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Syria-Iraq Al Qaeda Pipeline Open Again

11:55 AM, May 11, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The Washington Post reports:

Last October, as the Bush administration was touting a dramatic drop in the number of suicide bombings in Iraq, four young Tunisian men left their homes for Libya and then headed to Syria. There, they were met at the Damascus airport and taken to a safe house.

Six tedious months passed until their handlers felt that it was safe to move the men again. In April, they were smuggled across the Iraqi border; within days, two were dead, among the suicide bombers who have killed at least 370 Iraqis in a wave of attacks over the past several weeks.

The third Tunisian disappeared. The fourth was captured and, according to a senior U.S. military official, provided interrogators with this account of their travels.

His statement, combined with what other sources had previously indicated to U.S. and Iraqi intelligence, confirmed what American officials had suspected: After a long hiatus, the Syrian pipeline operated by the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq is back in business.

The revival of a transit route that officials had declared all but closed comes as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. At the same time, Washington remains concerned by Syrian activities -- including ongoing support for the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as activities involving Iraq.

This development comes as President Obama conducts his much-hyped diplomatic outreach to Syria. Of course, something else also happened last October: four U.S. helicopters staged an attack inside Syria. At the time, Obama refused to endorse the incursion, despite the fact that cross-border raids against al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan had been at the core of his counterterrorism strategy. It's hard not to see some connection between the raid and the subsequent shut down of the pipeline, and now six months later with a new president who has sent emissaries to Syria -- both during the campaign and since his inauguration -- the Syrians are allowing suicide bombers to once again transit their territory.

Is Obama's diplomacy helping to bring stability to Iraq, or is it making things worse? For the first time, it seems like we have a clear answer -- and it doesn't bode well for the mission or the troops.