Friday, September 23, 2005

Cambodia, We Hardly Knew Ye

Since I'm holding down the fort for Eric here, and this story is hitting the American wires (under the atrocious headline, 'Syria Said Aims to Thwart Iraq Democracy'), I should at least flag it. I'm not sure how much it means (help us out, Gurus!), but since Eric might have noted it if he were here - instead of frolicking amidst all those completely superfluous consonants (wink, wink - you know how them Frenchies are) - I bring it up for your attention:

Syria is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters [?] from entering Iraq because it is frightened of efforts to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants them to fail, Iraq's foreign minister says.

Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press that Syria isn't alone in trying to thwart Iraq's efforts to establish a democracy but because of its proximity, its refusal to cooperate is having a more devastating impact in lost lives from terrorist attacks.


Asked why he thought Syria lacked the political will, Zebari replied, "I think it's based on wrong assumptions -- to make life difficult in Iraq, to see this plan of democracy-building fail in Iraq."

"They and others are frightened, really, of this experiment to succeed. This is the bottom line. They don't want these values, these ideas to take root in a country like Iraq. This may affect them," he said.

Sound familier?

As Mr Martin ably explained last week:

The study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), obtained by Reuters on Sunday, also said Saudis made up just 350 of the 3,000-strong foreign insurgents in Iraq -- fewer than many officials have assumed.

"Analysts and government officials in the U.S. and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," it said.

Non-Iraqi militants made up less than 10 percent of the insurgents' ranks -- perhaps even half that -- the study said. [...]

The study estimated the largest foreign contingent was made up of 600 Algerian fighters. It said about 550 Syrians, 500 Yemenis, 450 Sudanese, 400 Egyptians, 350 Saudis, and 150 fighters from other countries had crossed into Iraq to fight. [emphasis added]
These facts seem to belie the increased saber rattling vis a vis Syria, ostensibly in response to that country's lax crackdown on the infiltration of foreign fighters. Clearly Syria is not doing all it can to stem the flow, and Syrians are indeed making it over the border to fight in Iraq, but Syria and every other nation's contributions of fighters combines makes up less than 10% of the insurgencies' ranks. In other words, even with a fully cooperative Syria, our problems with respect to the insurgencies would remain critical.

Is this just the usual 'maintainence' boilerplate on the part of the Pentagon-reliable Kurdish leader and Iraqi Foreign Minister? Or is it the recurrence of a leitmotif in a Prelude To A Cock Up? The GOP talking points still overestimate the importance of foreign fighters to the general insurgency (I just heard Rep. Duncan Hunter on C-SPAN strongly imply that the foreign fighters are the main cause of instability in Iraq! Riiight!). Any thoughts?

[UPDATE: Max Boot fills in some dreamy details for us:

...bombing strikes, commando raids and increased support for anti-Assad dissidents may help to concentrate the mind of the world's sole surviving Baathist strongman.

(hat tip Matt Y]

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