Secret diplomacy, veiled threats, and implied blackmail were the loaded subtext of the eve-of-war alarums and excursions uncovered this week by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
Just 12 hours before Saddam Hussein marked the 14th anniversary of the Iraq-Iran War with a TV address to the nation on Thursday morning, August 8, the Iraqi leader held a secret conference with Syrian president Bashar Assad. Revealing this DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources place the meeting in the northeastern Syrian border town of al-Malikiyah near the city of al-Qamishli.
The venue was symbolic of the personal ties that have sprung up between the veteran Iraqi leader and the young Syrian president. Al-Malikiyah is a key station on the railway line traversed by the freight trains that ferry from Syria to Baghdad Iraq’s arms purchases for the expected US offensive. The depot, warehouses and rail lines of al-Malikiyah are guarded day and night by elite Syrian units, Iraqi military intelligence troops and special units of the Republican Guards.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say US special forces are deployed close enough to the station to keep an electronic watch on Iraqi activity.
Saddam attached such high importance to his conference with Assad that, for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War ended, he was willing to step out of Iraqi territory – to the point even of braving the lurking presence of elements of the US armed forces.
Our sources report that the two leaders began talking at 10 p.m. on Wednesday and remained closeted for four-and-a-half hours. Saddam apparently returned to Baghdad next morning.
While information on their conversation is sketchy, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s experts believe it centered on the applications of the mutual defense pact the two Arab presidents concluded in secret in September 2000. If one of the signatories is attacked, the other is bound by the treaty to come to his aid. Each of the two governments may claim the use of the other’s air bases and permission to send its ground and armored forces across their common frontier. Each country will be free to use the other’s road and rail links, as well as refueling and stocking up on ammunition at its ally’s military bases.
At the very least, Saddam would have sought to test the degree of Assad’s commitment to their pact and find out what provisions Syria means to honor. But he may have also explored the willingness of Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah to open a second front against Israel – either concurrently with the US assault on Iraq, or in unison with an Iraqi missile onslaught on Israel and US targets.