Another bizarre incident was added to the string of assassinations and attacks that have plagued Syria for the past year. On October 26th an American commando raid on a farm in Syria near the Iraqi border claimed the lives of eight civilians, including a woman and three children according to both the Syrian government and the gruesome images beamed on several Arab satellite television networks across the Arab world.
One of the injured told Syrian Television that he saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire. Someone else shot a video of the planes using his cell phone camera.
"One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area, and eight members disembarked," a man in his 40s said. "The firing lasted about 15 minutes, and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in my right arm," he added.
Syria TV also showed the building guard's injured wife in a hospital bed with a tube in her nose, saying that two helicopters had landed, while two remained in the air during the attack.
The United States claimed that the intended target was a leading al-Qaeda member called Badran Turki al-Mazidih, aka Abu Ghadiya, who operated a network to smuggle fighters and weapons into Iraq. However, the only images of the dead and injured are poor, illiterate laborers and their families.
On Thursday, thousands of people demonstrated in the Syrian capital, Damascus, to condemn the attack, which was referred to as a "criminal and terrorist aggression" by Syrian foreign minister Walid al Mualem. This prompted the U.S. Embassy to close its doors.
What makes this raid odd is the fact that it comes shortly after U.S. commanders praised Syria for reducing the flow of insurgents into Iraq from 100 per month to 20. Syria has also shown unusual cooperation and willingness to reach out to the West and its neighbors. Two weeks ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered his government to establish full diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Syria also seems to be back on the good side of EU countries after a rapprochement with France, and it has been engaged in on again, off again indirect negotiations with Israel as well.
Even odder, Syria is in the thick of confrontations with militant Salafi and al-Qaeda type groups. Mysterious assassinations have been occurring, starting with the explosion in February that took the life of Imad Mughniyeh, the guerrilla mastermind of Hizbullah, followed in August by the killing of a leading Syrian general and security advisor to the President, Muhammad Suleiman, who was murdered under strange circumstances in the coastal town of Tartus. In September, a car bomb in the outskirts of Damascus killed 17 people, and most recently there have been reports of shooting in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.
Now what's strange about the latest event is its timing. -- Why now?
With John McCain trailing in the polls and with a few days left to the U.S. presidential elections, many analysts in the Middle East believe that this recent American incursion on Syrian territories was intended to boost John McCain's standing as the man best fit to lead the U.S. troops in a time of crisis. Claiming the "surge" in Iraq as a military success has done very little to help John McCain in this last stretch of the race. Attacking Iran this late in the game seems to be off the table, and with Bin Laden still alive and roaming free, what's left?
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but could this be a parting gift from George Bush to a desperate John McCain? Is this the "October Surprise" that has gone awry?
I guess we will never know, since what happens in Syria stays in Syria.
Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV
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