The USG Open Source Center surveys the Middle Eastern press reaction to the US raid on Abu al-Kamal in Syria, finding it mostly negative and based on Syrian reports. Lesson: If the US had just gotten word out about its side of the story more quickly and effectively, it might have blunted the generally negative reation in the region. It appears that Washington did no public diplomacy at all around the episode. This report concerns the Middle East and so does not mention that Russia condemed the attack, as well.
OSC Report: Middle East Reaction to US Operation in Syria
Monday, October 27, 2008
Middle East — Limited Official Reaction Mostly Condemns US Operation in Syria As of 1830 GMT on 27 October, OSC has monitored limited reaction in the Middle East to the US operation in the vicinity of Abu Kamal in northeastern Syria, news of which came too late for extensive print media coverage or comment on the 27th. Apart from harsh Syrian condemnation, limited official comment elsewhere generally condemned the US operation. Official Iraqi reaction suggested some confusion within the Iraqi Government. Most regional media reporting of the incident cited Syrian claims that the target and victims of the attack were entirely civilian in nature.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu’alim, at a press conference in London, denounced the operation as a “criminal, terrorist act” that was “not a mistake” but “deliberate.” He branded as “lies” claims that Syria is turning a blind eye toward terrorist activities by Al-Qa’ida or other terrorist organizations operating from Syrian territory and asserted that all the casualties were “unarmed Syrian civilians” (Al-Jazirah TV, 27 October). Both state-controlled and nominally independent Syrian newspapers echoed the official line.
Official Iraqi comment suggested uncertainty on the part of government officials.
As quoted by AP, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh implicitly endorsed the operation, describing the area in which it occurred as “a theater of military operations where anti-Iraq terrorist activity takes place” (27 October).
Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Labid Abbawi, however, described the incident as “regrettable” and said that “we are sorry it happened” (AP, 27 October).
A separate Foreign Ministry statement said that Iraq would provide Syria with the results of the Iraqi investigation into the incident, which demonstrated the “extreme importance of joint security coordination and cooperation between the two countries” (PUKMedia, 27 October).
Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa condemned the operation, saying that he is “holding constant contacts with the Syrian authorities and listening to Syrian reports on what happened” (MENA Online, 27 October). Iranian
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi condemned the operation, saying that the “murder of innocent people” is “unacceptable” (IRNA, 27 October).
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Baraq implied approval of the operation but distanced Israel from the incident.
He told the independent daily Ma’ariv : “It was a pinpointed strike against a terrorist target. Israel was not involved in it in any way. We had no part in the matter” (27 October). Media Coverage Largely Based on Syrian Accounts
The two major pan-Arab news channels, Al-Jazirah and Al-Arabiyah, led their 27 October newscasts with the story, airing videos from the scene as well as statements and interviews with locals, journalists, and officials. The two channels’ coverage provided both Syrian and American as well as Iraqi perspectives on the incident.
The Qatari Government-financed Al-Jazirah interviewed former US Ambassador David Mack, who justified the operation as a “last resort” in response to the infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq across the Syrian border. It also carried a Syrian TV clip of a woman said to be a victim of the operation, and its own correspondent’s statement that witnesses claimed US soldiers fired “indiscriminately” during the operation.
The mostly Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyah aired a video from the scene of the attack. It also carried an interview with Iraqi Member of Parliament Jabir Habib Jabir, who maintained in the face of skeptical questioning from the channel’s correspondent that the area of the operation was used to smuggle weapons and fighters into Iraq.
Reportage of the incident on 27 October in the Saudi -owned London dailies Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayah, as well as the domestic Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, cited official Syrian accounts. State-run Saudi TV1, in its report, cited “the Iraqi Government” as saying that the operation targeted “fighters” inside Syria.
Reports in Egyptian, Jordanian, and Turkish media on the 27th were largely based on wire service accounts, which in turn mostly cited official Syrian reports.
The headline in the independent, pro-government UAE daily Al-Khalij on the 27th reported “US Aggression Against Syria,” while the independent Qatari daily Al-Arab adopted neutral language in reporting the incident.