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Flashback: President Assad: US seeks war on Iraq in order to redraw the map of Middle East

by Cem Ertür
“We all know the masks that were used. At first the United States proposed the issue of the return of [weapons] inspectors [to Iraq]. Later, it spoke about the implementation of the UN and Security Council resolutions. It then spoke about the weapons of mass destruction. Later they said the problem lay in the regime itself. They then began to talk about democracy and human rights. Now they give the promise of development in Iraq and our region in general after this war. […] The [real] issue was that of taking control of the world and the region. The issue was one of oil and oil was one of the instruments used to control the world. The issue was one of re-drawing the map in the manner that suited them and, of course, suited Israel […]. The issue is one of destroying the infrastructure of Iraq” [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speech at the Arab League summit, Sharm el-Sheikh, 1 March 2003. This speech was delivered three weeks before the invasion of Iraq.]

Flashback to 2003:  President al-Assad: 'U.S. seeks war on Iraq in order to redraw the map of the Middle East'

compiled by Cem Ertür

20 June 2014

Syrian president calls on Arab states to forbid use of facilities for Iraq war

[English translation of the transcript of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s speech at the Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on March 1, 2003. The speech was delivered three weeks before the invasion of Iraq.]

BBC Monitoring Middle East, 2 March 2003

[empasis added]

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has called on the Arab states not only to reject in statements the US plans for war on Iraq, but to follow this up with action, in order to avoid the "strong paradox" between words and deeds, by denying the US the right to use Arab facilities to launch a war. In a speech to the 15th ordinary Arab summit, Al-Asad said that once this decision to forbid use of facilities was announced in the summit statement, an Arab group should be formed to take this to the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The president said that he was not calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces or bases from Arab countries, but emphasized that these forces must stay within their host country's borders, and must not be used to launch an attack on another Arab country. The following is the text of the Syrian president's speech at the 15th ordinary Arab summit conference in Sharm al-Shaykh, broadcast live by Syrian TV on 1 March [2003]; subheadings inserted editorially:

Your Majesty King Hamad Bin-Isa Al Khalifah, your Majesties, Excellencies and Highnesses; Your Excellency the Secretary-General of the Arab League:

What I am going to say today is not a speech, but rather a discussion involving some ideas concerning the Iraqi issue. It is perhaps a speech that does not have preambles and compliments, but gets to the heart of the subject directly.

Sometimes one feels danger and discovers that the impending danger is big. However, when this danger reaches you, you feel it was far greater than you had earlier expected. We are all today feeling the danger facing the region and Iraq. I, however, believe that we are not feeling the real extent of the danger. Some believe that this danger will affect them in an indirect manner, others believe that this danger will get close to their borders, whilst others believe the danger will stop at the borders. Some may think that some appeasement may ward off this danger for good or for a long time. In fact, all will be in the middle of this danger and all will be targeted, perhaps not directly in the first place, but in stages. I believe that we never felt the real extent of the danger of many things that happened in the past. This includes the Sykes- Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation of the State of Israel, and today the issue of Iraq.

Extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary decisions

This summit is called an ordinary one, but is extraordinary due to the current circumstances. An extraordinary summit requires two things: First, extraordinary circumstances, and second, extraordinary leaders who would, of course, come out with some extraordinary decisions. I believe that everyone wants to be extraordinary and distinguished. Extraordinary today means courage, objectivity and departure from personal grudges. It is at the same time an effort to serve our interests rather than the interests of others.

It is dangerous today to make ordinary decisions under such circumstances. I do not think the situation today is much different from the situation in 1990. At that time, the Arabs met in a summit on 8 August 1990. There was a state of shock, loss and division. Today, the situation is not much different. Perhaps division at that time was clearer. Nevertheless, a summit was held and there were bold decisions taken to regain the sovereignty of Kuwait.

