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Sunday, March 4, 2012
U.S. Officials: Iran Is Stepping Up Lethal Aid To Syria
By Joby Warrick and Liz Sly
Death toll rises amid continuing attacks by government forces
officials say they see Iran’s hand in the increasingly brutal crackdown on
opposition strongholds in Syria, including evidence of Iranian military and
intelligence support for government troops accused of mass executions and other
atrocities in the past week.
U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports from the region described a
spike in Iranian-supplied arms and other aid for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad
at a time when the regime is mounting an unprecedented offensive to crush
resistance in the key city of Homs.
aid from Iran is increasing, and is increasingly focused on lethal assistance,”
said one of the officials, insisting on anonymity to discuss intelligence
reports from the region.
expanded Iranian role in the conflict has been underscored by reports —
supported by U.S. intelligence findings — that an Iranian operative was
recently wounded while working with Syrian security forces inside the country.
flow of military aid to Assad comes as Arab states are considering arming the
regime’s opponents, raising the risk of a wider conflict that U.S. officials
fear could spread to neighboring countries.
addition, the intelligence reports about rising Iranian support for Syria come
as U.S. officials are seeking to rally international support for efforts to
drive Assad from power without resorting to arming the rebels — a move the
Obama administration has opposed. The portrayal offered by the three officials
quoted in this article is more detailed than previously reported; such
accounts are generally difficult to verify independently.
has made no secret of its support for the Assad regime, though President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made repeated calls for a peaceful solution to the
conflict, which began almost a year ago.
‘Big guys wearing black’
U.S. intelligence assessments are in line with recent reports by Syrian rebels,
who say Iran’s involvement in the crackdown has escalated. Opposition leaders,
citing high-ranking defectors from the Syrian military, say Iran has dispatched
hundreds of advisers, security officials and intelligence operatives to Syria,
along with weapons, money and electronic surveillance equipment.
has been involved in the crackdown by Assad on a much larger scale than
previously thought,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based Syrian activist
and a member of the Syria Working Group of the Foundation for Defense of
Democracies, a Washington think tank.
of Syrian troops being accompanied by black-bearded men speaking a foreign
language and assumed to be Iranian have circulated widely inside Syria for many
months, but activists acknowledge they have little hard evidence that Iranians
are actually participating in the offensives.
saw some evidence, but we can’t prove it,” said Omar Shakir, who fled to
Lebanon from the former opposition stronghold of Bab Amr in Homs a week ago.
“We have seen tall guys, big guys wearing black.”
Free Syrian Army is holding seven Iranians captured in Homs in December. The
Iranian government says they are power-plant workers, but the rebels assert
that they were working for the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Eleven Iranian pilgrims
abducted in January are still missing, Iran’s Press TV reported Saturday.
belief that Shiite-dominated Iran is aiding the Syrian crackdown has helped
sharpen sectarian sentiments among those in the mostly Sunni country seeking to
topple the Assad regime, which is dominated by members of Assad’s minority
Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
have also been widespread but unproven allegations that the Lebanese Shiite
Hezbollah militia is aiding the crackdown. Sunni-dominated Arab states, such as
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have advocated arming the opposition.
officials declined to address allegations about specific acts. But one of the
officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said intelligence agencies
have documented reports of a wide range of assistance.
supplied equipment, weapons and technical assistance — even monitoring tools —
to help suppress unrest,” the official said. “Iranian security officials also
traveled to Damascus to help deliver this assistance.”
second senior U.S. official said members of Iran’s main intelligence service,
the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, are assisting Syrian counterparts in
charge of the crackdown. Last month, the Obama administration imposed sanctions
against the intelligence service, citing “financial, material and technological
support” for the Syrian crackdown. The Obama administration had previously
imposed sanctions against Iran’s elite Quds Force for providing training and
equipment to Syrian security units.
intelligence service played a key role in Tehran’s crackdown on the country’s
Green Movement in 2009 and is associated with allegations of sexual abuse,
torture and mock executions of protesters.
now is believed be “exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian
regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” said David S. Cohen, the
Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence
head of the Quds Force, Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, also has paid at least one
visit to Damascus in recent weeks, U.S. officials said.
Vice President Najah al-Attar, hosting a group of visiting journalists Saturday
in Damascus, hailed the “importance of the historical relations between Syria
ties with Iran will remain strong, being built on a principled basis as they
serve the two countries’ peoples and contribute to boosting stability in the
Middle East,” she said, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.
Report of a mass execution
the latest offensive, Syrian troops swept into the rebel enclave of Bab Amr
late last week, routing opposition fighters. The move ended a 27-day siege on
the Bab Amr neighborhood, which had been in the hands of opposition forces for
weeks. Activists and human rights groups have since accused Syrian forces of
waging a campaign of revenge on the neighborhood, executing captives, looting
homes and systematically shelling hundreds of buildings.
New York-based group Human Rights Watch said at least 700 people have been
killed in weeks of fighting in the area.
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the situation in Homs as
continued to rage across Syria on Saturday, with the opposition Local
Coordination Committees reporting the deaths of 80 people nationwide. They
included 47 soldiers said to have been shot in a mass execution after they
tried to defect in the restive northern province of Idlib.
were also reports of renewed shelling in several other neighborhoods of Homs
where the Free Syrian Army holds sway.
Syrian Arab News Agency reported that three people died in a suicide bombing in
the southern province of Daraa. It also said 21 members of the security forces
killed in the violence the previous day were given funerals.
Syrian authorities continued to deny the International Committee of the Red
Cross access to Bab Amr, two days after it was overrun by Syrian government
forces in the wake of a retreat by the Free Syrian Army. An ICRC spokesman in
Geneva told the Associated Press that the government was citing security
concerns for its refusal to allow the aid group to enter.
-This report was published in The Washington Post on 04?03/2012
-Liz Sly reported from Beirut