Syrian Regime Losing Grip On Border With Iraq - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Syrian Regime Losing Grip On Border With Iraq

Posted: Updated:

CNN-- Bashar al-Assad's regime has lost control of much of Syria's long desert border with Iraq, as Sunni jihadist groups in both countries grow in strength, according to Western counter-terrorism officials and analysts.

The resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq and the growing power of groups like the Nusra Front in Syria pose a broader threat: a cross-border alliance of militant Sunni groups capable of challenging governments in both Damascus and Baghdad and carving out a haven in a region where governments are struggling to exert control.

Last week, militants attacked a convoy of Syrian troops inside Iraq. According to some reports, the troops had entered Iraq for medical treatment. But the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq, or ISI, claimed the Syrian soldiers had fled operations by "the brothers" in Syria. They were then ambushed near Akashat in Iraq's Anbar province as they were being escorted by Iraqi forces to the only border post the Syrian regime still controlled.

At least 40 Syrians and several Iraqis guarding them were killed in the ambush, which the ISI reported in distinctly sectarian terms, speaking of the "blood of the filthy ones from the Rafidah (Shiites)," in a statement issued to jihadist websites.

According to the ISI statement, the Syrian troops fled into northern Iraq after being forced to abandon a border crossing at al-Yarabiyah, a town at the northern end of the border that in more settled times saw scores of trucks pass to and from Iraq every day.

The Nusra Front began attacking a military base in al-Yarabiyah with mortars in late February, claiming that those who weren't killed "withdrew to the inside of the Iraqi borders," according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Free Syrian Army, which sometimes collaborates with the Nusra Front, said its forces were also involved in the attack, and several had been killed when Iraqi forces came to the aid of the besieged Syrian garrison.

According to Joseph Holliday at the Institute for the Study of War, recent events suggest not only growing coordination between al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, but a perilous situation along the border for the Assad regime.

"With three of four border crossing points impassible due to rebel gains in Syria, the Al Walid-At Tanf border crossing will be critical for the Assad regime and the Iraqi government to secure if they hope to maintain a ground line of supply between Baghdad and Damascus," Holliday says.

The Assad regime withdrew forces from a largely Kurdish area in northeast Syria last summer, weakening its control of the frontier in that area. In September, rebels seized the main crossing on the Euphrates River. Should the last crossing along the more than 600-kilometer (375-mile) border become insecure, Iranian efforts to reinforce the Assad regime would be hampered. Iran is al-Assad's main regional backer, while Iraq has expressed neutrality on the Syrian civil war.

Holliday says he believes the Iraqi and Syrian governments will be able to retain control of this last overland route, but if not, " the Assad regime will have to rely on air and sea resupply routes in order to continue its campaign against the opposition in Syria."

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that in response to the deteriorating situation along the border, the Obama administration had authorized the CIA to step up cooperation with Iraq.

The newspaper reported: "In a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq's Counterterrorism Service, or CTS, a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, officials said."

Last week, a senior Iraqi official visiting Washington estimated that about 300 militants are crossing from Iraq into Syria every month, accusing the Gulf emirate of Qatar of helping finance the Nusra Front.

And on Tuesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that the Nusra Front has "gained strength" in Syria. He said the group had been "astute," providing humanitarian services to win over the population while bringing in foreign fighters.

Sunnis in northern Iraq have staged a number of protests in recent weeks against the central government, which is dominated by a coalition of Shia parties led by al-Maliki. Faleh al Fayad, Iraq's national security adviser, told al Monitor newspaper last week that "events in Syria have taken on a sectarian dimension, which will certainly influence Iraq due to the country's diverse sectarian composition."

At the same time, Fayad acknowledged that the "Iraqi security apparatus still suffers from the technical void left behind by the Americans."

The U.S. State Department has already asserted close links between the Nusra Front and al Qaeda in Iraq, as the ISI is also sometimes known. In December, it designated al Nusra as an alias for the group, saying al Nusra "has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes. AQI emir Abu Du'a is in control of both AQI and al-Nusra."

Nada Bakos, a former CIA agent, told CNN in January that Syrians were among the inner circle of al Qaeda in Iraq when it was led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Bakos, who was the chief targeting officer tracking Zarqawi, said: "Some of these commanders are probably now part of al-Nusra," and the two groups are likely to replicating the flexible and resilient networks he established. That makes them a force to be reckoned with, she believes.

An analysis published by the Quilliam Foundation in January also found that the Nusra Front is led by veterans of the Iraqi insurgency. Indeed, the Assad regime's tolerance of militant groups using Syrian soil as a conduit to supply the militant groups in Iraq may well be returning to haunt it.

Zarqawi built up an infrastructure in Syria, establishing safe houses in Syria from which thousands of volunteers -- including many Syrians -- traveled to fight in Iraq. The group's Syrian commanders were also the key channel for financial contributions from the Saudi and Gulf region, according to the Quilliam Foundation.