Certainly, some will say that it was the international alliance that did that job. That is true. The Arabs at that time were required to give legitimacy and extend facilities [to the international alliance]. Today, if the Arabs were to take part in a war against Iraq, the United States would not allow them to do so. Their intervention is not acceptable. What is required is to grant legitimacy and extend facilities. What is happening today is an extension of that stage. There is no gap between the two situations. Tragedies get larger or smaller but they continue, and there is a diagram where the highest point indicates the degree by which the Arabs are targeted, and the lowest indicates the bottom rock degree of Arab performance and Arab situation. The only difference between that time and this time is that in 1990 Kuwait was occupied. Today, Iraq is not occupying any land and is not threatening any country, whether a neighbouring or any other country. We are neighbours of Iraq and we have the right to talk about this point, as do others.

I will start by saying that I do not know [Iraqi] President Saddam Husayn. I have never met him nor spoken to him even on the telephone. In the past years we had great, harsh differences with the Iraqi brothers, which continued for more than a decade. I am saying this so that I will not be accused of speaking in a romantic or emotional way. In my talk now, there is no emotion of love or hatred. Rather, there is reason only. It is our right to love or hate a person; it is our right to agree or disagree with the policy of an official; and it is our right to like or dislike the performance of a president. This is a personal issue. It is not important if we agree or disagree about this issue. But we should ask this simple question: Is it our right to disagree over the issue of Iraq, over whether to like or dislike Iraq, or to agree on a strike on Iraq or not? If this is our right, then why talk about the Arab League and Arab solidarity, which will then turn into a name without substance?

Some Arabs presenting problem as though with Iraq

Some depict the problem as if it were with the Iraqi president or the Iraqi regime. By saying some, I do not mean some foreigners. I mean some Arab officials. Had the issue really been one of this sort and had there been officials threatening the territory of Iraq or the region, it would have been our duty to send a delegation to tell them to sacrifice something in one way or another in order to rescue the homeland and the region in general. This would be recorded as a national and pan-Arab action. But we all know that this is not the case. We all know the masks that were used.

At first the United States proposed the issue of the return of [weapons] inspectors. Later, it spoke about the implementation of the UN and Security Council resolutions. It then spoke about the weapons of mass destruction. Later they said the problem lay in the regime itself. They then began to talk about democracy and human rights. Now they give the promise of development in Iraq and our region in general after this war. We will not be surprised if a new expression appears like the empty US expressions we always hear - an expression called the development war or development by means of war. All the points presented were mere masks used by the United States to deceive the world. In my opinion, however, nobody in the world was taken in by these proposals. Later, bored of wearing these masks, these officials decided to take them off. They said the issue was not any of the above. The issue was that of taking control of the world and the region. The issue was one of oil and oil was one of the instruments used to control the world. The issue was one of re-drawing the map in the manner that suited them and, of course, suited Israel, and this is another aspect of the issue.

The issue is one of destroying the infrastructure of Iraq, headed by the scientists. By the infrastructure I do not mean factories, missiles or the other things they are talking about. They want people whose hearts beat but whose minds do not work. This is required from all the Arabs. It is like those who are in deep slumber. They want the minds to act only when they want and in the manner they want. What they did not say was the part connected with Israel, and I do not think this is unknown to all.

They were the first to reject the return of inspectors when Iraq agreed to their return. As for the UN and Security Council resolutions, I do not think there is a country in this world that is violating these resolutions as much as the United States is doing. Regarding the weapons of mass destruction, had these weapons been really directed against the Arab countries, they would have asked that they be increased rather than decreased.

