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SYRIA: What's behind U.S. raid?

October 26, 2008 |  5:31 pm

Syriaraid

U.S. forces on Sunday afternoon apparently crossed the Iraqi border to launch a commando raid in a Syrian town that left at least eight people dead.

It was a high-stakes move that could not only increase tensions between Washington and Damascus but could unnerve Iraqi officials contemplating the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. that would legitamize the presence of American troops in Iraq.

So why now at the end of the Bush administration, with Washington trying to play nice with Damascus and tensions easing throughout the region, would U.S. forces stage such a gambit?

The blog-o-sphere was all abuzz with theories and speculation. Bill Roggio, writing at the Long War Journal, said that the U.S. must have had a compelling military reason for the attack, especially given the uptick of insurgent attacks in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which is close to Syria and has became a haven for insurgents.

Iraqi forces in northern Iraq launched a series of raids Sunday that netted 13 suspected insurgents, an official in Mosul said.

"The US military must have detected a senior member of al Qaeda in Iraq in the region," he wrote. "Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, is reported to have left the country earlier this year after the terror group lost its sanctuaries in Diyala province."

But others saw political considerations...

Political gossip site Wonkette somewhat playfully described the move as an "October Surprise" meant to change the course of the ongoing presidential elections.

"Finally, the October Surprise!" Wonkette's Ken Layne writes:

We have a war, of sorts, in Syria! Who knows why or anything. It’s the Kissinger Doctrine all over again: Just bomb..., everywhere, whenever you feel like it. Who’s gonna stop you, HEHNGHH?

Joshua Landis at Syria Comment says the attack "seems to fit into a broader pattern of the Bush administration initiating cross border attacks into countries that it is not officially at war with," including Pakistan.

He speculates that White House officials angry at Syria "may assume that [they] can have a 'freebie' " striking at an old adversary knowing that it will nonethless remain on its best behavior to impress the next U.S. administration.

Indeed, despite glimmers of rapprochement, the Bush administration has remained chilly toward Damascus, frowning at European, Turkish and Israeli diplomatic initiatives aimed at drawing Syria away from its main ally Iran, writes BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

"With the Bush administration on the way out, this US military incursion may represent something of a parting shot against the Syrians," he writes.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A handout file picture released on Nov. 23, 2004, by the U.S. Marines shows troops being picked up by a helicopter after conducting an operation near the Syrian border in western Iraq. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

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