Syria, Iraq’s Twin
Charbel Khouri -UALM

As Saddam Hussein’s ancestral hometown of Tikrit, comes under the control of the coalition forces, world attention is now more than ever starting to focus on one of Iraq’s neighbours, Syria. With Coalition victory in Iraq the Syrian’s have a lot be anxious about. The speed in which the regime of Saddam Hussein capitulated surprised many observers not least the Syrian’s. The manner in which the Iraqi Government fell, and the subsequent scenes of jubilation on the streets of Iraqi cities and town’s by the Iraqi people must have sent shockwaves through Damascus.

Syria is the only one of Iraq’s neighbours that stands to lose a great deal from the Coalition success in Iraq. This explains the stance taken by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad when in an interview with As-Safir the Lebanese daily he affirmed that “…They [the Americans] removed their masks and said that they wanted oil and that they wanted to re-draw the map of the region in accordance with the Israeli interests…”. Another top official to justify Syria’s support for Iraq was Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al Shaara he recently lambasted the US for it’s actions and said in Parliament that, “Syria has a national interest in the expulsion of the invaders from Iraq”.

Those who don’t know about the close relationship that exists between Syria and Iraq would be perplexed as to why Syria would openly support a dying regime. To many people it would come as a surprise to find that Syria and Iraq are actually almost identical twins. The similarities are more than just on the national flags and the connection between the two is actually much more sinister. For a start both are police states. They are both ruled by Dictators. The election process in both countries is a charade. The only candidate is the ruler and he generally gets 99.9% percent of the vote (In Iraq it used to be a bit lower with about 99.85%). In either country, no political party, which does not follow the Baath doctrine, is allowed.

Up until last week when the Iraqi regime was toppled different factions within the Baath party ruled both countries. The Baath party rules with an iron fist and has a long history of violence and terror as a means to achieve its aims. The security and intelligence apparatus or Moukhabourat is well developed in both cases and its presence is a means of spreading fear amongst the population in an effort to dissuade them from anti government activity. Moreover the Gestapo style secret service uses violence and torture to bring into line any dissident that is brave enough to speak out.

While its true that the Syrian and Iraqi Baath regimes despised each other at times, their relationship since the end of the 1991 Gulf War has blossomed. Iraq had become Syria’s biggest trading partner albeit illegally by breaking the UN sanctions. Damascus has consistently violated the UN embargo on Iraq by pumping an average of 180,000 barrels per day of Iraqi oil. Oil isn’t the only way Syria was making money through Iraq. Damascus has received substantial amount’s of much needed money from its role as Saddam Hussein's middleman. Western intelligence sources admitted that while the regime of Saddam Hussein was in power Syria was financially gaining out of the Iraqi push to re-arm. It would receive a commission for every Iraqi purchase that went through Syria.

The United States State Department has listed Syria and Iraq as active supporters of terrorism. Syria supports many Palestinian terrorist groups. They have headquarters in Damascus and receive Syrian government backing and funds. These include the military wing of Hamas; Ahmad Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, the Al Aqsa Brigades, and Islamic Jihad, one of the primary fundamentalist groups behind the recent spate of Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilians.

With one of the ‘twins’ subdued Syria now has to be looked at. It poses a serious threat to the current American-allied military and political strategy in the Middle East. Damascus continues to play with fire and as of yet has not heeded the calls of the top officials in the Bush Administration. It is essential that the Bush Administration continue to convey to Syria the severity of the decision it has taken to side against the US in the War on Terrorism. For a real chance at peace in the Middle East Assads regime in Damascus must have the same fate as the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Assad is being warned through the highest diplomatic channels, that unless he ceases support to all terrorist groups he currently harbours, Syria will be regarded as a hostile enemy of the United States. The days of dictatorships and rogue states are coming to an end. If Bashar al Assad is in any doubt as to what that means, he should look over the fence into Iraq. It’s only fitting that with Iraq and Syria so much alike, that their regimes should also share the same fate.