• October surprise?
    October 28,2008

    With the presidential election just around the corner, an American attack inside Syria an attack that reportedly killed four children as well as four adults may have political consequences at home while stirring up anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

    Although there has been scant coverage of the attack in the American media, it made headlines overseas, and the foreign coverage hasn't helped the international reputation of the United States. How it plays at home is yet to be determined. Some may see it as a heroic assault upon American enemies, others as an unwise provocation.

    The London-based Observer reported that American helicopters flying from a base in Iraq landed inside Syria Sunday and dropped off Special Forces who killed eight people. It reported that Washington acknowledged it had targeted "foreign fighters." Syria, The Observer continued, warned it held the United States "wholly responsible for this act of aggression and all its repercussions."

    The Observer report described the dead as Syrian civilians, five of them members of the same family. Doctors said another seven people were taken to hospital with bullet wounds.According to Syrian state television, the target was a farm five miles from the Iraqi border.

    "The attack threatened to unleash a new wave of anti-U.S. feeling in Syria and across the Middle East," The Observer said. "The country's president, Bashar al-Assad, is being courted by Europe and had been looking forward to improved relations with Washington after the Nov. 4 presidential election."

    In Damascus, the Syrian government summoned the American charge d'affaires to explain the attack and called on the Iraqi government to prevent its airspace being used in such a way in future.

    "This is an outrageous raid which is against international law," Syria's ambassador to Britain, Sami al-Khiyami, told the Reuters news agency. "It is a terrible crime. We are expecting clarifications from the Americans."

    So are the American people. In Washington, an unnamed military official told reporters the raid targeted elements of a "foreign fighter logistics network" and was carried out because of Syrian inaction. He said the United States was "taking matters into our own hands."

    Last Thursday, Major Gen. John Kelly, the commander of American forces in western Iraq, told reporters his troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border. Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was "a different story."

    In Baghdad, an Iraqi spokesman told Reuters "the attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq." The United States hopes for an agreement with Iraq to allow American troops to stay on Iraqi soil and carry out military missions. The agreement is vigorously opposed by Syria, Iran and others because they fear it will lead to American attacks on them.

    One Syrian newspaper labeled Sunday's attack a war crime. Meanwhile, The Observer said a political analyst told the Arabic-language TV news channel al-Jazeera it "will raise questions as to why this is happening towards the end of the current (American) administration."

    Last year Gen. David Petraeus, the then-commander of American forces in Iraq, praised Syria's cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq. But Syria refused to resume intelligence-sharing with the United States because Washington has not named an ambassador to Damascus.

    It's difficult to predict how this will all play out between now and next Tuesday, but some may wonder if this might be the proverbial "October surprise."

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