Yesterday, the Bush administration went a step further in tying top Syrian officials to the insurgency in Iraq. In his daily press briefing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated:
We remain deeply concerned about Syria's destablizing behavior in the Middle East and its continued support for terrorism. The regime in Syria has failed to comply with several Security Council resolutions. Today the Department of Treasury designated Assef Shawkat, pursuant to an executive order the President issued in May of '04. Among other things, this order allows the United States government to block the assets of individuals who play a role in Syria's support for terrorism.
Mr. Shawkat, as Syria's chief of military intelligence, has directly contributed to Syria's support for terrorism, including the insurgency in Iraq, Palestinian terrorist groups given shelter in Damascus, and Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon. Mr. Shawkat has also been deeply involved in Syria's ongoing interference in the destabilization of Lebanon. We are seeing democracy take firm root in Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, and elsewhere in the region. Syria continues to be out of step with the direction the rest of the Middle East is headed.
Today's action is a significant signal that those like Mr. Shawkat, who support Syrian terrorism will be held to account. As you're well aware, we have previously designated other Syrian officials under this executive order, as well.
Of course, Shawkat works for President Bashar Assad, who, according to a September 26, 2005 Time article, is apparently quite familiar with insurgent leaders in Iraq.
Starting in November 2003, tribal sheiks and Baathist expatriates held a series of monthly meetings at the Cham Palace hotel in Damascus. They were public events, supposedly meetings to express solidarity with the Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation. (The January 2004 gathering was attended by Syrian President Bashar Assad.) Behind the scenes, however, the meetings provided a convenient cover for leaders of the insurgency, including Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmed, the former Military Bureau director, to meet, plan and distribute money. A senior military officer told TIME that U.S. intelligence had an informant--a mid-level Baathist official who belonged to the Dulaimi tribe--attending the meetings and keeping the Americans informed about the insurgents' growing cohesion.