Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

The killings of civilians in an illegal CIA-led raid into Syria are causing increased hatred of America in the Middle East

November 2, 2008


     About 5 p.m. last Sunday (Oct. 26), about two dozen American commandos in four Black Hawk helicopters flew from Iraq into eastern Syria and began shooting and killing people at a building that was under construction in the village of Sukariya in the Abu Kamal area.  The attack took place not far from the Iraqi town of Al-Qa’im.

     Iraq Updates, an online news publication, reported in its Oct. 29 edition:

Hundreds of villagers took part on Monday in funerals for seven of those killed in the raid, chanting anti-American slogans.  Women in black wept as relatives carried the coffins in a funeral procession in the village of Hamdan, near Al-Sukkiraya.  A crowd of mourners chanted slogans mocking “American democracy” while others carried banners which read: “We will not go down on our knees before the Americans” and “Death to the criminal Bush.”

     In the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday, tens of thousands of Syrians protested the U.S. raid on Syrian soil.

     “Protesters waved national flags, carried pictures of President Bashar Assad and held banners, one of which called America ‘the sponsor of destruction and wars,'” reported Bassem Mroue of AP News.

     “The incident threatened to unleash a new wave of anti-American feeling in Syria and across the Middle East at a time when President Bashar al-Assad . . . is looking forward to improved relations with Washington after the November 4 presidential elections,” wrote Ian Black, Middle East editor, and Ewen MacAskill, Washington bureau chief, in the Oct. 27 edition of the London newspaper the Guardian.  The article quoted Syrian political analyst Thabet Salem about the timing of the attack:

     “It will raise questions as to why this is happening towards the end of the current U.S. administration,” Mr. Salem said.

     “Sunday’s cross-border raid into Syria by U.S. forces serves as a reminder that although George W. Bush is now a ‘lame duck’ president, he still retains the ability to make dangerous waves in the Middle East,” said an editorial in the Oct. 29 edition of The Lebanon Daily Star.

     An unnamed official of the United States admitted the attack, which he described as “successful.”  The official justified the attack on the ground that only militants involved in running weapons, money and fighters across the Syria-Iraq border were killed.  The official told Reuters News Agency that one of the dead was Abu Ghadiya, also known as Badran Turki Hishan Al-Mazidih, who was said to have been a collaborator with the late Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, who was an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq. 

     “There were non-Syrian al Qaedaoperatives killed as well,” said an unnamed U.S. official, who identified Ghadiya’s brother (Akram Turki Hishan Al Mazidih) and two cousins (Ghazy Fezza Hishan Al Mazidih and Saddah Jaylut Al Marsumis) as among those who were killed.  “They’re dead.  We’ve decapitated the network.” 

     United States Secretary of Homeland Security Michael B. Chertoff made remarks at a discussion on democracy held in the British parliament in London after the attack that appear to rationalize raids by the United States in Pakistan and Syria.

     Luke Baker of Reuters North American News Services reported: “Laying out what amounts to a broadened definition of self-defense, Michael Chertoff said international law should accommodate a country’s need to deter a possible threat abroad even if it meant taking pre-emptive action.”

     The Reuters article quoted Chertoff as stating:

International law must begin to recognize that part of the responsibility of sovereignty is the responsibility to make sure that your own country does not become a platform for attacking other countries.

There are areas of the world that are ungoverned or ungovernable but nevertheless technically within the sovereignty of boundaries.  Does that mean we simply have to allow terrorists to operate there, in kind of badlands, where they can plan, they can set up laboratories, they can experiment with chemical weapons and with biological weapons?

* * *

If country X, within its borders, is openly tolerating or incapable of managing a location where people are consistently attacking a neighbor, is it sufficient to say, ‘well, it’s within their sovereign territory, nobody can do anything about it’?  I think that’s not true and I think there’s a serious question about whether that’s what the law ought to be.

The larger question of the responsibility to make sure your own country is not a platform for attacking others is a matter that needs to be seriously considered in terms of what the law should be.

     Regardless of whether the raid was lawful under international law, the helicopter raid and killing took place.

     The body of Ghadiya was flown out of Syria on a U.S. helicopter after the attack, an unnamed U.S. official said, according to an article by Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers.

     “A villager told the Associated Press he saw at least two men taken into custody by U.S. forces and whisked away by helicopter,” wrote Greg Miller and Josh Meyer in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 28.  “He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he feared for his life.”

