Journalists accompanying US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on her unannounced trip to Iraq Sunday, May 15, found nothing surprising in her tirade against Syria for failing to halt the influx of ant-US fighters into Iraq. They might have wondered though had they known about president Bashar Assad’s apparent change of face and the assistance his troops rendered last week to the US military’s counterinsurgency Operation Matador along the Iraqi-Syrian border. (See previous article in this issue.)
But the secretary was more fully briefed. She therefore had her own reasons to declare: `Their (the Syrians’) unwillingness to deal with the crossings of their border into Iraq is frustrating the will of the Iraqi people,'' and leading to the deaths of innocent Iraqis. “The United States will try to enlist Syria's Arab neighbors to pressure Syria to clamp down,” said Rice. “We're going to go back and look again at what the neighbors can do to get the Syrians to stop support for these foreign terrorists who we believe are gathering on Syrian territory and coming across.''
Diplomats and US military commanders in on the facts fully understood why she was attacking Damascus. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Assad has been caught out playing a double game. Washington was tipped off to the action of his brother-in-law and military intelligence chief Asaf Shawqat in convening and organizing ahead of Operation Matador a very important, all-inclusive secret conclave of Syrian-based Iraqi Baath party chiefs in he northern city of Homs. Among them were the masterminds of the Syrian end of the guerrilla war in Iraq. Also there were personal representatives of Iraqi ex-vice president Izzat Ibrahim, the most senior Baath official on the US most-wanted list. He is also believed commander-in-chief of the Iraqi insurgency at large. There, too, were former Iraqi army and intelligence officers now employed in the recruitment, training and dispatch of guerrillas into the homeland. Other chairs were filled by the moneymen who manage the Baath funds that underwrite the insurgency and run Saddam Hussein’s straw companies.
Shawqat’s initiative was taken in Washington as clear evidence that Assad is fully abreast of the location of every Iraqi official in Syria involved in the guerrilla war and their movements. He also has enough pull to order them all to turn out for a top-secret high Baath conference.
Officials at the US state department and national security council conferred urgently to decide what the Syrian leader was up to. Was Shawqat there to explain to the Iraqis that Assad had no choice but to cooperate with the Americans? Or was his objective more devious – to forewarn the guerilla leaders of the coming US offensive and decide together how to sabotage it?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report that the Bush administration posted a message to Assad through undercover channels asking for an explanation. The Syrian ruler was informed that the Americans knew all about the conclave and its participants. Assad has yet to reply.
Another piece of intelligence that the US secretary of state took into account before she reprimanded Damascus was this: top Syrian officials have begun disappearing from the country and making for European locations – another sign that the Assad regime is crumbling. Syrian politicians and military chiefs are reported arranging for their families’ departure and selling off property. Among them is Mustafa Miro, not so long ago prime minister, who has sounded out Arab businessmen on the sale of properties valued at an estimated $100 million. Poised for flight too is Hamir Nuri, who once held the key post of chief of the state security court.
This exodus of high ranking Syrians and the liquidation of their landed assets are ill omens for the future of the Assad regime.