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Does Syria Raid Signal New U.S. Strategy In Iraq?

A video grab from Syrian TV shows rubble following an attack on a border village on October 26.
A video grab from Syrian TV shows rubble following an attack on a border village on October 26.
International media reported on October 26 that U.S. forces based in Iraq had attacked the Syrian border village of Sukkaryiah killing eight people, whom a U.S. military official described as "Al-Qaeda fighters." Iran was one of the first countries to denounce the incursion.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said any violation of the territorial integrity of another country is unacceptable, while parliament speaker Ali Larijani told journalists on October 29: "The United States has repeatedly attacked the Islamic Republic of Pakistan under the pretext of fighting terrorism and has killed dozens of Pakistani civilians. And now it is doing the same with another Islamic country, namely, Syria."

A "harsh and unambiguous" response would stop such "aggressions" in the future, Larijani added.

The raid into Syria has produced considerable confusion among analysts. While the United States has long accused Syria of actively and passively supporting terrorism and insurgency inside Iraq, it has not acted militarily prior to this. And the Sukkaryiah strike came at a time when Washington and Damascus -- after decades of profound tensions -- have finally established high-level diplomatic contacts. It even appears Syria is on its way to getting itself removed from the so-called axis of evil.

So, the question arises: Has the United States revised its strategy in responding to support for Iraqi insurgents from neighboring countries? And if so, what does this mean for Iran, which has also been the target of U.S. charges of supporting terrorism both in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

'Harsh And Unambiguous' Response

"If there is a new strategy, then it could also affect Iran and the way the Americans deal with Iran," Middle East expert Nadim Shehadi, of Chatham House in London, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "If they adopt a tough stance, they could decide to go to a confrontation."

Taking this into consideration, Tehran's calls for a "harsh and unambiguous" response to the Syria raid are hardly surprising.

A new U.S. policy on crossborder operations in Iraq -- similar to the one that seems to be evolving in Afghanistan -- would certainly entail risks for the coalition and the region. Shehadi noted that European countries have been negotiating with Syria over its role in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories with some success.

"There have been some positive developments in Lebanon," Shehadi said, "but confrontation will bring Syria and Iran back to increasing terror attacks and acting as spoilers."

The heightened tensions could even further delay the long-awaited security pact (Status of Forces Agreement) being negotiated between Iraq and the United States. An Iraqi government spokesman on October 29 said Baghdad now wants to amend the draft agreement to include a ban against U.S. forces conducting attacks on neighboring countries from Iraqi territory. It is possible that pressure from Tehran and Damascus lies behind this new demand.

Mohammad Reza Kazemi is a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Persian-language Radio Farda. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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