Iraq has successfully conducted its referendum on the proposed constitution with a minimal amount of violence, an estimated thirteen security incidents nation wide. al Qaeda’s Great Ramadan Offensive has failed. The Washington Post reports “Turnout was strong in three heavily Sunni provinces that had been expected to vote against it: Salahuddin, with 75 percent turnout reported by the local electoral director; Diyala, with 65 percent turnout; and Anbar, whose provincial total was not released Saturday.” Pamela Hess explores the potential outcomes of the vote. As the Iraqis focus on the tallying of the votes, attention turns to Syria.
Three separate stories appeared on cross-border operations in Syria and pressure on the Asad government. The New York Times reports American incursions into Syria have occurred in the past, “sometimes by accident, sometimes by design” , and that “the United States military is considering plans to conduct special operations inside Syria, using small covert teams for cross-border intelligence gathering.” Newsweek states the Bush administration is aware of Syrian complicity in the insurgency, and the diplomatic pressure is being escalated against the Asad regime.
While U.S. officials stop short of accusing al-Assad of actively aiding the insurgency, they say he has permitted jihadist transit and training camps to exist in the open. After the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned last month that “time is running out on Damascus,” U.S. officials even debated launching military strikes inside the Syrian border against the insurgency. But at an Oct. 1 “principals” meeting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully opposed such a move, according to two U.S. government sources who are not authorized to speak on the record. Rice argued that diplomatic isolation is working against al-Assad, especially on the eve of a U.N. report that may blame Syria for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri.
The Times Online states the Bush administration has offered Asad the “Gaddafi deal” via a third party, which consists of the following:
1) Co-operate full with investigation into Rafik Hariri’s assassination and hand over any suspects for trial.
2) Cease all further interference in Lebanese affairs.
3) Halt funding, planning and training of Iraqi insurgents on Syrian territory.
4) Stop support for militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
A ‘senior Arab diplomat’ is cited in the article as saying “Assad is facing a tough time ahead and he has very few friends left… He is desperately looking for a way out of this predicament.” However, a ‘source close to the ruling family’ stated “The regime has calculated that it has the resources to survive for quite some time even if it is isolated… The strategy could be to manage the conflict until external pressures ease.”
Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, it is clear the war in Iraq has moved its center of gravity from central Iraq to the border with Syria, and perhaps all the way to Damascus. The establishment of permanent outposts in Tal Afar, Sa’dah and along the Euphrates in towns astride the ratlines from Syria, along with political progress in Iraq and the development of the Iraqi Security Forces has shown the Syrians the limitations of the insurgency. While the insurgency may be able to conduct attacks on infrastructure and kill Iraqi citizens, it is unable to derail the political process, obtain mass support or take and hold territory.
Syrai’s hand in the insurgency can no longer be hidden, and this has furthered the isolation of the Syrian government and created the conditions for the Syrian problem to be addressed. The Asad regime is now under diplomatic and military pressure to denounce its state sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas, eliminate the jihadi’s usage of its territory for attacks on Iraq, and quit its interference with Lebanon’s affairs.
Asad calculated that America did not have staying power in the Middle East, and pursued a policy of opposition to the establishment of democracy in Lebanon and Iraq. The effort in Iraq and pressure at the U.N. Security Council over Hariri’s assassination are proving him wrong.
Also read Wretchard’s analysis at The Belmont Club.