Counter-Terrorism: Syria Scrambles to Look Different

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February 24, 2006: Syria's counter-terrorism look more like damage control, and that's basically what's happening. As part of the continuing effort to burnish his image and move Syria toward a more "middle of the road" policy, president Bashir Asad has shaken up his cabinet. Eleven of the 27 ministries have new leadership, and those leaders are mostly pro-Western. The most notably change has been in the Foreign Ministry. Hard-line Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara has been kicked upstairs to vice-president, a largely ceremonial post. In his place, Asad has named former Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Muallim. Muallim is generally regarded as pro-Western, has extensive experience in diplomatic assignments in Europe and at the U.N., and is a Sunni, in a government otherwise dominated by Alawites, members of Syria's Shia minority.

Meanwhile, rumors abound of Syrian connivance in the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq. The evidence for this remains slim, and in any case corruption and smuggling are so common in the country - and the region - that foreign recruits for al Qaeda and the other groups opposed to the government of Iraq may be moving through the country without any government involved. On this same theme, rumors are also afoot that Syrian Military Intelligence has at time provided tips to Iraqi and Coalition security forces regarding the movement of foreign fighters across Syrian soil and even on the location of insurgent training camps and safe houses along the border, especially in areas where the frontier between the two countries has never been properly surveyed.

 


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