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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Syria and the Iraq insurgency

Earlier this week, US Senator Joseph Lieberman wrote an oped for the Wall Street Journal, linking Syria to the instability in Iraq. Among his points:
  • up to 80% of the Iraq-bound extremists transit through Syria
  • Syria refuses to tighten its visa regime for individuals transiting its territory
  • Coalition forces have spent considerable time and energy trying to tighten Syria's land border with Iraq against terrorist infiltration. But given the length and topography of that border, the success of these efforts is likely to remain uneven at best, particularly without the support of the Damascus regime
  • The notion that al Qaeda recruits are slipping into and through the Damascus airport unbeknownst to the local Mukhabarat is totally unbelievable...the Damascus airport is the point of entry into Iraq for most of the suicide bombers who are killing innocent Iraqi citizens and American soldiers, and trying to break America's will in this war.
  • Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International, as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror. Despite its use by al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways (BMED).
A child with a calculator could debunk Lieberman's argument.

Never mind the "length and topography" - Syria's border with Iraq is only 375 miles, thus deploying 15,000 US troops (which is less than 10% of the total US force currently in Iraq) across the border evenly in 2 12-hour shifts would equate to one soldier every 262 feet - a virtual human net to stop foreign fighters. Our military commanders have never recommended this quite simply because they know that these infiltrators are not the primary source of instability in Iraq.

As for Damascus Airport, Syria's longstanding policy is to allow admission to any Arab national with no visa, much like most Europeans can visit the United States. If Syria did not alter this principle when 1.5 million refugees of the Iraq War fled westward to its cities (proportionally equivalent to 30 million Mexicans crossing the US border over the next 4 years), the idea that it would do so under threat from the United States is just plain silly.

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