Al-Assad: USA will sink in Iraq swamp
Syria-Iraq-USA, Politics, 3/28/2006
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he cautioned American lawmakers and officials before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that the US would get bogged down in a quagmire after toppling the Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
"I told them, you will win the war, no doubt about that, the first war, the military part of it,'' al-Assad said in a television interview with Charlie Rose Show (PBS TV) that will air late today on the Public Broadcasting Service in the US "But after you occupied Iraq, you would have chaos, resistance, you will have a swamp.''
The Syrian leader suggested that he now wants to ensure Iraq doesn't slide into a civil war between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions in the country. "Any effect in our region is like a domino effect,'' al-Assad told Rose, according to a transcript furnished by the program. "Especially if you have chaos. If something happens in Iraq, it's going to have side effects on Syria.''
Al-Assad, 40, recounted the advice he had given when asked by Rose why Syria didn't join the US, Britain and other countries in the coalition that invaded Iraq in March 2003. His late father, Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, supported the US-led effort in 1991 to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
During the hour-long interview, which took place in Damascus, al-Assad said he does not believe the United Nations probe into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in anyway jeopardizes his leadership of Syria. "100 Percent" sure he said.
Then-chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis said in January that Syrian intelligence officials, including al-Assad's brother and brother-in-law, were implicated in the truck-bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
Al-Assad, who has repeatedly denied accusations of Syrian involvement, agreed in January to cooperate with the UN probe. In the interview with Rose, al-Assad said he is "100 percent'' sure that no member of his family was involved in Hariri's murder.
Al-Assad's comments about Iraq come amid revelations that US president George W. Bush and UK prime minister Tony Blair expected a complicated yet manageable transition to a new Iraqi government. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups,'' according to a memo about a White House meeting Bush held with Blair on Jan. 31, 2003. The memo was quoted in today's New York Times.
Blair agreed with Bush's assessment, the memo said, according to the Times.
The US Treasury last year accused four of Saddam Hussein's nephews, all with addresses in Syria, of financing groups carrying out attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces. US officials have said Syria failed to stem the flow of foreign fighters who have entered western Iraq to carry out attacks.
Iraq is convulsed in a wave of sectarian violence that broke out after the terrorist bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, on Feb. 22. In one of today's developments, Baghdad officials refused to cooperate with US forces following an incident in a Shiite mosque that left 16 people dead, the Arab television channel al-Jazeera reported.
Al-Assad said he issued his warning to US officials from the Congress and Bush administration before the invasion. He said he also told the officials, whom he doesn't identify in the interview, he was against invading Iraq on principle.
"What the United States is doing now is what Saddam did to Kuwait,'' al-Assad says on the program.
Al-Assad was elected president when he ran unopposed after his father died in 2000. He had been studying ophthalmology in London when his older brother died in a car accident, making him his father's heir apparent.
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