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SYRIA - The Iraqi Baathist Threat.

The Dec. 23 Christian Science Monitor (CSM) report from Damascus quoted new Ambassador Allawi as saying the "real danger" to the Assad regime was not pressure from the US and Iraq, but the reformed Iraqi Baathist network in Syria. "There is an Iraqi Baathist invasion of Syria. It's overwhelming", he said, adding: "They stole gold and robbed banks [in Iraq] and came here. They have enough funds to keep fighting for 30 years".

Nonetheless, the CSM said, "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". The CSM quoted a European diplomat in Damascus as saying: "There is a high level of suspicion but not much evidence".

The Syrian government has rejected US and Iraqi accusations, saying it is working to help stabilise Iraq. Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah has said it is impossible to monitor the activities of all Iraqis who have entered Syria since the war, adding: "Syria has always been open to all Arabs, and if they have the correct documents, they can enter. But we can't read their minds about what they are going to do once they are here".

There are officially 250,000 to 300,000 Iraqis living in Syria, although the International Organisation for Migration says the figure may be much higher. They include former Baathists, businessmen, Kurds, and Christians fleeing persecution. Most of the wealthier Iraqi exiles have settled in the affluent Mazzeh district of Damascus. Driving expensive cars and dining in pricey restaurants, the new arrivals have sent property prices soaring. Complicating matters for the Syrian authorities is the suspicion that some former officers in the Iraqi intelligence services entered Syria using fake passports.

Most Sunni Iraqi exiles in Syria openly profess their support for the anti-US resistance in Iraq. Ahmad Dulaimi's membership in the Baath Party cost him his job teaching at Baghdad University, a victim of de-Baathification by the now-defunct US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Originally from Falluja, Dulaimi moved to Damascus in 2003. Now he writes for Al-Moharer, a Baathist website advocating armed resistance in Iraq.

The CSM on Dec. 23 quoted Dulaimi in Damascus as saying: "Everyone supports the resistance here, Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Resistance is the only weapon to free Iraq and free our prisoners".

Among those mentioned by the exiles as leaders of the reorganised Iraqi Baath Party are Sabawei Ibrahim Al Hassan, a half-brother of Saddam Hussein who once headed the Iraqi intelligence service, and Mohammed Younis Al-Ahmad, secretary-general of the Iraqi Baath Party Regional Command. The US is offering $1m rewards for information leading to the arrests of the two men. Fawzi Al-Rawi, a businessman, is also mentioned as a leading figure among the Iraqi Baathists active from Syria.

Many Iraqi exiles say Syria is being unfairly singled out for criticism when there are many more Iraqi Baathists, including senior figures, living in Jordan. "We are very surprised that everyone accuses Damascus, when most of the senior Baathists are in Amman", says Mohammed Said, the representative in Damascus of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party, according to the CSM which quoted Said and other Iraqis as saying they believed the Syrian government did not facilitate the activities of the Iraqi Baathists - instead blaming individual Syrian Baathists who share an ideological affinity with their Iraqi counterparts.

The Syrian regime, noted the CSM, is no longer the monolithic entity it was under the leadership of Hafez Al-Assad, who died in 2000, and who kept a firm grip on the regime. But since 2000, the old guard of the invisible layer emerged and they sympathised with the former member of the Iraqi intelligence services as well as powerful business interests.

The CSM quoted Ambassador Allawi as saying: "I think the Syrian leadership does not know all the details of what's going on. The problem in Syria is that there are so many security branches that one doesn't know what the other is doing". It is a problem, the CSM added, "that seems to be recognized by the Syrian government".

Interior minister Ghazi Ken'an, an Alawite related to the Assad family, is reportedly trying to reform the intelligence services and bring them under a centralised command. Himself being part of the intelligence community, Ken'an belongs to the invisible layer of authority in Syria. Ken'an previously served as a head of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon for many years; and, as such, he was considered a proconsul of the Syrian regime in charge of Lebanon.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Dec 27, 2004
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