US has case-by-case standards, not just double standards

They claim to be concerned about us. How can they be concerned about us over Iraq and not Israel? Who is killing the Arabs? Is it Iraq or Israel? Who is killing the Palestinians daily? Killing these days is in the scores. All the weapons that exist in the Arab world certainly do not threaten the United States or any other continent. If they were able to disarm people of their personal weapons in the Arab world, they would not hesitate to do it so that Israel could continue to move freely in our skies and lands, killing whoever and whenever it wanted. As for democracy, if any of us imprisoned 100,000 of the citizens who demonstrated against the US policy, he would become a democratic leader in the Arab world and the region. If he imprisoned a pro-US person who committed a wrong act, he would then be against democracy and would be accused of encroachment on human rights. If a person manages to deprive a Palestinian citizen of his simplest rights, he will then turn into an advocate of peace, democracy, human rights and all other similar worthless titles.

We do the United States injustice when we talk about double standards. A double standard means two standards. They have 1,000 standards for 1,000 cases and perhaps more. What is important is that they wanted to remove these masks and say the issue was not that of the masks they wore, but one of control. Some of us began to move and say no, keep these masks. They say the issue is one of control and we say the issue is one of the regime. They take off the mask and we put it on their faces.

What I mean to say is that we should not confuse the issue of a person or persons with that of a homeland. No person in the world can undermine a homeland, regardless of who he is. Also, it is inadmissible to confuse the Kuwaiti-Iraqi situation with the Iraqi issue. As I have said, it is true that what is happening today is an extension of what happened in 1990, but that began in a certain direction and deviated or was meant to deviate in another direction in order to get where we are today.

This sort of talk may not please some Arab brothers, but convictions should be said as they are, without any cosmetics. In 1990 we stood with Kuwait against the Iraqi position and not against Iraq; today we stand with Iraq and Kuwait, but against any plan that means, or leads to, the destruction of Iraq.

"Strong paradox" between words and actions; Arabs must decide their stands

I will now present the picture of a simple exaggeration. Let us assume that some are against the regime and some are against Iraq or indifferent to the destruction of Iraq. Let us make a clear decision at this summit to topple the regime and destroy Iraq, and inform others of this. This is better. At least if we do this, we will be more merciful than the foreigners. Why am I presenting this exaggeration? Of course, the answer will be no and this is rejected. This is taken for granted. Here emerges a strong paradox between what we always say and announce about our rejection of interference into the domestic Iraqi affairs and our rejection of a strike against Iraq on the one hand, and the actions of some who are for war, for a strike, and for interference in the domestic affairs on the other. They are thus hiding behind the US stands. If we are for a certain idea, then let us adopt it in this Arab League. If we are against the idea, then let us stand in the face of the one proposing it. Let us do so instead of hiding behind the stands of others. It is no longer possible under these circumstances to stand in the middle with one leg in this place and another in another place. We must firmly decide our stands.

In today's world three elements impact the issue of war negatively or positively: an international element, a regional element and a local Iraqi element. Brushing aside the local element, the international element is based on the regional element. If the regional element weakens, the side calling for war in the international element will get stronger and vice versa. If the regional element gets stronger, the opposite will also be true. The international element has political power, while the regional element has political and field power with all the meanings contained in the word of field. This includes the geographic, demographic, military and other meanings. This field element is a point of strength for us if we use it correctly to prevent the war. It is a point of weakness for us if we let the war take place while we are in the field. We will then be only a target in the middle of war. If we do not understand these equations accurately and clearly, we will be held twice responsible in the future. So far, the international element is showing better performance than that of all of us. Thus far, we have done nothing other than make statements. Thus far, no single Arab action has been taken to prevent the anticipated war. We are concerned with this war and with Iraq ethically, nationally, morally and materially. A certain action must be taken to match and support the international element that opposes war. Otherwise, we must announce that it makes no difference if we meet or fail to meet because we are helpless states.

Foreign forces must stay within host country's borders

What is required? I am not demanding the implementation of the Joint Arab Defence Pact. At the same time I am not calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces or bases. This is an act of sovereignty. Each state has the right to call in whoever it wants. Naturally, no one is comfortable with the presence of foreign bases, but we will not interfere because this is not our affair. Some states may have interests or apprehensions in this regard. What is important is that these forces should not have any influence outside these states' borders, whether they be friendly, sisterly or national forces. Any action by these forces outside the borders of the state will make this state an aggressor state. It will then be fully responsible for its actions.

