April 21, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 134

Syrian Government and Media on the War in Iraq

April 21, 2003 | By Steven Stalinsky and E. Carmeli*
Syria, Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 134

Since the start of the war in Iraq, Syria's government and media have adhered to an aggressive and consistent stance against the war and U.S. policy in the Middle East. The main Syrian arguments include: the U.S. is defying U.N. resolutions and violating international legitimacy; under false pretenses, the U.S. seeks to redraw the map of the Middle East, take control of Iraq's oil, and profit from the rebuilding of Iraq, and by so doing, the U.S. is serving Israel's interests. Syrian government officials have also expressed support for suicide attacks against the U.S. and for Arab fighters going through Syrian territory to fight the U.S. The Syrian government and media have even described U.S. actions as "genocide," "terror," and "war crimes," and compared President Bush to Hitler and the U.S. to Nazi Germany.

The U.S. is Defying International Legitimacy

In an interview in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad expressed the hope that the U.S. would be defeated by Iraq,[1]and said he wished that Washington and London would face popular Arab resistance.[2]In an address to the Syrian Parliament, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar' stated: "The U.S. aspiration to pass a follow-up resolution to [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 1441 is aimed at enabling it to use direct military force against Iraq... The U.S. cannot claim or pretend that it is attacking, fighting, or destroying Iraq in the name of international legitimacy, and Arab and world public opinion cannot see the American attack as legitimate. Despite the media attempt to switch the roles of attacker and attacked, Syria has a national interest in the defeat of the invaders."[3]

Dr. Buthayna Sha'ban, spokesperson for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, also challenged the U.S. premise for the war. In her regular column in Teshreen, she wrote: "Harming a group of people in two towers in which civilians work is considered an act of terror. But when a superpower's [i.e. the U.S.'s] military forces bomb the Information Ministry, television stations, museums, marketplaces, homes, offices, and hospitals - these are considered 'legitimate targets,' or 'a regrettable incident.' The individual involved in toppling the towers is a terrorist, but the general chief of staff involved in the second example is carrying out his national duty."[4]

Similarly, an editorial in the government daily Al-Ba'ath wrote: "The U.S. and Britain lost their international justification even before the war, and appeared to be two countries lacking the values and principles on which international relations are based. Ultimately, they will gain nothing from this blood-drenched war except resentment and hatred... and resistance of the people of the region and of the entire world."[5]

Others in the Syrian government have supported Iraqi "resistance" against the U.S. Syria's Foreign Minister, Farouq Al-Shar', announced that Syria would not prevent volunteers from crossing into Iraq via Syria to fight the U.S.,[6] while Syria's Grand Mufti, Ahmad Kaftaru,was quoted urging Muslims throughout the world "to use all means and martyrdom operations to defeat the American, British, and Zionist aggression on Iraq."[7] The Syrian press has also hailed Arab "resistance" against the U.S. An article titled "Democracy of Killing, and Occupation"[8]explains: "The U.S.-led aggression against Iraq has been bravely and fiercely confronted by the Iraqis. Until now two facts have been established. First is that the Iraqi national resistance has become a leading example for others to follow. Despite its limited resources and capabilities, it has inflicted heavy causalities upon the Anglo-American invading forces all over the country. The national resistance has also revealed the strong determination of the Arabs to confront aggression against their lands at all costs and regardless of all consequences."[9]

Under False Pretenses, The U.S. Seeks to Redraw the Middle East Map, Take Control of Iraq's Oil, and Profit From Its Rebuilding

In his parliamentary address, Farouq Al-Shara said: "The U.S. based its attack on false pretenses regarding the liberation of Iraq, while it carries out killing and destruction of the Iraqi people, and [based its attack also] on false claims about [wishing] to preserve democracy, human rights, and justice while it places itself in the position of an aggressor."[10]

Teshreen spelled out America's real goals in the region: "Top American officials have not hidden their intentions and long-term goals to take control of the entire region, not only Iraq. They want Iraq's oil and natural resources, and [want] to rearrange them according to their colonialist interests, and according to Israel's will..."[11]

