Eight days after the massive August 19 bombings in Baghdad that left 95 dead and 1,000 wounded, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said: “We believe that… diplomatic dialogue is the best way to address the concerns of both parties.”
His even-handed comment referred to Iran and Syria and carefully refrained from endorsing Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's bitter accusations holding Syria complicit in the terror plaguing his country.
“We are working with the Iraqis to determine who perpetrated these horrible acts of violence,” Kelly went on to say. “It's an internal matter for the Iraqi government and Syrian government,” he said. “But we hope this doesn't hinder dialogue between the two countries.”
Not by a single word did the US spokesman denounce the perpetrators of the attack, one of the largest and deadliest ever committed in the Middle East, or its abettors. Nor did Washington have any comment to make on Baghdad's announced capture of several men, who had admitted they had taken part in the outrage after training in camps in Syria run by Syrian intelligence officers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the Obama administration's neutral stance between Damascus and Baghdad has goaded the Iraqi prime minister into ever more strenuous efforts to prove Damascus' culpability as host to terrorists.
Assad leaves Washington guessing
When Turkish foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Baghdad last week to try and arbitrate the row between al-Maliki and Syrian president Bashar Assad, he was greeted with satellite imaging footage showing the training camps Syria was accused of providing for the use of Iraq's ousted Ba'ath Party. A Turkish newspaper reported they were obtained from US intelligence satellites monitoring PKK (Kurdish separatists) movements in northern Iraq and southern Turkey. Maliki said the sites were the exit points for the terrorists who crossed into Iraq to strike Baghdad.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources, despite the current chill in US-Syrian relations, Obama administration officials approached Assad on the quiet through undercover channels to check if the Iraqi prime minister's accusations were true; and if so, how he intended to deal with the terrorist elements responsible for orchestrating and perpetrating the Baghdad atrocity.
Assad was typically evasive. He said that if Iraq, or anyone else, had a single piece of evidence to show that bombers originated in, or were directed from, Syria, they should hand it over and he would arrest the culprits and he would put them on a Syrian military plane to exile in Sudan.
The Syrian ruler gave nothing away about his own knowledge of the affair, only demanding that the Americans and Iraqis show their hand first.
Nothing in Assad's cagy response helped Washington shed light on the roots of the situation between Iraq and Syria. But US intelligence strongly suspects that Maliki is moved by hidden motives in his aspersions of Damascus. Hence the Obama administration's noncommittal stance in the quarrel.
Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian wheels within wheels
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources have picked up five different hypotheses in circulation which may account for the exceptionally violent Baghdad attack and its aftermath. All are compatible with common Middle East practices.
1. Maliki himself and Iraqi intelligence secretly hired the Syrian-based terrorists for the Baghdad attacks to implicate the Assad regime; or –
2. Tehran stage-managed the Baghdad bombings to spike the advancing detente between the Obama administration and the Assad regime;
3. The Shiite Iraqi prime minister went along with Tehran's scheme to drum up a strong pretext for discontinuing the rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein's Baath party and prove its members unfit for readmission to Iraqi government and military employ.
4. Maliki is riding the Syria terror sponsorship horse hard to whip together a centrist Shiite party to bring him to victory in next year's general elections.
5. Despite their strategic alliance, Tehran and Damascus have always parted ways on their interests in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister's campaign stigmatizing Syria may be conducted in cahoots with Iran to cut down Damascus' influence in Iraq's Sunni Arab and Shiite communities.
Proponents of the fifth hypotheses in US intelligence advise President Barack Obama to stay on the sidelines of the Maliki-Assad spat and avoid taking sides so as to leave an opening for mending US ties with Damascus.