November 7, 2008

Prof Calls U.S. Raid on Syria ‘Not Really Justifiable’

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In an unexpected move, the Iraqi government has denounced the Oct. 26 CIA raid on the Syrian town of Sukariya that left eight civilians dead. The U.S. attack on the small town five miles from the Iraqi border has been met with outrage by Syrians, with thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets of Abu Kamal on Wednesday, burning American flags in protest. Syria maintains that the eight killed were farm workers, including four children, while U.S. officials have claimed that the raid resulted in the death of “Abu Ghadiyah” — nom de guerre of Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih — who is accused of facilitating the transfer of terrorists, weapons and funds from Syria to al-Qaida in Iraq. According to CNN, Syria has closed a cultural center and American run school in Damascus in response to the breach and temporarily closed the U.S. embassy for “security concerns.”

Citizen Reaction:
The attack was carried out by four American helicopters that violated Syrian airspace, and proceeded to lay heavy fire on a farm in Sukariya.
“To the Syrians, the U.S. action is terrorism. All of this will not solve the problem. Military intervention will not solve the problem; you need negotiation and direct talks,” said Syrian Prof. Muawia Barazangi, seismology.
Many have voiced confusion as to why the U.S. would breach the border without involving the Syrian government.
“If it’s true there is somebody with bad intentions within the Syrian border, they should talk to the Syrian government and document that. If the Syrian government doesn’t respond, maybe take further action, but something like this is not really justifiable,” Barazangi said.
A Syrian Cornell alumnus — speaking on condition of anonymity because of his father’s position in the Syrian government — stated that the U.S. was giving Syria mixed signals.
“It’s puzzling why this actually happened because American officials were commending Syria for its cooperation, and American generals were commending Syria for stopping militants from crossing the border,” he said.
Syria shares a 500-kilometer border with Iraq, which is patrolled jointly by Syrian and Iraqi forces; the U.S. has pressured Syria to maintain better border control to prevent terrorists from entering and aiding Iraqi insurgents.
“Syria has repeatedly said they were doing their best, but it is nearly impossible to patrol every inch of it,” Barazangi said.
“Instead of rewarding Syria for its cooperation, they go and bomb them. They did not come out and say clearly what they were trying to do. They just said that it was a security operation with no political motivation. They thought they could get away with it,” the Cornell alumnus said.
According to Barazangi, the situation was wrongly compared to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border breaches.
“This is just not the same thing as the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where there are thousands and thousands of insurgents crossing,” he said. “I don’t support them going into Pakistan, but at least it is a clear case there where you have huge numbers of Al-Qaida and Taliban operating within Pakistan.”

Why? A Syrian Perspective:
The Syrian government has reacted strongly to the attack, and in an official statement stated, “Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions.”
Some citizens considered this an attempt by the U.S. to aggravate Syria.
“I think that the Bush administration does not want improved relations with Syria, it wants to complicate the situation in the Middle East. They wanted Syria to have a reaction and cease cooperation,” the anonymous Cornell alumnus said. “It’s a calculated move, but it’s not a smart move. It doesn’t help the U.S., the Middle East or the peace process.”
According to the alumnus, Syria’s current improving relations with Lebanon and ongoing negotiations with Israel through Turkey may have provoked the attack.
“They don’t like the regime, or the country, and they don’t want to see it thriving in the region. Their plan for the Middle East failed, and this is their way of slapping Syria in the face for messing up their plan,” he said. “Syria hasn’t collapsed. It has made progress and has had a more constructive role in the region than the U.S. has.”

Looking to Obama; Hope For The New Administration:
The recent election of Barack Obama has heartened Syrians, who hope that he will take a different approach in the Middle East.
“I’m glad that Obama will be the President, and I hope he has a different approach,” Barazangi said. “McCain is a military man, and they are used to military solutions, and many of these Middle East problems have no military solutions. Israel-Palestine, Iran, you cannot solve these by military means.”
“I think the next administration should be more farsighted; more pragmatic and not ideological. Be open to striking a balance between Syria’s interest and the U.S.,” the alumnus said.
Many in the Middle East have looked favorably upon Obama’s statements that he would be open to political discourse.
“We hope Obama will follow up, but I don’t know in what form. We need to readdress the current administration refusing to talk to the Syrian government though Syria has repeatedly offered that they are willing to discuss anything. That’s arrogance of power,” Barazangi said.
Until then, he stressed that the American administration needs to involve neighboring countries in their attempt to stabilize Iraq.
“Neighboring countries could play a major role, and you cannot divorce the stability of Iraq from neighboring countries. It was crazy for the American administration not to realize that eventually you must involve the neighboring countries,” he said. “It’s clear that the present administration will continue on this course, but I hope they won’t do anything irrational in order to give the new administration a chance to handle the situation in a better approach.”