     Syrian officials disputed the American claims.  Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem (also spelled “al-Moualem” and “al-Muallem”) said seven civilians were killed including a farmer and his three children, a farm guard and his wife and a fisherman.  Other accounts said that eight people were killed including four children.  Additionally, 14 persons were said to have been wounded.

     According to Reuters, a person identified as Suleiman Ghadban, head of the hospital in Bou Kamal, said: “The hospital received seven bodies aged between 16 and 50 and three wounded . . . .”

     Mr. al Moallem disputed the United States’ apparent claim that the raid was justified because of the threat posed by insurgents crossing the Syria-Iraq border.

     “Syria did utmost effort to control the border,” Mr. al Moallem said.  As anywhere in the world, you can’t seal the border 100 percent.  You need a partner on the other side to control his side of the border.”

     Villager Jumaa Ahmad al-Hamad told the Associated Press on Monday that he witnessed the attack.  He said that after four helicopters landed, “shooting then started ringing out for more than 10 minutes.”  After the helicopters stopped firing and left the area, he said that he and other villagers went to the site and discovered the dead bodies of his uncle, Dawoud al-Hamad, and four of his uncle’s sons.

     About 30 women dressed in black wept in the courtyard of the one-story family home of the late Mr. al-Hamad and his sons, according to a report by Fox News on Oct. 29.  They said that the dead were not involved with Al Qaeda.

     “They were innocent laborers who worked from dusk to dawn,” said a woman named Rima.

     “All I know is that they went to work and never came back,” said Siham al-Hamad, the widow of Ibrahim al-Hamad, who was killed in the attack.  Mrs. all-Hamad is the mother of seven children with the youngest being an eight-month-old girl.

     “We were surprised at five in the evening when two helicopters landed near where we live,” said Souad al-Jassem (also identified as Souad Khousaim) whose husband was reportedly killed and one of her children was wounded.  In an interview from her hospital bed with the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Mrs. al-Jassem said:

A number of American soldiers, some of which spoke Arabic, came out of the helicopters and entered the tent where I live with my children and husband, who works as groundkeeper for the building.  The soldiers fired at us for no reason, and then at the workers inside the building, as well as a fisherman who was close by.  They then got back on the planes and took off.

     The wounded woman further explained the attack: “I went outside to get my son and the Americans shot me.  They were very close, five meters away.  I was screaming, terrified.”

     “I was fishing, and I saw four helicopters,” a wounded man said on Syrian state television.  “They started shooting like the rain.  I saw eight soldiers coming out [of a helicopter] with weapons.  I tried to flee and I was hit.”

     Paul Wood, Middle East correspondent of BBC News, made one of the most detailed reports of the attack by a Western news reporter.  After visiting the scene of the attack, Mr. Wood reported:

We went to the place where the raid is said to have happened — a breeze-block compound on the banks of the Euphrates, which flows gently from Syria into Iraq.  The compound’s wall was peppered by bullet holes.  A villager told me that two helicopters had hovered overhead, firing at the compound.  Another two landed, allowing soldiers to dismount.

The Americans searched the place, then left, the villager said.  It was all over in minutes.  A few bullet casing remained behind in the compound, along with scattered shoes belonging to the dead men.

Local people were adamant that the men killed were all civilians: builders who had just laid the foundations for a new house, along with a night watchman (the husband of the woman in the hospital).

Of the man who was the target of this operation, Abu Ghadiya, there was no mention.

While secret policemen and government officials hovered nearby, everyone gave the same version of events: Al-Qaeda was never here; there was no gun battle; this was an American war crime.

Five of those killed were from the same family, a man and four adult sons.  His widow met me surrounded by 20 or so grandchildren, who were all now fatherless.

An elderly male relative angrily denies that the dead men had anything to do with al-Qaeda.

“The world must see what the Americans have done here,” he shouted, close to tears, while men from the village nodded in agreement.

     The Syrian government protested the attack and killings.

     “The Americans do it in the daylight.  This means it was not a mistake.  It is by blunt determination,” Mr. al Moallem said Monday at a news conference in London.  “For that, we consider this criminal and terrorist aggression.”

     Mr. al Muallem added that the United States knew “full well that we stand against al-Qaeda.  They know full well we are trying to tighten our border with Iraq.”

     “This act of aggression perpetrated by the U.S. forces against Syrian civilians indicates the U.S. administration’s determination to go on in its policies that brought nothing but killing and destruction to the region,” said a letter from Syria to the United Nations Security Council.

     “We ask of them [Iraqis] and the Americans to investigate and provide us with the background for such a criminal, terrorist act against an independent state [and] make an official apology for this aggression and pledge not to repeat it,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told the Associated Press.  “What is required of the American government is to confess to this aggression and not be cowardly.”

     Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s press attache in London, told the British Broadcasting Company that if the U.S. had plans to confront alleged terrorists in Syria then it should have first obtained permission from the Syrian government.

     “If they have any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information,” Makdissi said.

     “Precisely what happened at that remote cluster of buildings eight miles from Syria’s border with Iraq, and why, is not known in every detail,” an editor wrote in the Oct. 28 edition of The Independent in London.  “What seems clear is that eight people, said by Damascus to be civilians, were killed in a raid on a farm.”

     The editorial continued:

Washington has repeatedly accused Syria of turning a blind eye to non-Iraqis using its county’s border regions as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on Iraq.  But there has been no suggestion that such attacks have increased recently.  If, as it appears, this was a punitive cross-border raid by U.S. forces — perhaps designed also to deter others — it would be the first time that American troops were known to have crossed into Syria.  As such, it would mark a highly undesirable and risky escalation, just as the armed conflict inside Iraq seems to be easing.

     “This operation was pretty clearly run by U.S. special operations forces pursuing a terrorist target,” Col. Pat Lang, a retired U.S. military intelligence officer, told Inter Press Service (IPS).  “Their sole mission is like a SWAT team to go around and hunt terrorists.

     Lang said it is not unusual for these special operations to act outside the normal military chain of command.

     “If left to themselves, they would do this kind of thing — the Syria raid.  That’s what they do,” Lang  said.  “They don’t follow policy, they carry out their assigned mission.”

     In a commentary by Brian Cloughley of The Smirking Chimp published in the Oct. 31 edition of Counterpunch, Mr. Cloughley was critical of the apparent refusal of the special forces of the United States to honor the charter of the United Nations, which states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state . . . .”  Mr. Cloughley wrote:

[S]pecial forces are a law unto themselves.  They do not take orders, in either Iraq or Afghanistan, from the U.S. commander on the ground.  They answer only to the head of SpecialForces Command, who tasks them irrespective of international sensitivities, the effects on U.S. forces in the theatre, or — and of most importance — any consideration of humanity or decency.  His orders come directly from the cabal of repulsive fanatics in the Bush administration.

* * *

Much of special forces around the world is disastrous.  They have no rules of engagement; they kill at will; and are not answerable to anyone who does not automatically support their depraved activities.  They are shielded by the all-embracing mantra that “We do not discuss special forces matters,” which means, quite bluntly, that whatever they do, no matter how illegal, repulsive and barbaric, is deemed to be proper and totally acceptable by their governments.

The operation by special forces in Syria has increased the danger to their comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It caused alarm and despair in Europe and vastly increased hatred of America in the Middle East.  It ripped up the United Nations Charter and was entirely counter-productive.  These people are out of control.  But now that the genie is out of the bottle, can they ever be reined in?

(Emphasis added.)

     “The Iraqi government rejects U.S. helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq’s constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighboring countries,” Iraqi spokesman Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh said on Tuesday.

     “President Bashar Assad’s government said it was largely freezing high-level diplomatic engagement with the Bush administration for its remaining three months in office,” reported Jay Solomon in The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 28.

     China, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, North Korea and other countries issued statements condemning the attack as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. 

     China opposes “any deed that harms other countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Jiang Yu, a representative of the Chinese foreign ministry.

     “It is obvious that such unilateral military actions have a sharply negative effect on the situation in the region,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

     The Egyptian foreign ministry in Cairo called the attack a “serious violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”

     Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon said that the raid “constitutes a violation of Syrian sovereignty and thus it is a dangerous, unacceptable attack that we condemn.”

     France also expressed regret over the occurrence.  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said in a statement: “France expresses its severe  concern and deplores the losses of Syrian civilians.  It calls for restraint and underlines its commitment to the strict respect of states’ territorial integrity.”

     The Sarkozy statement further stated: “We want an investigation into this operation which cost the lives of several people, including children.”

     Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) criticized the raid into Syria by United States special forces: 

Saber rattling and attacks upon sovereign nations who did not attack us are unacceptable.  We must question the timing.  We are on the eve of national elections, we must be mindful of the Administration’s past manipulation of security issues in order to influence public opinion.  We cannot stand by and let them use the lives of innocent people as pawns in the wrongful political objective.

