Elements of al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq have been moving into Syria to distribute weapons to the opposition and to carry out attacks against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
These terrorists, often described as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) carried out two recent bombings in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and likely was behind the suicide bombings on Friday in the city of Aleppo that killed at least 28 people, anonymous U.S. officials told McClatchy Newspapers.
Iraq’s Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi said in an interview with the press on Saturday that AQI has snuck across the border to aid the Syrian opposition forces with arms. “We have intelligence information that a number of Iraqi jihadists went to Syria,” he said, adding that “weapons smuggling is still ongoing” from Iraq into Syria.
“The weapons are being smuggled from Mosul through the Rabia crossing to Syria, as members of the same families live on both sides of the border,” Assadi said.
There is not yet substantial independent confirmation or evidence of these claims made by U.S. and Iraqi officials, but if it’s true it may pose a number of problems. First, the claims appear to verify Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s allegations that al-Qaeda terrorists have been involved with the uprising against his regime and go against claims by the Syrian opposition which held that Assad’s regime had staged the bombings to discredit those calling that have protested this past year.
This would harm claims by some influential figures in Washington that the U.S. ought to support the armed groups like the Free Syrian Army fighting the Assad regime. If they’re allied with al-Qaeda, it would be a difficult political sell (although the NATO-backed rebels in Libya also had similar ties).
On the other hand, there could be an attempt by Washington to use al-Qaeda’s alleged presence in Syria as a justification for a full-scale military intervention. The case could easily be made that al-Qaeda fighters and their comrades in the opposition are manifestly separate from the protest movement and that al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria is grounds for intervention under the incredibly broad mandate of the “global war on terrorism.”
The Pentagon and U.S. Central Command are currently reviewing possible U.S. military options against the Syrian regime and the specter of a proxy war of world powers in Syria has been raised as of late. But there is no indication yet of which posture the U.S. is taking in light of this supposed intelligence of jihadists in Syria.