US Provoking Civil War In Iraq?
By Robert Fisk
09 May, 2006
Syria, the world appears through a glass, darkly. As dark as the smoked
windows of the car which takes me to a building on the western side
of Damascus where a man I have known for 15 years - we shall call him
a "security source", which is the name given by American correspondents
to their own powerful intelligence officers - waits with his own ferocious
narrative of disaster in Iraq and dangers in the Middle East.
His is a fearful portrait
of an America trapped in the bloody sands of Iraq, desperately trying
to provoke a civil war around Baghdad in order to reduce its own military
casualties. It is a scenario in which Saddam Hussein remains Washington's
best friend, in which Syria has struck at the Iraqi insurgents with
a ruthlessness that the United States willfully ignores. And in which
Syria's Interior Minister, found shot dead in his office last year,
committed suicide because of his own mental instability.
The Americans, my interlocutor
suspected, are trying to provoke an Iraqi civil war so that Sunni Muslim
insurgents spend their energies killing their Shia co-religionists rather
than soldiers of the Western occupation forces. "I swear to you
that we have very good information," my source says, finger stabbing
the air in front of him. "One young Iraqi man told us that he was
trained by the Americans as a policeman in Baghdad and he spent 70 per
cent of his time learning to drive and 30 per cent in weapons training.
They said to him: 'Come back in a week.' When he went back, they gave
him a mobile phone and told him to drive into a crowded area near a
mosque and phone them. He waited in the car but couldn't get the right
mobile signal. So he got out of the car to where he received a better
signal. Then his car blew up."
Impossible, I think to myself.
But then I remember how many times Iraqis in Baghdad have told me similar
stories. These reports are believed even if they seem unbelievable.
And I know where much of the Syrian information is gleaned: from the
tens of thousands of Shia Muslim pilgrims who come to pray at the Sayda
Zeinab mosque outside Damascus. These men and women come from the slums
of Baghdad, Hillah and Iskandariyah as well as the cities of Najaf and
Basra. Sunnis from Fallujah and Ramadi also visit Damascus to see friends
and relatives and talk freely of American tactics in Iraq.
"There was another man,
trained by the Americans for the police. He too was given a mobile and
told to drive to an area where there was a crowd - maybe a protest -
and to call them and tell them what was happening. Again, his new mobile
was not working. So he went to a landline phone and called the Americans
and told them: 'Here I am, in the place you sent me and I can tell you
what's happening here.' And at that moment there was a big explosion
in his car."
Just who these "Americans"
might be, my source did not say. In the anarchic and panic-stricken
world of Iraq, there are many US groups - including countless outfits
supposedly working for the American military and the new Western-backed
Iraqi Interior Ministry - who operate outside any laws or rules. No
one can account for the murder of 191 university teachers and professors
since the 2003 invasion - nor the fact that more than 50 former Iraqi
fighter-bomber pilots who attacked Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war
have been assassinated in their home towns in Iraq in the past three
Amid this chaos, a colleague
of my source asked me, how could Syria be expected to lessen the number
of attacks on Americans inside Iraq? "It was never safe, our border,"
he said. "During Saddam's time, criminals and Saddam's terrorists
crossed our borders to attack our government. I built a wall of earth
and sand along the border at that time. But three car bombs from Saddam's
agents exploded in Damascus and Tartous- I was the one who captured
the criminals responsible. But we couldn't stop them."
Now, he told me, the rampart
running for hundreds of miles along Syria's border with Iraq had been
heightened. "I have had barbed wire put on top and up to now we
have caught 1,500 non-Syrian and non-Iraqi Arabs trying to cross and
we have stopped 2,700 Syrians from crossing ... Our army is there -
but the Iraqi army and the Americans are not there on the other side."
Behind these grave suspicions
in Damascus lies the memory of Saddam's long friendship with the United
States. "Our Hafez el-Assad [the former Syrian president who died
in 2000] learnt that Saddam, in his early days, met with American officials
20 times in four weeks. This convinced Assad that, in his words, 'Saddam
is with the Americans'. Saddam was the biggest helper of the Americans
in the Middle East (when he attacked Iran in 1980) after the fall of
the Shah. And he still is! After all, he brought the Americans to Iraq!"
So I turn to a story which
is more distressing for my sources: the death by shooting of Brigadier
General Ghazi Kenaan, former head of Syrian military intelligence in
Lebanon - an awesomely powerful position - and Syrian Minister of Interior
when his suicide was announced by the Damascus government last year.
Widespread rumours outside
Syria suggested that Kenaan was suspected by UN investigators of involvement
in the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in
a massive car bomb in Beirut last year - and that he had been "suicided"
by Syrian government agents to prevent him telling the truth.
Not so, insisted my original
interlocutor. "General Ghazi was a man who believed he could give
orders and anything he wanted would happen. Something happened that
he could not reconcile - something that made him realise he was not
all-powerful. On the day of his death, he went to his office at the
Interior Ministry and then he left and went home for half an hour. Then
he came back with a pistol. He left a message for his wife in which
he said goodbye to her and asked her to look after their children and
he said that what he was going to do was 'for the good of Syria'. Then
he shot himself in the mouth."
Of Hariri's assassination,
Syrian officials like to recall his relationship with the former Iraqi
interim prime minister Iyad Alawi - a self-confessed former agent for
the CIA and MI6 - and an alleged $20bn arms deal between the Russians
and Saudi Arabia in which they claim Hariri was involved.
Hariri's Lebanese supporters
continue to dismiss the Syrian argument on the grounds that Syria had
identified Hariri as the joint author with his friend, French President
Jacques Chirac, of the UN Security Council resolution which demanded
the retreat of the Syrians from Lebanese territory.
But if the Syrians are understandably
obsessed with the American occupation of Iraq, their long hatred for
Saddam - something which they shared with most Iraqis - is still intact.
When I asked my first "security" source what would happen
to the former Iraqi dictator, he replied, banging his fist into his
hand: "He will be killed. He will be killed. He will be killed."
-Robert Fisk is a reporter
for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. Fisk's new book is
The Conquest of the Middle East.
© 2006 The Independent