U.S. raid in the village of al-Soukkariya in Syria

Press review – week from October 27 to 31, 2008

Sunday October 26, the U.S. military conducted a helicopter raid in the Syrian village of al-Soukkariya, near the Iraqi border. The Syrian government immediately denounced the incursion, calling it a « terrorist act » and accusing the United States to have killed eight innocent civilians. The U.S. military did not immediately react, avoiding any comment. It was only Monday that the United States have acknowledged having carried out a raid to remove a cell of Al Qaeda that was sending foreign fighters in Iraq under the command of a certain Abu Ghadiya. According to U.S. forces, the victims were all militants (Le Soir).

Tuesday the website of RFI (Radio France Internationale) explained that this was an American practice of « right of pursuit » considered as self defense recently theorized by the Bush administration and already a few times applied at the Pakistan-Afghan border.

There were plenty of reactions in Syria. On the one hand the American School and the American Cultural Center in Damascus have been closed. An appeal was also sent to the Security Council and Secretary General of the United Nations in order to ask measures to be taken against the USA (Syria Today). On the other hand, a demonstration against the U.S incursion invaded the square Youssef El Azmi in Damascus on Thursday. In his remarks, theNew York Times recalls the limited freedom of expression left to Syrian citizens and emphasizes the role of the Syrian government behind the event.

The reactions were quick to be heard within the international community. Among them, Egypt considered the incursion as a “serious violation of the sovereignty” of Syria. The Iraqi government denounced the raid only on Tuesday, having applauded it at first. France 24reported comments of Mr. Dabbagh, spokesman of the Iraqi government, who declared that Iraq condemns this action because it is « contrary to the Iraqi constitution. » On the other hand, the Iraqi government « continues to insist that Syria should stop the activities of groups that use its soil to train and to send terrorists in order to conduct attacks against Iraq and its people » .

Among the international reactions, the more pronounced is undoubtedly the French one. Le Monde reported on October 29 the « strong concern » of France about the facts. It highlights recent efforts by Syria to control its border with Iraq, especially since the attack in which 17 people died in Damascus in late September and which was attributed to Islamist networks from Iraq. The article also recalls the choice of the French presidency to resume diplomatic ties with Syria. Some diplomats in Paris underline the nonsense of this intervention in Syria while the international community requires this State to respect the sovereignty of Lebanon. But if Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the raid, it did so in the name of France, not as President of the European Union.

The other reaction to notice in Europe is the one of United Kingdom. The Financial Timesexplained on Monday that the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, was visiting earlier this week in London. London’s position is quite complicated because of trying to resume ties with Syria in the wake of France, it has to take a position between these diplomatic efforts and its historical support to the United States. David Miliband let his Syrian counterpart speak on the topic in London. Having then observed that the raid and its consequences did not challenge the Anglo-Syrian relations, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has nevertheless expressed concern about the possibility for foreign fighters in Iraq to live with impunity in Syria.