Why Syria is Still Saddam's Friend
by James Dunnigan- StrategyPage
May 2, 2004 http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/200452.asp
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Al Qaeda is returning to its original goals; the overthrow of corrupt leaders in Islamic countries. On April 28th, four armed men attacked buildings in Damascus, Syria. A building formerly used by the UN, and the Canadian embassy, were damaged. Two of the four attackers were killed in a shootout with the police, while the other two were wounded and captured. Police soon raided a building used by the attackers and found weapons and explosives.
Syria has long supported terrorist groups, and has been run by the Baath Party for the last four decades. Yes, thats the same Baath Party that ran Iraq until recently. But the two Baath Parties were bitter enemies since the 1970s, because neither could agree on who would run the entire organization. Worse, the Syrian Baath Party has been dominated by the Assad family for most of its existence. Worse yet, the Assads and their close associates are Alawite Moslems. This flavor of Islam is generally considered heretical by mainstream Moslems. Being a minority within Syria and the Islamic world, the Assads have been ruthless to maintain their power. The current dictator in Syria, Bashir Assad, came to power in 2000 when his father died. Bashir was not supposed to be the heir, but his older brother died and he had to take the job. Bashir was trained as a physician and does not have his fathers ruthlessness or negotiating skills. His fathers cronies jealously guard their criminal rackets and personal power, making it difficult for Bashir to change anything.
While Syria has supported terrorist groups, it has no tolerance for radicals who threaten the power of the Baath Party. When the Moslem Brotherhood (the precursor of al Qaeda) and other Islamic radicals rebelled against Baath in 1982, the government savagely responded, killing over 10,000 people and largely destroying the town of Hama.
Currently, Syria controls much of Lebanon, and provides protection for the Hizbollah Islamic radical group. This odd relationship arises from the fact that when Syria began its feud with Iraq, it got chummy with Iran (a traditional enemy of Iraq.) When the Islamic revolution occurred in Iran in 1979, Syria remained an ally, and allowed Iran to provide support to minority Shia Moslems in Lebanon (where a civil war raged from 1975-90). Hizbollah became the armed organization that defended Lebanese Shia, and declared war on Israel.
The Syrian Baath Party is as corrupt and brutal as the one in Iraq. But the Syrians have not been as bold, or as foolish, as the Iraqis. Syria has only attacked Israel, and was beaten badly in 1967, '73 and 82. Syria went into Lebanon as peacekeepers, and have stayed, protecting the various religious factions from each other. Syrian troops also protect the largest Shia terrorist group in the world, Hizbollah. This group, and other Palestinian ones, all concentrate on the destruction of Israel and are supported by Syria.
But the Assad family has always been high on al Qaedas hit list. Baath has persecuted religious leaders and been noted mostly for corruption and brutality. One of the few things the rest of the world and al Qaeda can agree on is that the Baath thugs are very bad people. Syria made deals with many terrorist groups and the terms were simple; you could stay in Syria if you did not attack Syria. Apparently al Qaeda, or someone like them, had decided to renege on the deal.
Syria became more chummy with their Iraqi brothers after Iraqs defeat in 1991, and it is believed that much of money stolen from the Iraqi people by Saddam and his henchmen ended up in Syria. Same with many Iraqi weapons (including chemical and biological ones.) Syria and Iran are the only nations bordering Iraq that have allowed Islamic radicals to freely cross into Iraq to fight with the coalition troops and government forces. While Iran has been convinced to tighten up border controls, Syria remained defiant. Now it appears that some of those Islamic militants decided that there was plenty of tyranny in Syria to fight, and no need to travel on to Iraq. The high mortality rate among militants that go into Iraq might have something to do with this. Few of the fighters who entered Iraq to fight coalition troops come back alive. So the Syrians may appear as easier targets.