Damascus Reacts to U.S. Attacks
New America Media, News Report, Shane Bauer Posted: Oct 28, 2008
Editor's note: Damascus residents reacted with anger and suspicion after a U.S. Special Forces attack on Oct. 26 that left civilians dead and increased tension in the region. NAM contributor Shane Bauer is a journalist and photographer based in the Middle East.
DAMASCUS, Syria--"What is America doing?" my minibus driver asks me. "Killing innocent children and poor workers? It's bringing hate on itself."
"How did it feel when U.S. forces attacked your country?" I ask.
He looks at me and shrugs, saying, "What could I feel? It wasn't like I was surprised. America will attack anyone." He sticks out his hand, extending a finger for each country he names: "Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, now Syria. They say they are liberating people in Iraq and bringing democracy to the Middle East? No thanks."
Two days after a helicopter attack by U.S. Special Forces, people are enraged. The unverified claims by unnamed American officials that the assault killed a terrorist leader who was smuggling fighters into Iraq is particularly infuriating to Syrians. For two days they have been watching televised images of the dead bodies of four children—one of whom is missing half of his face—being carried to their graves.
An editorial in al-Thawra, Syria's official newspaper, reflected the profound mistrust of U.S. officials stating, “they are lying just like they lied when Colin Powell stood in front of the Security Council and talked about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
My minibus rolls to a stop at a park near al-Merjeh square. An old Turkish bathhouse sits at the center of the park and bird shops and half constructed buildings surround it. The grass and benches are filled with men and women, whiling away the day with pots of tea and water pipes as the clouds roll in and put a chill in the afternoon air.
In the corner of the park, I sit on a patch of grass worn down and covered in cigarette butts left behind by unemployed men and refugees. A man hands me a cup of tea brewed on the back of his three-wheeled bike, and I pull out today's newspaper.
Sitting under a nearby palm tree, a man named Hussein from Abu Kamal, the major town near the site of the U.S. commando attack, is drinking vodka and Coke. He has hardy slept for two days, he says, kept awake by phone calls from his hometown.
"I knew those people that were killed," he says. "They were workers. They have never studied and they can't read."
"Nothing like this has happened in Syria in all my life," he says. "In one month we have been attacked twice." One month ago, a suicide bomber launched the largest attack inside Syria since the 1980s, killing 17 civilians. "No matter who attacks, it is civilians that pay."
I hand him today's edition of al-Thawra and ask what he thinks about the editorial.
Syria has suffered attacks by two terrorist forces in the past month, the article says. "One of them carried out in southern Damascus by a takfiiri terrorist organization, the other by American helicopters near the small city of Abu Kamal near the Euphrates River and the Iraqi border."
He takes his eyes off the page. "But what happened on Sunday was worse than what happened a month ago. That time, it was a car that killed all those innocents. This time it was four helicopters—my relatives said it was like an earthquake coming from the sky. They should never have entered Syrian airspace."
The article goes on to speculate about the reasons behind the attack: Could it have been a response to the undeniable diplomatic success of Syria throughout 2008? Was it a coincidence that it happened while Syria's foreign minister was in London trying to warm relations between Syria and Britain? Is it a prelude to America's security agreement with Iraq? Was it caused by the Bush Administration’s hatred of the Syrian government and its people?
Hussein is clearly uninterested in the politics behind the attack, but he denies that anyone killed had anything to do with smuggling fighters into Syria. "I've never heard of anyone entering Iraq from Abu Kamal. "That's just enemy propaganda. The Americans should guard the border from their side."
Syrian officials say they have asked the United States for equipment to help them guard the 450-mile long desert border with Iraq, but the Americans refused.
For Hussein and his friends, the burden of proof that anyone killed was a terrorist is on the United States, but any rationales are beside the point. "The U.S. can't just invade other countries whenever it wants,” he says. “It needs to adopt policies that will make the world like it. It has the largest economy in the world. It should be helping poor countries, not attacking them."
Hussein says Syria has born the brunt of U.S. blunders in Iraq and Israel's aggression toward Lebanon, allowing refugees to flow across its borders. "The United States should be thanking Syria. There are one million Iraqi refugees here."
I finish my second tea and prepare to leave. "If you could say anything to the United States, what would it be?" I ask him.
"I wouldn't say anything, but if I had it my way I would take the head of your president for what he's done to us."
His friends chuckle and go back to their tea. "Make sure you come back to visit," he says, shaking my hand and smiling as I get up to go. "I'm here every day."
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