NEWS: Syria’s complex role in Iraq

Suicide bombers head to Iraq from Damascus

Abu Ziad’s is no ordinary business. He takes eager volunteers, inveigles them into Iraq for a fee and delivers them to insurgents who consign them to a bloody death with clinical efficiency.

His network includes the imams who drum up the volunteers and forgers who create new identities for their journey across the 390-mile border with Iraq.

Then there are the officials he bribes to turn a blind eye, and insurgent groups ranging from the pan-Arab, fundamentalist Al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Iraqi nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigade, started by former members of Saddam’s armed forces.

Abu Ziad appears to receive no help from the Syrian authorities, which have been accused by some in the West of aiding the flow of terrorists into Iraq. On the contrary, he seems to live in fear of discovery by Syria’s security apparatus. [complete article]

Syria is said to be strengthening ties to opponents of Iraq’s government

Western diplomats and political commentators differed on the extent of influence Damascus could ultimately wield over the opposition groups. But they agreed that Syria had been using them to show the United States and Iran, often described as the big brother in its longstanding alliance with Damascus, that it had the capacity to play a major role in Iraq’s future.

“Iran is the big player in Iraq,” said Mr. Hamidi, of Al Hayat, “but it lacks influence on the Baathists and the Sunnis.”

That would seem to create a natural opening for Syria, a predominantly Sunni country governed by its own version of the Baath Party. But its relations with the Iraqi Baathists have long been strained. Syria backed Iran in its war with Iraq in the 1980s and supported the United States against Mr. Hussein during the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

So Syria is walking a fine line, forging an “enemy of my enemy” relationship with the Iraqi Baathists and insurgents while still maintaining an alliance with Tehran. It is a risky strategy that carries the added danger of possibly incurring the wrath of Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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