheaded by Syrian fighters working with the Iraqi insurgents. The U.S. government disclaims any knowledge of this, but two sources who say they have seen the video described it in detail to one of the authors. In a meeting with Syrian intelligence officers in which the tape was supposedly shown, said the source, a Syrian official mocked the executions by saying “this is what we do to Americans.”President Bush’s insistence on not compromising with terrorists has been endorsed by a majority of the citizens of the United States and by the leaders of our global allies. The president’s goals in Iraq, and elsewhere in the region, will not be achieved until the Syrians are forced to halt all assistance to our enemies. To win the ground war in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism, we must stop more than two decades of Syrian complicity with terrorists. Failure at this point is not an option.

William Cowan is a retired U.S. Marine colonel and counterinsurgency and terrorism expert. Barbara Newman is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Richard Carlson ran the Voice of America during the last years of the Cold War and is vice chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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