ABU KAMAL, Syria -
The U.S. incursion into Syria late last month put this eastern border
town near Iraq on the world stage and many of its residents on edge.
"At the beginning of the war, we were scared. Then we got used to
it. Now we're scared again - and angry," said Yusef Tara, who spoke to
a reporter near the site of the Oct. 26 U.S. commando raid against an
alleged al Qaeda in Iraq hideout that Damascus says killed eight
In this tightly controlled police state that had been trying to
change its image and end years of global seclusion, protest groups are
now allowed to stage anti-American rallies. And even though YouTube is
banned, video footage of four U.S. helicopters carrying out the raid is
making the rounds on cell phones.
The anti-American sentiment is in sharp contrast to months of
toned-down rhetoric against the Bush administration as the two
countries edged toward serious talks. The United States had been
pleased that Syria accepted Iraqi refugees, made peace overtures to
Israel, established full relations with Lebanon and shared intelligence
about al Qaeda radicals. Two months ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice met in New York with her Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, in the
highest-level talks between the two nations since 2005.
At the same time, the United States accused Syria of not doing
enough to curb the flow of militant fighters from Syria into Iraq.
Now, the local media refers to the United States in language
reserved for Israel after a military operation in the West Bank or Gaza
Strip - war crimes, martyrs, terrorists and deaths of innocent
"This is the first time in Syrian-U.S. bilateral relations since
1945 (the year diplomatic relations were established) that the
Americans attacked Syria," said Sami Moubayed, a political analyst in
Damascus, Syria's capitol. "The raid makes it difficult for bilateral
After the incursion, Al-Arabiya television reported that Iraqi
troops had increased the number of personnel near Abu Kamal, a town of
about 30,000 residents that borders Iraq's Anbar province and has no
paved roads, daily power outages and cement homes with dirt floors.
Syria also sent additional troops to the frontier, but has since
withdrawn them to reduce security cooperation with the United States,
At the site of the raid, a large cement building under construction
along the Euphrates River, there is an eerie calm as military police
stand guard in an isolated area accessible by a bumpy, dirt road.
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U.S. officials say the raid killed Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi who they
believe was a top al Qaeda in Iraq militant operating a network that
smuggled fighters into Iraq to carry out suicide bombings and other
operations. They say several of his bodyguards were also killed.
As Saoud Rak Khalif entered the building, he viewed dried blood,
shattered glass and walls pockmarked with bullet holes. His brother
Ahmed, a 21-year-old construction worker, died during the raid by U.S.
"They did to us what they're doing to the Iraqis," Khalif said. "I
have nothing against the American people. But they attacked civilians.
This is terrorism."
Another fatality was Ali Abbas Ramadan, whom family members described as a 35-year-old construction site guard.
"I was in a tent when the helicopters came. The (American) soldiers
came to inspect it. I don't know why," said 7-year-old Mariam Ramadan,
Ramadan's daughter. "They were speaking a foreign language, and I
didn't understand anything."
Syria has demanded that Washington apologize for the strike and has
threatened to cut off cooperation on Iraqi border security. The
government has also ordered all foreign staff of the American Language
Center and American Cultural Center in Damascus to leave the country,
and postponed a Nov. 12 meeting of a joint Syrian-Iraqi committee in
Baghdad to improve troubled relations.
Baha Rakad, a member of the Human Rights Association in Syria, has
pledged to file a lawsuit in Syrian courts against President Bush and
the Pentagon on behalf of the victims of the raid.
Meanwhile, political analyst Moubayed points out that Syria's
response to the raid has so far been restrained and that President
Bashar Assad has expressed hope that Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the
U.S. presidential election will bring "constructive dialogue."
"We did not expel the U.S. charge d'affaires, nor recall our
ambassador," Moubayed said. "We are keeping room for future dialogue
with President Obama."