Israel: April 23, 2005

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 The Syrian pullout of Lebanon is essentially compete. About 4,000 regular troops remain in Lebanon, all in the Bekaa Valley, concentrated on the main road between Beirut and Damascus, though a number of intelligence and perhaps commando personnel are probably still scattered clandestinely elsewhere. The pullout may involve more than just Syrian leader Bashir Assad trying to make the best of recent Lebanese hostility toward the continuing occupation of their country, as well as the U.N. demand that he get out. 

Assad seems to be trying to improve ties with the US, which is apparently not disinclined to cooperate. Among recent gestures that suggest something is afoot sub rosa, Assad has been putting pressure on Iraqi Baathist exiles to curb their support for the terrorism in Iraq and has been rounding up outspoken Islamists, closing down some of their operations. The most obvious measure that suggests seeking closer ties occurred some weeks ago, when Assad turned over to the US Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and one of the most wanted members of the old regime still at large. 

Assad's actions seem to be inspired by several considerations. Obviously, curbing Baath and Islamist extremists benefits his own ability to continue to control the country. In addition, these measures will help reduce the risk of American intervention in the furtherance of the war on terror, and might even have economic benefit, attracting US aid or investment. A final factor may be Syria's Kurdish minority, in the northeast, who, like their brother-Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, harbor dreams of someday forming a Kurdistan. A friendly US could be in a position to use its good offices with Iraq's Kurds to help keep Syria's Kurds from becoming openly rebellious.

 

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