Iraq Confronts Syria over Terrorism as U.S. Dithers

Iraq has had enough. Faced with ongoing attacks from forces supported by Syria, the Iraqis are taking an increasingly hard line and are refusing to back down. They are fully aware that a confrontation brings the risk of further instability, but the Iraqis recognize that the only way to ultimately stop the violence is to stop those enabling it. Already, their new stance towards Syria is bringing results, while the U.S. keeps rewarding Syria through inaction -- a silent way of confirming to the Syrians that we understand that our security is dependent upon them.

This assessment of the impression given to Syria is not speculation, but is a summary of a thinly veiled, successful Syrian strategy. Take a look at the following words of Ahmed Salkini, a political advisor to the ambassador to the United States, regarding the current state of relations: “A previous administration did not want to cooperate, even if it cost American lives. This administration is realizing you have to cooperate in order to save lives, in order to advance U.S. interests, and that’s what we’re looking forward into the future.”

In other words: you need us and if we’re not happy, you’ll suffer. Supporters of the Assad regime will claim that Salkini was stating a simple fact that international cooperation increases security, but Syria has been directly supporting the insurgents in order to achieve the U.S. policy shift they seek. This is blackmail, pure and simple. The Obama administration apparently recognizes this and has reversed its previous plans by deciding not to send an ambassador to Syria.

The Iraqis are to be admired for refusing to be bullied. State sponsors of terrorism engage in such activity because they believe their involvement can’t be proven and that the victim won’t punish them out of a fear of escalating the conflict and not having the smoking-gun proof to back up their assertions. The Iraqis have wisely responded by making their complaints public, rather than confining them to behind-the-scenes talks. They continue to demand that the United Nations establish a tribunal to prosecute those in Syria involved in the violence. Al-Maliki even hinted at supporting Assad’s own dissident elements in retaliation, saying, “Neighboring countries should behave like good neighbors because it is not hard for us to do the same things they did.”

The former Iraqi national security advisor is saying that they have evidence that Syrian intelligence officers are providing logistical support to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and following the October 25 bombings of the Justice Ministry and Baghdad government buildings killing 160 people, the foreign minister said they had “strong and tangible evidence” that those behind the bombings had safe harbor in Syria. It is unknown if the Assad regime had a direct hand in the attacks, but it is obvious that they at least did not stop acting as a safe harbor with the full knowledge of what it would result in.

The Iraqis previously accused Syria of having responsibility for the twin bombings in Baghdad on August 19, which really escalated the crisis between the two countries and resulted in the recalling of ambassadors. The Iraqis say they have wiretaps, confessions from captured terrorists, and photos of terrorist training camps in Syria to prove the Assad regime’s role in facilitating the attacks. They also have documents outlining the routes used by the terrorists to reach Iraq from Syria. On August 30, the Iraqis released the videotaped confession of a captured al-Qaeda terrorist believed to have led operations in Diyala Province, saying that he was trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Syria that “was well known to Syrian intelligence.”

The U.S. has disgracefully reacted to the crisis with neutrality. On August 26, a spokesperson for the State Department was asked about the tension between Iraq and Syria. He responded with: “We consider that an internal matter. We believe that, as a general principle, diplomatic dialogue is the best means to address the concerns of both parties.”

An Iraqi official has said that his country is experiencing major resistance from the U.S. in its push for an international tribunal to be created to target those in Syria involved in the insurgency. By failing to act against Syria or even provide political support for this move, the U.S. is helping the Assad regime and failing to understand that by waging war on Iraq they are waging war on the U.S. and its interests.

Al-Maliki now has to make a move. Some Iraqi politicians are accusing him of pointing the finger at Syria in order to distract from his own failure to establish security ahead of the elections. His government’s statements are failing to capture the attention of the world or convince the U.S. to modify its “engagement” policy to account for these transgressions.

After the threat to push for a tribunal, terrorist activity in Iraq dropped by three-fourths according to one Foreign Ministry diplomat. The October bombings obviously alter that statistic, but it is clear that al-Maliki made the right move in trying to remove the incentive for Syria to engage in covert support of terrorism by exposing it. More evidence should be released in a dramatic fashion, similar to Colin Powell’s 2003 presentation, albeit with more solid information. This will force America’s hand -- and the Obama administration can’t accuse the Iraqis of disloyalty if they do so, considering their reaction to the Iraq-Syria crisis. It will also prove the credibility of the accusations and make the Assad regime think twice about putting its fingerprints on such violence.

The U.S. has complained about Syria’s sponsorship of terrorism for years and years, but for whatever reason has failed to make public the evidence to demonstrate how serious and deadly it is. The Iraqis have shown the way forward, not only in handling Syria, but in helping to deter state sponsorship of terrorism as a whole.