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memri
June 15, 2003 No.
138

Syrian Government Media: Post Iraq War

By: A. Polak*

Prior to the war in Iraq, Syria, largely through its government controlled media, voiced support for Iraq and bluntly declared its opposition to the U.S. and other coalition member nations. Syria maintained its pro-Iraq/anti-coalition stance throughout the war, often accusing member nations, primarily the U.S. and Britain, of committing acts of "genocide," "terrorism," and "imperialism." [1]

The pressure applied on Syria after the war to alter its policy of confrontation and to cease its support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbullah and Hamas resulted in a perceived shift in Syrian policy and led U.S. officials to express satisfaction with concessions apparently made by Syria. On April 20th, the Washington Post reported that "President Bush ended his administration's three-week escalation of warnings to Syria... and praised [it] for new cooperation in the hunt for senior aides to Saddam Hussein." [2] This declaration was followed by an official visit to Syria by Secretary of State Colin Powell in which Syria suggested that, it would consider closing the offices of terrorist organizations operating within its borders. [3] However, this shift in Syrian attitudes is not well reflected in the country's government-controlled media. This report examines articles that appeared in Syrian newspapers prior to, during, and after Secretary Powell's visit to Syria.

Before Powell's Visit: 'Ultimate Imperialist Aims of U.S. Will Lead to Colonization of Outer Space'

Prior to Secretary Powell's meeting with Syrian officials, commentary and reports in the Syrian press sought to vilify the U.S. and reaffirm Syria's stance against it, such as an article published in Teshreen titled "The Symbol of Occupation." In the article, M. Agha wrote that Syria's position on the U.S. presence in Iraq was correct and "[the U.S. and Britain] have made it crystal clear that they seek to install a puppet regime which protects their imperialist interests… As for the Iraqis, they have no other choice but to resist this vicious occupation." [4]

On another occasion, columnist Dr. Khalaf Al-Jarad wrote: "the research centers and establishments [have turned] the battle against international terrorism into a battle against Muslims and Arabs under vague and false pretexts and accusations..." [5] Other articles published in Teshreen prior to Secretary Powell's visit accused the U.S. of leading the world toward disaster, such as an article which declared that in liberating Iraq, "[the U.S.] put the world on [the] verge of chaos, turmoil, and bloodletting…" [6]

Attacks focusing directly on the U.S. administration also appeared frequently in the Syrian media during this time period. One article stated that "thewar crimes being committed in Iraq reflect a clear example of the logic that now pervades the White House and the views held by the neoconservative gang that surrounds President Bush. This is a gang whose members are symbols of racism and extremism…" [7]

Writing of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, columnist A. Halaweh wrote on April 28 that the war in Iraq was part of an attempt to establish a "new world order." This new order, according to the columnist, "is nothing other than the same old imperialist law of exploitation and plunder of the poor by the rich, aggression, interference, and bullying of the weak by the strong, and domination of the whole world by the U.S.... In order to impose this order, the U.S. imperialists must attempt to terrorize the people of the world into accepting it..." [8]

An article published in Teshreen on April 14 stated: "Policymakers in the U.S.A., Britain, and others can not cancel the culture of the Iraqi people nor kill their memory… Their evil schemes... will be foiled sooner or later… But at that time, no one will forgive the killers and evil doers." [9]

Several media reports referred to a U.S. conspiracy to conquer the world. An editorial in Teshreen published on April 23 and titled "New American Century Plan to Redraw the World's Map" [10] examined U.S. policy in the region, according to Syrian perceptions. The article's author, M.N., wrote, "The current war on Iraq embodies a plan which the U.S. had often dreamed [of realizing]. The plan is represented by drawing up a new plan to the world, particularly the Middle East region." The new plan, known as the "new American century plan," seeks, according to the author, to accomplish several goals, among them "coloniz[ing] outer space," and "redraw[ing] the whole world's map and outer space so as to suit U.S. interests." The columnist further attested that the U.S. will use "biological, genetic, and electronic means as a political tool to counter threats that might face the U.S…"

Dr. Khalaf Al-Jarad, editor in chief of Teshreen, wrote that "Syria also warned against any kind of aggression and military interference or any neglect of international legitimacy... But the Anglo-American war on Iraq took place and the destruction of this Arab country – both land and people – was carried out systematically… The American British occupationists [sic] deliberately and devilishly work to destroy Iraq and bring its people to their knees to give their occupation of Iraq a legal and legitimate cover. No doubt, the Iraqi people have a long history and rich experiences in national resistance, in fighting the invaders, and in liberating their land and their nation…" [11]

On April 14, 2003, Teshreen published a report on a symposium held by The Arab Writers Union in Damascus. The symposium was attended by Secretary General of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party in the city Dr. Nabieh Isma'il, President of the Arab Writers Union Dr. Ali Ukla Ursan, and other senior Syrian officials. The article reported on discussions at the symposium regarding the war in Iraq, including a speech by Dr. Ursan in which he praised the "heroic deeds of the Iraqi people in confronting the invading forces" and spoke of the "sinister objectives" of the war. Vice President of the Women's Union, writer Asma al-Zarouni, sarcastically commented that she looked up the definition of the "freedom" in a U.S. dictionary and discovered it "means the killing of innocent people and the plundering oil and resources of other nations…" [12]

After Powell's Visit: Slandering the Bush Administration

On May 3, 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Syria in an attempt to urge Syria to cooperate with the U.S. war in Iraq as well as the U.S. war against terrorism. While reports carried in the Syrian media in the days prior to Powell's arrival were highly critical of the U.S., coverage of Powell's visit was relatively positive. Indicative of the coverage was a report published in Teshreen summarizing a meeting between Secretary Powell and Syria's president which described their conversation as "constructive, frank, and positive." [13] The report further stated that "Powell expressed happiness over his coming to Syria to meet President Bashar Al-Assad..."

