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February 21, 2003

Syria Works to Polish Its Image

Martin Kimel points to this article. Seems Syria now getting post-Iraq war jitters.
DAMASCUS, Syria -- If there's any Middle Eastern government with reason to feel nervous about a U.S. invasion of Iraq — besides Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's — it is probably here in Syria.

War next door could bring not only sharp economic pain — Syria could lose its sweetheart deal for cheap Iraqi oil — but also the risk of social unrest, waves of refugees and a chance that biological or chemical releases could spill across the border, analysts here say.

Beyond that, the government here knows that some influential Western opinion-makers and politicians think of Syria as little more than Iraq II, painting it as a dictatorship bent on supporting terrorism, suppressing human rights and acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The fear is that hawks in the West on the issue of Iraq would not mind someday leaning on Syria too.

But rather than retreat into a defensive shell, Syrian President Bashar Assad has been laboring to shore up his nation's image, renew friendships in Europe and Russia and mount a diplomatic offensive to solidify the Arab consensus against military action.

"War against Iraq would have a direct impact on our economy," Assad argued in December while visiting London. "It would widen the gap between the Arabs and the West, set us back decades and greatly stimulate terrorism."

The most visible symbol of Syria's cooperation with the West was its surprising vote on the U.N. Security Council in November to support a tough new round of Iraqi arms inspections. [more]