Saturday, October 6, 2007

Syria Is Said to Be Strengthening Ties to Opponents of Iraq’s Government

read this very important article at the New York Times:

Syria is encouraging Sunni Arab insurgent groups and former Iraqi Baathists with ties to the leaders of Saddam Hussein’s government to organize here, diplomats and Syrian political analysts say. By building strong ties to those groups, they say, Syria hopes to gain influence in Iraq before what it sees as the inevitable waning of the American presence there.

“The Syrians feel American power is much weaker in Iraq than in the past,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus bureau chief of the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat. “Now they can take a bold public initiative like helping Iraq’s opposition organize without much fear, especially since President Bush has become a lame duck.”

In July, former Baathists opposed to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled a conference for insurgent groups — including two of the most prominent, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Ansar al Sunna — at the Sahara Resort outside Damascus.

The meeting followed two others in Syria in January that aimed to form an opposition front to the government of Iraq, and an announcement in Damascus in July of the formation of a coalition of seven Sunni Arab insurgent groups with the goal of coordinating and intensifying attacks in Iraq to force an American withdrawal. That coalition has since expanded to incorporate other groups.

The July conference was canceled at the last minute, however, indicating the political perils of Syria’s developing strategy. It was called off by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, participants, diplomats and analysts said, primarily because of pressure from Iran.

Iran is Syria’s chief ally and a staunch supporter of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Damascus just days before the conference was to have taken place.

Still, hundreds turned up for the event, including Harith al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a major Sunni opposition group, and other high-profile figures wanted by the Iraqi government. Several said they hoped to reschedule the conference in Syria in the near future.

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