Syria’s sharp criticism of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 opened a particularly tense phase in Syrian-American relations, culminating in the May 2004 imposition of U.S. economic sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act. While accusing Damascus of being on the “wrong side” in the wars against terror and Iraq, Washington has raised a number of other issues, including Syria’s military presence in Lebanon, its support for Hizballah and various Palestinian factions, its alleged “interference” in Iraq, and its possible possession of weapons of mass destruction. This report, based on numerous interviews with government officials, analysts, opposition figures, and ordinary citizens, examines Syria’s reactions to these allegations, gradual changes in Syrian political culture, and various domestic developments.
Anders Strindberg is the United Nations correspondent for Jane’s Intelligence Review and formerly a visiting professor in the department of history, Damascus University. This article draws on research funded in part by the U.S. Institute of Peace. Quotes are taken from author conversations in Damascus in March and April 2004, unless otherwise stated.