In "Fierce Battles for Booty," Teshreen explained: "At the front of what is called the 'rebuilding Iraq' program, fierce battles are waged [by] greedy warmongering monopolist U.S. companies... They are eager to see more destruction and more devastation, to win contracts for 'rebuilding' and 'rehabilitation.' Estimates show that the cost of the program will exceed $US 100 billion. The huge costs will be paid from the oil of Iraq and the pockets of its people."[12]

Columnist Abd Al-Fattah Al-'Awad compared the American claims to those of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. "In his time, Goebbels said, 'Lie, lie, until the lie becomes truth.' But U.S. lies have not become truth. It seems that some still believe in Goebbels' lie..."[13]

America's Actions are "Genocide," "War Crimes," "Terrorism," and "Nazi Actions"

An editorial in Teshreen titled "Genocide for Democracy" read: "The U.S. and British aggression seems to be worse than the Nazis'... In World War II, the West confronted Hitler. Now, Bush is acting worse than Hitler." The editorial also accused Bush of "mass genocide."[14]

Teshreen also accused the U.S. of war crimes. In an article titled "They Will Be Held Accountable for Their Crimes": "... to make cover for their war crimes against Iraq, the invading forces show on their T.V screens the human aids provided by their forces to the hungry and thirsty Iraqi people. They make no mention whatsoever about their crimes of destroying all kinds of water pipelines and food supplies..."[15]

Dr. Y. Alaridi also in Teshreen, accused President Bush of slaughtering Iraqi children.[16] Similarly, another article reported, "Acts of mass genocide" are still carried out by the invading U.S.-British forces.[17]

The Korean Central News Agency reported that the Syrian foreign minister and the ministry spokesman had dismissed the U.S. threats against Syria as a trick to cover up its setbacks in the war in Iraq. It quoted them as saying: "The U.S. military operation against Iraq is serious state-sponsored terrorism, and an infringement upon Iraq's sovereignty and human rights. The DPRK [North Korea] extends solidarity to Syria, [appreciating] its principled stand... "[18]

In Attacking Iraq, the U.S. is Doing Israel's Bidding

In an interview with Monte Carlo Radio,Syrian Information Minister 'Adnan 'Omran presented the official Syrian position: "What they invent in Israel becomes the position of the U.S."[19]In line with this, Teshreen added: "The barbaric bombing of Baghdad... reflects the true intentions of the American goals regarding Iraq and regarding the neighboring countries... which are compatible with the expansion of the Zionist plan and its deadly danger to Arab identity, geography, and history... The current American administration has sunk in the Zionist swamp and become the spearhead of imperialistic plans hidden for 100 years[20]... The American invasion of Iraq... stems from Israeli motives no less than from American motives, and perhaps even more."[21]

A similar message appeared in an editorial in the Ba'ath party daily Al-Thawra: "The Zionist entity continued inciting the U.S. to attack Iraq... Anyone following the policy of the American and Zionist governments sees that they share a single viewpoint that expresses their interests, primarily because the Zionist entity sees Iraq as part of the camp of countries who see the struggle against the Zionist entity as a struggle for survival and not only [as a struggle over] borders... The Zionist entity acted to exploit the U.S. position regarding Iraq."[22]

After Baghdad's Fall

The official newspapers completely ignored the fall of Baghdad. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad focused on the need to help the Iraqi people and did not mention the political aspects of the situation; instead, the media addressed these issues. In a conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Assad said that his country would do all it could to help the Iraqi people, and added that building a better future for the Iraqi people depended on "a withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq."[23]

In contrast, Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar' responded to American statements regarding Syrian aid to Iraq and the possibility that the Ba'ath party leaders in Iraq had found refuge in Syria. At a press conference, Al-Shara voiced veiled threats at the U.S.: "The threats by American officials against Syria were aimed at sabotaging the historical and national ties between Syria and the Iraqi people... Syria does not take these threats seriously... These threats represent an extremist stream that does not take into account the general interests of the West in the Middle East. The U.S. [has entangled] itself in many problems. It began in Afghanistan, continued in Iraq, and now faces a third problem."[24]

