Syria and the ‘resistance’

If anyone still harbours illusions about the character of the Iraqi ‘resistance’ then they should read Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s report on the Syrian wing in the Guardian today.

By 2001, Abu Qaqaa had attracted about 1,000 young men to his cause, though everything at this stage was underground and secret. “No one knew about us. But September 11 gave us the media coverage. It was a great day. America was defeated. We knew they would target either Syria or Iraq and we took a vow that if something happened to either countries, we would fight.”

Two weeks after September 11 they decided to have a celebration. They called it “the Festival of America the Wounded Wolf”. They made a video of martial arts fighting, including hand-to-hand combat and training exercises in which they jumped off 8m-high walls. During this time, Abu Qaqaa was arrested by the Syrian authorities, but was released within hours. “We thought, ‘Oh, how strong our sheikh is that they do not touch us,’ ” Abu Ibrahim remembers. “How stupid we were.”

By 2002 they were organising anti-American “festivals” twice a week. Food and CDs of sermons were distributed freely and the group, now calling itself “the Strangers of Cham [the Levant]”, grew more popular. One festival was called “the people of Cham will now defeat the Jews and kill them all”.

“Officials used to come to these festivals, security chiefs, advisers to the Syrian president. We had Palestinian flags and scarves saying, ‘Down America’. It was very well organised – we tried to inspire young men and encourage them. We even had a website.” The group grew bigger and stronger, its reputation and CDs reached other Arab countries, and young men from Ramadi, Salahuddin and Mosul provinces in Iraq came to seek them out. Meanwhile, money started pouring in from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

As well as exposing (for those who were still unaware) exactly what these people are about, this report also defeats the Stopper’s claim that Ba’athism was incapable of forming an alliance with Bin Ladenism. Syria is a secular Ba’athist regime just like Saddam’s Iraq yet it was financing and organising a fanatical Jihadist movement even before the liberation of Iraq.

Gene adds: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has a much longer report on the Syrian-Iraqi “resistance” connection in Wednesday’s Washington Post.