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SYRIA: Attack's aftershocks continue

October 28, 2008 |  9:35 am


American forces in Iraq launched a daring commando raid into Syrian territory on Sunday in order to strike against a suspected insurgent leader.

But in the end, the operation may wind up being more trouble than it was worth as repercussions continue to reverberate in the Middle East and throughout the world, with even Europeans condemning the attack.

Syria's cabinet today  condemned the assault on the village of Sukkairah as "brutal, vicious American aggression."

Syria's official news agency reported that the authorities have decided to shut down an unidentified Damascus-based "American school" and a cultural center. The report didn't identify the exact name of the school.

But the U.S. Department of State has since 1950 overseen the Damascus Community School, which serves the children of American diplomats and others posted to Syria. The embassy in Damascus also operates a culture center which showcases American arts, including jazz.

The closures may not sound like a big deal, but they're a huge blow to hardworking American diplomats who've struggled to spruce up America's image in Syria over the last couple years. The move also stifles any hope of a quick rapprochement between Syria and U.S.

The military operation -- during the final months of the Bush administration -- confused many in the foreign policy community who thought that the U.S. and Syria were moving toward accommodation.

Syrian authorities have also decided to postpone a meeting of a joint Syrian-Iraqi committee meant to meet Nov. 12 in Baghdad improve troubled relations between the two countries.

That's a pretty big blow to Iraq, which has not had normal relations with its neighbor for decades. The Baghdad government has been eager to patch up relations with Damascus by trying to soothe fears that the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq won't be used against Syria.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh on Monday appeared to justify the U.S. move as an attack on an insurgent stronghold across the Iraqi border.

Syria responded by blasting Dabbagh for his "unacceptable and irresponsible justification" of the attack, which targeted a leader of an insurgent ring smuggling arms and fighters into Iraq.

For his part, Dabbagh -- who's often putting his foot in his mouth -- struggled to disassociate himself from his own remarks. He issued a statement saying:

"The Iraqi government rejects the strike by the U.S. planes on Syrian territories as part of the policy of the Iraqi government and its constitution which does not allow the Iraqi land as a base to conduct such attacks on neighboring countries."

His statement said the Iraqi government has launched an investigation into the incident and called upon American forces "not to repeat such acts."

Iraq's parliament also chimed in, demanding its government disclose the results of any probe into the details of the American strike. Iraq, the statement said, "will not be used to attack any state."

Iran and other Muslim countries have condemned the attack. But the impact of the incident extends even further than the Middle East. Europeans fear it will scuttle their efforts to draw Syria away from Iran and toward the West.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy maestro, traveled recently to Damascus to try to smooth  frayed relations with Syria.

"I am concerned at the air raid that took place inside Syria earlier today, which resulted with the death of civilians,” he said in a statement issued Monday evening. “I have just returned from Syria where I discussed prospects for improved stability and security in the region with the authorities. I hope the situation can rapidly return to normality."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and the Baghdad bureau

Photo: The mother, left, and two sisters of Syrian Faysal el-Abdallah, who died when U.S. military helicopters launched an attack on Syrian territory, during a funeral procession at Sukkariyeh near the town of Abu Kamal. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press

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