The media focused on pre-war motifs. In an editorial, Teshreen said: "Iraq has not been a problem in the area of possession of WMDs, and has not constituted a threat to its neighbors... And if we focus now on the claim of WMDs... isn't it natural to ask: Where are these weapons, which are the only pretext for the invasion of Iraq? ... With regard to the accusations that Iraq is a threat to its neighbors, they [the accusations] could have been dismissed from the outset - primarily when none of the neighbors feared this threat or even noticed its existence. The minutes of the U.N. and the Arab League [sessions] attest to this."[25]

Teshreen columnist Nabil Salih charged: "The [Israeli] Mossad sent its agents to destroy the antiquities in the National Museum [in Baghdad] in retaliation for the Babylonian captivity[26]. The Iraqis lost an autocracy and gained an occupation, and the next day [they lost] their future, as part of the Likud plan... Uncle Sam wants to spread his democracy in the Afghan way - that is, letting the dogs bark on empty stomachs. This is the democracy of the poor, marketed by the democracy of the rich..."[27]

*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI. Eli Carmeli is a Research Associate of Syrian media.

[1]Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 27, 2003, An Interview with Bashar Al-Assad: 'The Arab Defense Agreement Should Be Implemented'; 'As Long as Israel Exists It Will Constitute a Threat'; 'Israel Will Not Be a Legitimate State Even After the Peace',

[2]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 28, 2003.

[3]Teshreen (Syria), April 4, 2003.

[4]Teshreen (Syria), March 31, 2003

[5]Al-Ba'ath (Syria), April 5, 2003

[6]MEMRI News Ticker quoted from Al-Gumhuriya (Egypt), April 9, 2003.

[7]MEMRI News Ticker quoted from Al-Watan (Qatar), March 28, 2003.

[8]Teshreen (Syria), April 7, 2003.

[9]In another editorial, "National Resistance Always Defeats Occupiers," Teshreen compared the coalition invasion of Iraq to Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon: "The (U.S.) invaders will be forced to leave Iraq sooner or later, just as the Israeli invaders were forced to leave Lebanon after the 1982 invasion. It is certain that... resistance is the only alternative in confronting the Anglo-American-Israeli aggressive alliance... Occupation never wins wars. This is an historic fact." (Teshreen, April 9, 2003).

[10]Teshreen (Syria), March 29, 2003.

[11]Teshreen (Syria), March 27, 2003

[12]Teshreen (Syria), April 10, 2003. In an article titled "Shock and Awe," Teshreen indicated that the American companies that run the Pentagon want as much damage and destruction as possible in Iraq, so they can profit from rebuilding it. (Teshreen, April 13, 2003)

[13]Teshreen (Syria), March 22, 2003. See also Teshreen, April 9, 2003; Teshreen (Syria), April 8, 2004; Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria) March 31, 2003,

[14]Teshreen (Syria), April 7, 2003. For charges of genocide, see also Teshreen, April 10, 2003. Also among the personal attacks on President Bush were the claim that he was "faithless," "racist," and "a hypocrite," Teshreen, April 10, 2003.

[15]Teshreen (Syria), April 9, 2003.

[16]Teshreen (Syria), April 7, 2003, See also "The Spiritless," by M. Agha, who wrote, "Had they been with spirit and feeling they would have not slaughtered the babies and children! Moreover, they want no witnesses to see their war crimes," April 13, 2003.

[17]Teshreen (Syria), April 10, 2003.

[18]KCNA, April 9, 2003.

[19]Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria) March 31, 2003

[20]Teshreen (Syria), March 23, 2003.

[21]Teshreen (Syria), April 2, 2003.

[22]Al-Thawra (Syria), April 3, 2003.

[23]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 13, 2003.

[24]Teshreen (Syria), April 13, 2003.

[25]Teshreen (Syria), April 10, 2003.

[26]Of the Jews, in the 6th century B.C., after the destruction of the First Temple.

[27]Teshreen (Syria), April 4, 2003.

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