What is required then is not providing any facilities for this war. This clause is the basis on which we must rely at this summit. It determines our role now and in the future. It also determines the role of others in our causes. It is the minimum we can do. If we fail to do so, it will be said that this summit was held to clear consciences before the Arab nation or to evade responsibility before the Arabs and others. We will be held responsible by the Arab citizens and even the foreigners.

Regrettably, some officials have told me and others: We cannot bear or impose this. The one who says "I cannot" does not possess a [free] decision. And the one who does not have the power to make a decision does not have sovereignty. What sort of solidarity are we talking about if there are two decisions, one Arab and the other non- Arab? Do we call this Arab solidarity? It is solidarity but not Arab solidarity. Solidarity is the solidarity of two decisions, not two officials. If solidarity is that of solidarity between officials, then our relations are good and our hobbies may be common. But if my decision is required to be in solidarity with a non-Arab decision, then I do not need mediation. We can act in solidarity with the foreigner directly. Today we need a decision, a unanimous decision, on this point.

Arab delegation must not go only to Iraq

Some proposed sending a delegation to Iraq. This poses a number of questions. Will the delegation go only to Iraq, or also to the United States? If we do not do so and send the delegation only to Iraq, this will mean that the problem lies in Iraq and not the United States, which is seeking war with or without reason. We will then send a message that the problem lies in Iraq and not the implementation of the Security Council resolutions. We will send a message that the problem lies in Iraq and not in the aggression against Iraq.

Second, if the delegation went to Iraq, what would the delegation ask for? Would it ask for Iraq's cooperation with the United Nations? If it asked for such cooperation, would it ask the same from Washington, which is not cooperating in any way whatsoever, and which is trying to block any resolution that averts war? What is the extent of cooperation? We know that the United States always asks one thing after another. When the other side presents something, it asks for more. When that side reaches concession number 100, it asks "where is concession number one?" This is what happened to our Palestinian brothers in the negotiations. Concessions followed one after another and they always told them: You have not offered anything. That is how we reached the situation we are in today.

Of course we want Iraq to cooperate, but we must know the extent of this cooperation. We must not repeat what the others say for another purpose. We will then be walking with them not knowing where we are going. We must define this cooperation. What is the extent of cooperation that Iraq is demanded to show, and that it has failed to? We as Arab states will then be able to form a group that can go to Iraq and discuss all these topics there. Accordingly, we must specify the extent of this cooperation. At the same time, are we going to welcome the cooperation Iraq has shown? When the United States says Iraq has not cooperated and we will fight, we tell Iraq cooperate. When the inspectors say Iraq cooperated and the results they reached do not justify war, we remain silent. I think we must see the positive aspect, which is the largest in what was undertaken by Iraq. If there are gaps and simple details, we are all Arab brothers and can talk with one another very frankly, without barriers.

War to serve as cover for "Israeli crimes"

The last point in the Iraqi issue is that this issue is today inseparable from the Palestinian cause. Our failure in dealing with the Iraqi issue means our failure in dealing with the Palestinian cause. We cannot separate the two issues today. If this war takes place, it will serve as a cover for Israeli crimes. I do not say [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's crimes because I said a long time ago - perhaps two summits ago - that every Israeli is a Sharon. This has been confirmed today. All the Israelis are continuously and increasingly killing the Palestinians every day. This war will serve as a cover for these Israeli crimes. It will be a circumvention of the intifadah and resistance. It will eventually lead to peace according to the Israeli formula, which we all reject. It might lead to partitioning Iraq so that Israel could gain legitimacy. Israel is a state that claims to be democratic. It is a state of one colour and will gain legitimacy when it is surrounded by similar mini- states. It will then acquire political and social legitimacy.

