- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

Judging from the strange front-page tome that appeared in The Washington Post on Wednesday about Syria’s support for Iraq’s terrorist insurgency, President Bashar Assad and his Foreign Ministry need to get themselves a better PR team. The crux of The Post story, reported from Aleppo — a city in northern Syria that has been a hub of support for Iraqi jihadists — was this: Syria has been heavily involved in supporting terrorism in Iraq for more than two years, but it has decided to crack down, at least for the time being.

Given the reality that Syria is a police state where anyone who runs afoul of the government runs the risk of imprisonment, torture and worse, it would have been impossible for Abu Ibrahim, the man whose work in smuggling jihadists from Syria into Iraq was portrayed in The Post, to have met with a correspondent for an American newspaper unless he had cleared it with the Assad government. That is what makes the terrorist activity Ibrahim admits to in the story so remarkable.

In the months before the Iraq war began in 2003, Ibrahim went door-to-door encouraging young men to go to Iraq in order to fight for Saddam Hussein. While the Iraqi dictator welcomed them into the country, The Post reported, “ordinary Iraqis were often less welcoming, pleading with them to go home: some Syrians were shot or handed over to the invading Americans.”

But the loathing of ordinary Iraqis clearly did not deter Ibrahim, who said that Syria-based jihadists responded by increasing their efforts to infiltrate Iraq. When they crossed the border, they planted booby traps and laid ambushes for U.S. convoys.

Ibrahim explained how the jihadists sought to falsely accuse American troops of killing Iraqi civilians.”Once the Americans bombed a bus crossing to Syria. We made a big fuss and said it was full of merchants,” he said. “But actually they were fighters.” Ibrahim then explained that he crossed into Iraq to fight the Americans. He returned following last year’s American offensive that drove foreign terrorists out of Fallujah. Of Ibrahim’s original group of 50 jihadists who crossed into Iraq, only three survived the fighting in Fallujah, which proved to be a devastating defeat for the insurgents.

After Damascus came under intense pressure from Washington, it belatedly took some steps to curb jihadists’ efforts to get into Iraq. In January, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised Syria for curbing the entry of foreign fighters into Iraq. But, according to Ibrahim, Mr. Armitage appears to have been badly misled: The terrorists in Iraq needed money, not more bodies coming over the border. Ibrahim went on to describe how he personally carried cash, provided by sympathetic Saudis, from Saudi Arabia to Syria on behalf of the Iraqi jihadists.

So which is it for Syria: A crackdown on terrorists or an attempt to turn U.S. attention away from Damascus and toward Saudi Arabia?

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