London Times
December 23, 2004
Baghdad accuses Syrians of backing Baathist insurgents
>From Nicholas Blanford in Damascus

IRAQ has confronted Syria with evidence indicating that senior Syrian
officials have been assisting the Iraqi insurgency, it emerged yesterday.

The evidence includes photographs of Syrian officials taken from Iraqi
fighters captured during the offensive against Fallujah last month.

US Marines in Fallujah also found a hand-held global-positioning system
receiver with waypoints originating in western Syria and the names of four
Syrians in a list of 27 foreign fighters contained in a ledger.

Hassan Allawi, Iraq's newly appointed Ambassador to Syria, told The Times in
Damascus: "Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wrote a letter to the Syrians saying
he had the pictures but was not going to release them despite being under
pressure from the Americans to do so."

Mr Allawi said the photographs were found in the possession of Moayed Ahmed
Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed, leader of the Jaish Muhammad group
composed of former Baathist intelligence personnel. One picture showed Mr
Yasseen standing beside a senior Syrian official, he said. Mr Yasseen was
arrested in Fallujah in mid-November.

The evidence has triggered renewed accusations by US and Iraqi officials
that Syria is providing assistance to former Iraqi Baathists who are
believed to be running the insurgency from Damascus.

Last week General George W. Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, said that
the exiled Baathists had formed a group called the New Regional Command and
were directing operations from Damascus. He said the Syrian authorities were
"not going after the big fish, which is really the people that we're
interested in".

Mr Allawi claimed there was an "Iraqi Baathist invasion of Syria" which was
a real danger to the Syrian Government. "It is overwhelming," he said. "They
stole gold and robbed banks and came here. They have enough funds to keep
fighting for 30 years."

Western diplomats in Damascus say it is unclear to what extent Iraqi
Baathists are involved in the insurgency and what level of assistance is
being provided by elements in the Syrian regime. "There is a high level of
suspicion but not much evidence," a European diplomat in Damascus said.

Mehdi Dakhlallah, Syria's Information Minister, said it was impossible to
monitor all Iraqis who had entered Syria since the war. "Syria has always
been open to all Arabs and if they have the correct documents they can
enter," he said. "But we cannot read their minds about what they are going
to do once they are here."

Former officers in the Iraqi intelligence services are also suspected of
entering Syria using fake passports.

There are officially 250,000 to 300,000 Iraqis living in Syria, although the
International Organisation for Migration says the figure is probably much

Most of the wealthier Iraqi exiles have settled in the Mezzeh district of
west Damascus. They drive expensive cars and dine in the priciest
restaurants. Most Sunni Iraqi exiles openly support the anti-US resistance.

Among names mentioned by the exiles as leaders of the reorganised Iraqi
Baath party are Sabawi Ibrahim, a half-brother of Saddam Hussein, who headed
Iraqi intelligence at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, and Mohammed Younis
al-Ahmed, secretary-general of the Iraqi Baath party regional command.

Many Iraqi exiles say that Syria is being unfairly singled out for criticism
when there are many more Baathists, including senior figures of the old
Iraqi regime, living in Jordan.

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