While talking about the issue of Iraq, we will, of course, not forget our brothers in Palestine nor forget to emphasize our legitimate rights in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine and all the resolutions endorsed by the Security Council on the return of all rights, particularly return to the 1967 borders and the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees. We will not forget to emphasize our absolute support for resistance in the shape and formula envisaged by the resisting men. Certainly we will not forget to emphasize, as usual, the need to call for severing all forms of cooperation with Israel. We will certainly continue to call for this until Israel abides by peace, something which we have not seen thus far.

After welcoming Iraq's cooperation and the continuation of this cooperation, I suggest that we emphasize the clause that says no facilities should be provided for war purposes. If we agree on this point, it will not be sufficient to return satisfied with what we have achieved. This decision should be followed by action. I propose forming an Arab group to convey these resolutions and perhaps the [final] statement to the five permanent UN member states and other influential states concerned with the issue of Iraq. This committee can be chaired by the states presiding over three summits --the current summit, the previous summit, and the next summit. This means Bahrain, Lebanon and Tunisia if these states agree. If the summit or the Arab leaders decide that this group can later visit Iraq to discuss the Iraqi issue with the Iraqi brothers, that will be considered a foregone conclusion to balance things out.

Three choices for summit participants

I would like to finish my speech by saying that we have three possibilities. The first, which is the worst, is to agree with war and this, of course, will not be the case. The second is that we do not agree, and thus give a message to the warmongers of the world to launch a war. The third possibility, which is good, is to agree on all the steps we can take to prevent war. Certainly we can do so, despite the presence of those who are desperate or sowing despair in our world. We are capable of doing this. There would have been no need for this meeting had we been unable to do so. The fact that we met means we have the ability to do something. Any other option we take will cost us heavily in the long run and not the short term. In that case, the coming generations will read that Baghdad was first destroyed in 1258 when Hulago stormed it, due the weakness of the Arab Abbasid state, and that it was stormed at the beginning of the 21st century due to the weakness of the Arab regimes or the failure of the Arab summit. But this time it will not be alone; several Arab states will be with it.

I wish you and this summit success. Thanks to His Majesty King Hamad Bin-Isa Al Khalifah. Thank you. [applause]


excerpts from:  President Assad / Corriere della Sera interview (February 14, 2002)

[English translation of the transcript of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper. The interview was conducted in Damascus on February 14, 2002; a year before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.]

by M. Abdo al-Ibrahim,

Corriere della Sera:
If you do not mind, Mr. President, we start with the last developments, let us say those related to Iraq. You know there are, in a certain way, different messages arising in the region, but the other day, apparently, the possibility of an attack against Iraq increased. Of course, the problem for Syria now is not the same as it was in 1990 when you were with the allies against Saddam Hussein in order to liberate Kuwait. Now, the relations between Syria and Iraq are much better than they were at that time. So, what are your expectations in case something like this happens?

President al-Assad: First, I would like to check some of the idioms. When we took the position in the 1990s with the allied forces, we took a stand in support of liberating Kuwait and not against Iraq. The other point is that there is no animosity between Iraq and us. On the contrary, our relations with Iraq at the peoples level have always been good. In the past there were political differences, but for quite few years we have both gone beyond these political differences; we have overcome them. But our stand towards what you have just mentioned is not linked to all these issues. It is linked to something larger, to the international framework. It is linked to concepts that are being now talked about at the international level. These concepts are going perhaps to decide the future of the world in the short and long run, especially the concepts that had been talked about for the last fifty or sixty years like democracy, justice, human rights and other idioms that are linked to these. The question that should be asked is: Is there any justification to strike Iraq? Is striking Iraq a part of combating terrorism as the entire world has been talking about this issue now? Is striking Iraq going to achieve justice and human rights for people who are deprived of their rights, or is it going to bring more injustice and lack of human rights?

