More signs of Syria turn up in Iraq
The Iraqi ambassador to Syria tells the Monitor that photos of high-ranking Syrian officials were found in Fallujah.
When US troops stormed the rebel-held city of Fallujah last month, they uncovered photos of senior Syrian officials that have further strained the already tense relations between Syria and Iraq, according to the Iraqi ambassador to Syria.Skip to next paragraph
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Several captured insurgents were found in possession of the photographs, confirmation, according to Iraqi officials, that some elements in the Syrian regime - perhaps acting independently - are involved in Iraq's bloody insurgency.
"Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wrote a letter to the Syrians saying he had the pictures but was not going to release them despite being under pressure from the Americans to do so," says Hassan Allawi, Iraq's newly appointed ambassador to Damascus.
The ambassador said that the photographs were found in the possession of Moayed Ahmed Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed. He is the leader of the Jaish Mohammed group, which is composed of former Baathist intelligence personnel. One picture showed Mr. Yasseen standing beside a senior Syrian official, the ambassador said. He would not identify on the record the Syrian officials in the photos.
US Marines in Fallujah released a report on Nov. 20 that revealed they had discovered a hand-held Global Positioning System receiver with waypoints originating in western Syria and the names of four Syrian foreign fighters contained in a ledger.
The evidence has triggered renewed charges from US and Iraqi officials that Syria is knowingly providing assistance to several former Iraqi Baathists who are believed to be running the insurgency from Damascus.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned Syria Wednesday that Washington was prepared to impose new sanctions if it failed to clamp down on fugitive Iraqi officials.
Last week, Gen. George W. Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said that the exiled Baathists had formed a group called the New Regional Command and were running the insurgency from Syria.
The Syrians, he said, "are not going after the big fish [or senior Baathists], ... the people that we're interested in."
Ambassador Allawi says that the "real danger" to the Syrian government is not pressure from the US and Iraq, but from the reformed Iraqi Baathist network in Syria.
"There is an Iraqi Baathist invasion of Syria. It's overwhelming," he says. "They stole gold and robbed banks and came here. They have enough funds to keep fighting for 30 years."
Nonetheless, it remains unclear to what extent some of the Iraqi Baathists are involved in the insurgency and what level of assistance is being provided by elements in the Syrian regime. "There is a high level of suspicion but not much evidence," a European diplomat in Damascus says.
The Syrian government rejects the US and Iraqi accusations, saying it is working to help stabilize its neighbor. Mehdi Dakhlallah, Syria's information minister, says it is impossible to monitor the activities of all Iraqis who have entered Syria since the war. "Syria has always been open to all Arabs, and if they have the correct documents, they can enter," he says. "But we can't read their minds about what they are going to do once they are here."