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After U.S. Raid Syrians Wonder if War on Terror Has Arrived

New America Media, News report, Shane Bauer Posted: Nov 11, 2008

Editor's note: The United States has been secretly attacking Al Qaeda in many countries since 2004. Such attacks have escalated in recent months and in Syria, where an attack occurred two weeks ago, many are angry as they wonder if "the war on terror" has arrived in Syria. NAM contributor Shane Bauer is a journalist and photographer based in the Middle East.

DAMASCUS, Syria - Two weeks after U.S. Special Forces killed eight people in a farm in Eastern Syria, deep suspicions remain about the American claim that it targeted and killed a high level Al-Qaeda operative. Many are left wondering whether the attack is the result of a new strategy in the U.S.-led "war on terror."

The New York Times recently uncovered a classified order issued in 2004 that gave the U.S. military authority "to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks." The order, signed by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, authorized the military to attack Al-Qaeda targets anywhere in the world.

Amid continued frustrations about the attack, anti-American rhetoric in Syria is running high. Over the past two weeks, the word "terrorist" has been regularly coupled with references to the Bush administration in Syrian newspapers. Banners that hung briefly in the city center called the administration, "Zionist terrorists who kill innocent women and children."

According to various unnamed sources in the international press, the U.S. military killed a top official of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Badran Turki Hisham al-Maziidi, also known as Abu Ghadiyah. To date, no one has confirmed the claim and no American official has spoken on the record about the attack.

Syrians tend to be more persuaded by evidence to the contrary. Syrian newspapers have published the names of the dead, locals have gone on the record to say that the casualties were all Syrian civilians from the area, video footage taken from a cell phone confirmed that the attack was conducted by four military helicopters, and footage of the dead showed that several were clearly under the age of eighteen.

"I knew those people that were killed," a man from Abu Kamal named Hussein Hamaadi in Damascus remarked two days after the raid. "They were workers. They have never studied and they can't read."

Among the numerous articles that have emerged about the strike in the Syrian and international media, there have been no reports of return fire by the alleged Al-Qaeda ringleader or weapons found at the site.

Here in Syria, where the government heavily restricts the ability of foreign journalists to cover such incidents on the ground, few reporters have been to the site of the raid. Thus far, only journalists from the official Syrian media, two Syrian AP reporters, and two foreign journalistsfrom the BBC and the San Francisco Chroniclehave reported from the site.

Baners: "Zionist terrorists who kill innocent women and children"

Suspicions about American intentions have flooded the Syrian press. A recent article in Abyadh Aswad, a weekly Syrian political magazine, suggests the attack might have been intended to warn Iraq's neighbors, namely Iran, not to disobey U.S. demands. The article also reflected a common Syrian readingthat the current administration is attempting to thwart attempts by the next American president to improve relations with Syria. The article also suggests the raid could have been driven by a desire to prevent Syrian influence in Iraq just after Syria sent its first ambassador to the country since 1979.

There has been considerable outcry throughout the Middle East about a perceived lack of condemnation from Western countries. During a government-orchestrated rally in Damascus, banners hanging around Youssef al-Azmi square read: "We call on the international community to hold the American administration accountable."

"Zionist terrorists who kill innocent women and children."

An op-ed in Saudi Arabia's Arab News condemned a perceived difference in treatment among the international community between the U.S. raid on Syria and Russia's attack on Georgia last August. The invasions of Georgia "was vehemently condemned by every last leading U.S. official, who specifically decried Russia's violation of international law, laws governing the sovereignty of nations, and the destabilization of a whole region," the article said.

Meanwhile, the attack has compounded suspicions in the region that the United States is adopting a new strategy in its "war on terror." In an article titled "The raid was a part of Bush's strategy for secret war," the London based Al-Quds al-Arabi suggested that the attack was emblematic of America's "future wars," secret military operations against countries it is not officially at war with.

The United States has struck Yemen and Somalia since the "war on terror" began, but Pakistan has been hardest hit. This year, more than 300 civilians have been killed and almost 250 injured by American attacks in Pakistan, according to Pakistan's The News. That's more than half as many of the 577 civilians reported by the United Nations to have been killed in Afghanistan in the same time period.

President-elect Barack Obama seems to be on board with the new strategy. Unlike his former rival McCain, Obama has not mentioned the raid on Syria, but in August 2007, he stated that if the United States "has actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets," and the country in which they reside won't act, the Americans will.

Photo credits:Shane Bauer.

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