     “The Bush doctrine continues to live a charmed life less than a week before the U.S. Presidential elections,” wrote University of Cambridge modern history scholar Binoy Kampmark, Ph.D., in an article appearing in the Oct. 31 edition of Counterpunch.  “It has made sovereignty nigh redundant — attacks on the soil of Washington’s close ally Pakistan, and now, Syria.  The Sunday attack on the village of Sukkariyeh . . . is causing more problems than its worth.”

     The potential for the raid causing more problems in the Middle East was discussed in a commentary in the Munich newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung:

The fact is that Syria’s 1980s army can’t provide a military response to the U.S. operation.  As things stand, [President] Assad can only swallow his pride and increase efforts to keep underground fighters away from his borders.  But he could also do the opposite and ratchet up the Iraq war to a new level.  If that were to happen, the American will have brought about the exact opposite of what they had meant to accomplish.

     There is evidence of recent planning by the Bush administration of the U.S. attack in Syria.

     In the Oct. 6 issue of Counterpunch, Paul Craig Roberts reported that “President Bush is plotting with Israel to repeat the disaster [of Iraq] in Syria.”  Mr. Roberts noted that the Oct. 5 issue of the London Telegraph reported that the United States is interested in “regime change” in Syria, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in its Oct. 3 issue that the Bush administration asked Israel to recommend a successor for Syrian president Bashar al Assad and the Oct. 5 Stratfor Intelligence Brief reported that Mr. Bush’s National Security Council was considering the bombing of Syrian villages near the Iraq border that may be “the infiltration routes used by jihadists” and to have American special forces conduct operations within Syrian territory.

     Mr. Black and Mr. MacAskill wrote in the Guardian:

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commended last night: “The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favor with the new administration.  Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a ‘freebee’ — taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the U.S. paying a price.”

     A commentary in the Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung questioned the timing of the raid:

Whether the U.S. action was a snafu or not, the question still remains: Why now?  Nobody would deny that there has been a problem for years with jihadis streaming into Syria from all over the Arab world so that they can be smuggled into Iraq.  But the fact is that, in the summer, it was the Americans themselves who announced to their relief that infiltrations in 2008 had already gone down by 50 percent.  And the Syrians are becoming increasingly more aware of how the demons they have awoken have been turning back against them.  Last month’s al-Qaida attack in Damascus, in particular, reinforced that lesson.  By now, even the Syrians have become more interested in tightening up their border with Iraq.  So why the current escalation?  Is this the Bush administration’s way of waving goodbye to Syria?

     Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, questioned the right of the United States to invade Syria in the Oct. 27 online edition of his publication:

The Bush Administration contends that foreign fighters enter Iraq from Syria, but does this give Bush the right to attack Syria?  The biggest number of foreign suicide bombers have come from Saudi Arabia, and you don’t see Bush bombing that country, now do you?  Hawks in the Bush Administration have long itched to go into Syria, and now Bush is scratching that itch. The point is, by what right does Bush have to go into Syria?  He seems to believe that he has the right to attack any country he wants any time he wants.

(Paragraphing omitted.)

     Ahmed Salkini, press secretary for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, said that Syria had been considering inviting to Damascus Assistant Secretary of State David C. Welch for peace talks involving Israel and Syria and to discuss issues involving Lebanon and Iraq.

     “Obviously, we’re not going to be inviting Welch to Syria now,” Mr Salkini said.  “Any sovereign country that is attacked unprovoked has the right to respond.”

     Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdadsaid Syria was waiting for an official explanation from the United States and Iraq about “the unacceptable violation of Syrian sovereignty.”

     It is hoped that the next United States president will be able to undo some of the damage caused by Mr. Bush’s unlawful killings in the Middle East.  As was stated in an editorial in the Oct. 29 issue of The Lebanon Daily Star:

Indeed, the best that the people of this region can hope for in the final days of Bush’s presidency is that the citizens of the United States will choose a better leader when they go to the polls on November 4.  The United States used to be admired around the world for its commitment to noble ideals, but now it is widely feared as a result of its erratic and unpredictable policies.  The next president will need to work hard to send a more coherent message — and to restore the country to its former glory.

     “Of course, the very invasion of Iraq was illegal in 2003, and it flouted international law,” wrote Alexandria, VA-based journalist-author Robert Dreyfuss in the Nation.  “So some may say, these cross-border raids are small potatoes.  But they’re not.  This is a big deal.”

     Mr. Dreyfuss added: “If it becomes a standard part of U.S. military doctrine that any country can be declared ‘criminal,’ and thus lose its sovereignty, then there is no such thing as international law anymore.”

Photo Credit:

Photograph of helicopter by William S. Phillips