I think striking Iraq is contradictory to all these concepts of democracy and human rights. What happened in the 1990s is very different from what is happening today. There was an international consensus about what had happened then, and there was a legitimate and legal handling of what was going on related to international law, to the United Nations Charter and to social values that reject an aggression against another country or another people. What we are witnessing today has nothing to do with any international law or international charter. Today, all the European officials, with whom we have met, are, without exception, against striking Iraq. And of course all the Muslim and Arab countries, without any exception, are against striking Iraq. So, the most dangerous thing now is that are we living in a world where only one opinion prevails? It is very natural for us as a neighborly country to Iraq and as an Arab country, to sympathize with the Iraqi people and to be against striking Iraq. But I am talking about the issue at an international level and from a far-reaching perspective. I think that for the last thousands of years the world has not been dependent on a unilateralist perspective as it does nowadays. This means that we are really entering into the unknown, and striking against Iraq is a very dangerous step of entering into this unknown.

Corriere della Sera: But if this happens, what would be your reaction? What will you do?

President al-Assad: I am not going to talk about the political reaction, whether it is by Syria or by any other country. You know that the political stand would be to condemn or to reject, and I do not think that these expressions have any real value in them now. I think what is more dangerous than the political stand is the popular opinion that is going to formulate itself after such an action. The results of such a popular opinion do not necessarily appear immediately, they might appear after a long time. In fact, if they were to analyze the event of the 11th September, they probably would have found that it is the result of an accumulation of many factors, some are tangible and others are intangible, an accumulation of deep-rooted hatred caused by popular anger the root causes of which are political, economic and social. I believe that strike against Iraq, or any similar thing to be done in the future without any measure, or without any criteria, is certainly going to lead to turbulences in the world the form and range of which are difficult to predict.

But I think it is, most often, going to take the security shape. And I do not believe it is in the interest of the United States to create more tension and turbulence in the world for which it might have to pay in the future. […]

Corriere della Sera:
[…] You have an alliance with Iran in fact, but recently you are improving your relation with one of your foreigner foes, Iraq. So, don’t you see contradiction in it, and if you remember some months ago you denied that Syria broke the embargo letting 100 thousand oil barrels from Iraq to reach Mediterranean passing through your country. But others are saying this is not true, what is your answer to this?

President al-Assad: First, as for Iraq, it is not our foe as you have mentioned in your question.

Corriere della Sera:
I said foreign foe.

President al-Assad:
I think to be a foe is something more than what happened between Syria and Iraq. There were political differences. Let us say there were huge political differences at certain points. But there has always been, between Syria and Iraq and Iran points of convergence between each other. If we want to look only at the points of difference I agree with you that there is a contradiction, and at that I could have a point of difference with Italy, for example. What I want to say is that we, as human beings, decide whether it is a contradictory relationship or a healthy relationship through our calculation of points of difference or agreement.. But I think even Iran and Iraq directly started to improve their relationship with each other during the last few years. Therefore, I can’t see any contradiction because we are living in the same region and it is only normal that we should try to improve our relations with each other. I think the contradiction is to keep these differences and stick to them rather than to go beyond them and improve our relations. As far as the oil is concerned, we announced our opinion very clearly since the beginning of this issue. We said that we have an oil pipeline between Iraq and us which we are testing during the last year, and therefore when we say we are testing this pipeline, we are definitely testing it with oil not with water or with winds. And certainly the direction is from Iraq to Syria because we have no oil to send to Iraq. And I have said this to American officials. But this is a very old pipeline that has been there since the fifties, and when we had our political differences with Iraq, this pipeline was not used and it is poor pipeline. This is the reason that prompted us to say that we are going to build a new pipeline with much bigger capacity. And we were discussing things with countries in the region and with European countries about this pipeline. And we said that with this new pipeline with Iraq, we are going to be committed to UN resolutions and we were supposed to submit a request for a meeting that the UN should convene about this issue at the end of last summer, and then this meeting was postponed. And therefore, we are not violating any UN resolutions.


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