Under Abu Du'a's leadership, the ISI has stepped up sectarian attacks against Shiite targets in Baghdad and elsewhere with a series of suicide bombings and assassinations.

Analysts believe the Nusra Front's hostility to the West could create an "over-the-horizon" threat to the United States and its allies if the group is able to secure a foothold in Syria and across the Levant.

In such a scenario, al Qaeda-aligned groups would operate close to Arab borders with Israel, improving their potential to launch a direct attack against the country, long an objective of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's current leader.

By: Tim Lister, CNN

HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • National NewsMore>>

  • Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd

    Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd

    Thursday, November 23 2017 2:00 AM EST2017-11-23 07:00:14 GMT

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd.

    More >>

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd.

    More >>
  • Commission alerted to review allegations against TripAdvisor

    Commission alerted to review allegations against TripAdvisor

    Thursday, November 23 2017 1:07 AM EST2017-11-23 06:07:07 GMT

    BOSTON (AP) - The Federal Trade Commission could take action against TripAdvisor after the Massachusetts-based travel company was accused of deleting hotel reviews that contained allegations of rape and other crimes. Several people told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this month they were sexually assaulted at Mexican hotels and resorts but the online reviews that mentioned the crimes were taken down. The Boston Globe says after the report was published Democratic Wi...

    More >>

    BOSTON (AP) - The Federal Trade Commission could take action against TripAdvisor after the Massachusetts-based travel company was accused of deleting hotel reviews that contained allegations of rape and other crimes. Several people told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this month they were sexually assaulted at Mexican hotels and resorts but the online reviews that mentioned the crimes were taken down. The Boston Globe says after the report was published Democratic Wi...

    More >>
  • The Latest: States investigate Uber over massive data breach

    The Latest: States investigate Uber over massive data breach

    Wednesday, November 22 2017 9:22 PM EST2017-11-23 02:22:07 GMT

    NEW YORK (AP) - The Latest on the data breach at Uber (all times local):  6:30 p.m. More U.S. states say they're investigating Uber over the ride-hailing company's massive data breach.    Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, sent a letter Wednesday telling Uber to notify customers if their personal information might have been affected and demanding that the ride-hailing company make changes to protect data.    Massachusetts Attorney ...

    More >>

    NEW YORK (AP) - The Latest on the data breach at Uber (all times local):  6:30 p.m. More U.S. states say they're investigating Uber over the ride-hailing company's massive data breach.    Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, sent a letter Wednesday telling Uber to notify customers if their personal information might have been affected and demanding that the ride-hailing company make changes to protect data.    Massachusetts Attorney ...

    More >>
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • Armed carjacking and shooting at Best Western in Airway Heights sends one to hospital

    Armed carjacking and shooting at Best Western in Airway Heights sends one to hospital

    Thursday, November 23 2017 9:07 AM EST2017-11-23 14:07:26 GMT

    AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Spokane County Sheriff's Deputies are investigating a reported armed carjacking that ended with one person being shot at a hotel in Airway Heights. The incident occurred just after 4:30am Thanksgiving morning at the Best Western on S. Geiger Blvd. near the Spokane Airport. According to authorities, a guest at the hotel came down to the lobby and appeared to have been assaulted.

    More >>

    AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Spokane County Sheriff's Deputies are investigating a reported armed carjacking that ended with one person being shot at a hotel in Airway Heights. The incident occurred just after 4:30am Thanksgiving morning at the Best Western on S. Geiger Blvd. near the Spokane Airport. According to authorities, a guest at the hotel came down to the lobby and appeared to have been assaulted.

    More >>
  • Moses Lake woman arrested for attempting to sell stolen pocket watches online

    Moses Lake woman arrested for attempting to sell stolen pocket watches online

    Thursday, November 23 2017 2:11 AM EST2017-11-23 07:11:18 GMT

    MOSES LAKE, Wash. - Moses Lake Police Officers arrested 21-year-old Brittany Strong Wednesday morning after she attempted to sell stolen property via a Facebook buy and sell page. Just a week ago today she was arrested for stealing hundreds of pieces of mail in the Peninsula area of Moses Lake. Officers say they received several tips from our Facebook readers Tuesday that Strong was trying to sell two antique gold watches. 

    More >>

    MOSES LAKE, Wash. - Moses Lake Police Officers arrested 21-year-old Brittany Strong Wednesday morning after she attempted to sell stolen property via a Facebook buy and sell page. Just a week ago today she was arrested for stealing hundreds of pieces of mail in the Peninsula area of Moses Lake. Officers say they received several tips from our Facebook readers Tuesday that Strong was trying to sell two antique gold watches. 

    More >>
  • Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd

    Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd

    Thursday, November 23 2017 2:00 AM EST2017-11-23 07:00:14 GMT

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd.

    More >>

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Wednesday, November 22nd.

    More >>