This week, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak handed Washington the news that he had convinced Syrian president Bashar Assad to help give the embryonic US-Iraqi five-point deal a chance to mature into a full accord for ceasing hostilities in Iraq.
(See previous article in this issue.)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources reveal that Assad has in fact made some impressive gestures in token of his willingness to be helpful.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources disclose here that –
1. The first ever Syrian delegation of high-ranking military and intelligence officers has gone to Baghdad for secret talks with Iraq defense minister Saadoun al-Duleimi on ways of working together to stem the flow of guerrilla fighters, weapons and funds into Iraq.
2. If these talks are successful, Syria will deploy an armored division on its side of the border. It will operate in unison with an Iraqi force on the other side to prevent combatants and war materiel crossing from Syria into Iraq. Both presidents stress very clearly that this effort must be confined to Arab parties in concert. They want the Americans to butt out.
This point was signaled in a remark made by the live wire of the negotiations Iyad Allawi in Amman this week. He said, “More foreign fighters are smuggled into Iraq through American lines than across Syria’s borders.”
The former Iraqi prime minister turned peacemaker has advised Washington that, to give the effort a chance of success, American officials must stop accusing Syria of being the sole cause of the guerilla war – as have US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, the head of the joint chiefs of staff General Richard Myers and the Middle East commander General John Abizaid of late. Allawi told them bluntly that more Saudi fighters are crossing directly into Iraq than Arab fighters from Syria.
Arabs want more say in Baghdad
3. The Egyptian ruler has also assured Washington that, if the US-Iraqi Sunni five-point deal reaches final confirmation, the Syrian president means to halt Iraqi Baathist and al Qaeda operations out of Syria, as well as closing down their recruitment centers, training camps and propaganda offices, and stopping them using Syrian banks for their financial transactions.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report that Damascus is certainly mindful of the Bush administration’s preparations to have Americana and European financial and banking institutions blacklist Syria. This gesture could fend off the punishment.
4. As another token of goodwill, Syria has recently increased the flow of Euphrates River waters into Iraq, a boon in the parched summer months. Under their 1987 Euphrates Water Distribution accord, Syria guaranteed Iraq 500 cubic meters of water per second. Now dams have been opened and obstacles removed to boost the volume reaching the Iraqi segment of the river to 670 cu.m per second.
5. Tuesday, June 27, Syrian authorities released two Syrian Kurdish leaders imprisoned since 2002. At the same time, Syrian commando units were dispatched post haste to the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Kamishli – just in case the rejoicing over the men’s release blew up into a rally against the regime. Our sources believe that Assad let the Kurdish leaders go free as an olive branch to the Syrian Kurdish community to cool the independence fever spreading from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Our Middle East sources add that Mubarak told Assad clearly that any contribution he made on Iraq was no substitute for solving outstanding Lebanese issues between Damascus and Washington. To the Americans, the Egyptian ruler emphasized that the joint Arab input for an Iraqi peace was unrelated to any other Middle East problem.