Counter-Terrorism: Why Syria Fights Al Qaeda

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January 2, 2006: Although his intentions are questioned by some in the West, Syrian president Bashir Asad is definitely committed to the war against Islamist terror. The Syrian Baath Party may support some forms of terrorism, particularly against Israel or its opponents in the Arab world, but it is essentially a secular movement strongly opposed to the Islamists for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the Syrian regime is dominated by the Alawite community, a Shia sect to which only about ten percent of the people of Syria belong, while Al-Qaeda and the other Islamist extremist groups are generally staunchly Sunni. This makes the Islamists potentially attractive to the majority of Syrians, who are also Sunni. In addition, like most Arabs, the Syrians are extremely unhappy with the corruption and inefficiency of their government, and one of the promises the Islamists advance is that they will impose honest government under Sharia law, a plea that has won them many adherents throughout the Moslem world.

Finally, supporting the struggle against the Islamists diverts some of the attention Western nations have placed on Syria's dismal human rights record and its meddling in Lebanon. In support of the war on Islamic fundamentalist terror, in recent weeks Syria has been beefing up border security (no easy task when most of the frontier is open desert, inhabited by dozens of more or less nomadic clans), is imposing tighter controls on Iraqis already resident in the country, including their finances, and appears to be trying to keep more Iraqis from entering the country.

 


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