Following Secretary Powell's visit, Syrian media reports resumed their aggressive stance towards the U.S. An article published on May 5 accused the U.S. of pursuing a policy of war mongering and stated that the war in Iraq was carried out to fulfill the interests of the U.S. and Israel. [14] The article further referred to the war in Iraq as "illegal and unjust" and stated that "whatever the ostensible goals of this illegitimate war against Iraq may be, they do not justify the atrocities carried out by the invading armies against innocent Iraqi women, children, and elderly people…" An op-ed published on the same day titled "Flagrant Unilaterality" similarly attested to the Syrian view that the U.S. seeks to control the world by military means. The author of the article, R. Zein, wrote [15] that "…the U.S. military victory in Iraq has enabled Washington to come close to materializing its objectives aimed at… imposing all-out domination on the entire world." A subsequent article by R. Zein titled "U.S. Division of the World, Evil, Racist and Moribund" [16] harshly criticized George W. Bush and the war on terror. The article stated that the "U.S. was guided and governed by a racist, arrogant, and fundamental doctrine." The article accused the U.S. administration of considering itself divinely appointed and criticized "the American Midland area" which is home to "those who think they are the owners of the heavenly message." The author also stated that "most Bush aides, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld , [political strategist] Karl Rove , and representative of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress Tom DeLay , are strong advocates of this racist notion and belong to this racist and arrogant mentality." Along the same lines, the author wrote that the Bush administration has implemented a "racist and extremist strategy" in its war against terror and accused the U.S. of carrying out "acts of mass genocide" in Iraq.

The article concluded: "Indeed, mankind [was] never divided in such an illogical, awkward, and irrational way between a group of tyrant political and military leaders backed by an evil junta of racist and arrogant monopolists and fundamentalists in the U.S. and by some deluded and brain-washed people on the one hand, and between the entire world and its good community on the other hand… Death will certainly be to the evil forces of racism, tyranny, and hegemony and to those fighting life, good, humanity, and civilization."

On May 11, Teshreen published an editorial which supported assertions by other Syrian government writers that U.S. and British leaders should stand trial for war crimes. Referring to an article which appeared in the Guardian , the editorial stated that "the writer made it crystal clear that the operation of double standards has been evident throughout the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq. He described this policy as crude gun law." Teshreen added, "This is truth." [17]

Reports have also appeared in the Syrian press regarding rebuilding efforts currently underway in Iraq. A recently published op-ed written by R. Zein of Teshreen posed the question in its title, "Is it Re-Building?" The article stated that U.S. efforts to revitalize Iraq are disingenuous and are a stepping stone in the "American-Zionist" quest to dominate the region. "The sinister U.S. scheming under the guise of re-building is to re-construct the political, economic, and social structure in the war-stricken country and in the entire Arab region. Such deliberate 're-construction' will certainly be carried out in line with the new U.S. strategy in the Middle East which aims, among other things, at dominating the region's wealth and imposing total American-Zionist hegemony on it... It is naïve for officials of the Bush administration to think they are able to whiten the image of their flagrant and arrogant superpower and to wash the brains of the Arab people in general and the Iraqis in particular, who are fed up with U.S. policies that have proven to be ill and awkward and have been pursued to impose the hegemonistic American diktat on the Arabs and to force them to succumb to the American-Zionist aggressive and expansionist ambitions." [18]

*Allan Polak is MEMRI's Director of Communications


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis 134, Syrian Government and Media on the War in Iraq: http://www.memri.org/legacy/report/IA13403

[2] Washington Post, April 20, 2003.

[3] It appears that U.S. pressure on Syria has not had the intended effect as a number of Palestinian terrorist groups recently denied that their Syrian-based offices had been closed; IslamOnline, May 3, 2003, in MEMRI News Ticker.

[4] Teshreen (Syria), April 23, 2003.

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

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

[7] Teshreen (Syria), April 23, 2003.

[8] Teshreen (Syria), April 28, 2003.

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

[10] Teshreen (Syria), April 23, 2003.

[11] Teshreen (Syria), April 15, 2003

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

[13] Teshreen (Syria) , May 4, 2003.

[14] Teshreen (Syria) , May 4, 2003.

[15] Teshreen (Syria) , May 4, 2003.

[16] Teshreen (Syria) , May 5, 2003.

[17] Teshreen (Syria) , May 11, 2003.

[18] Teshreen (Syria), May 15, 2003.