Wikileaks document alleges Syrian government role in 2006 cartoon riots, embassy attacks

posted at 9:51 am on December 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The latest Wikileaks document from American diplomatic files may not embarrass the US government nearly as much as it might the Assad regime in Syria.  In February 2006, enraged Muslims took to the streets of Damascus in protest over the publication of editorial cartoons that depicted Mohammed, and put the Danish and Norwegian embassies to the torch.  The newly-released document relayed intelligence back to Washington that not only had the Assad regime condoned the attacks on the embassies, they purposefully incited the riots — and cracked down when the wrong embassy was in danger of attack (via Islam in Europe):

1. (C) Summary:  An influential Sunni sheikh provided details February 6 that seem to confirm SARG [State Dept acronym meaning Syrian Arab Republic Government — Ed] involvement in escalating the situation that led to the violent rioting in Damascus two days earlier, including communications between the PMs office and the Grand Mufti. He also noted that SARG authorities now seem intent on identifying a few scapegoats to be blamed for the incidents. The Danish Ambassador confirmed to us separately that the Minster of the Awqaaf had inflamed the situation the day before the rioting, with his remarks at Friday prayers in a mosque. End Summary.

2. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx one of the most influential Sunni religious figures in Damascus, provided PolChief February 6 with his assessment of SARG involvement in the run-up to the violent February 4 demonstrations (and its reaction in their aftermath). He noted that PM Naji al-Otri several days before the demonstrations instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus, without setting any ceilings on the type of language to be used. Hasson complied with the order. (Note: Several Muslim contacts have confirmed that sermons based on these instructions were delivered, criticizing the publishing of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and condemning the actions of the Danish, Norwegian, and French governments. An Egyptian diplomat reported that the sermon he heard was critical but not inciteful.)

3. (C) PM Otri also instructed Hassoun and Minister of the Awqaf Ayoubi that if diplomatic representatives from the Danish and Norwegian Embassies attempted to deliver apologies to them and to seek their assistance in defusing the situation, they were to take a hard line and insist that the only way forward was for the PMs of the two countries to issue official apologies.

At one point, however, the rioters got a little out of control and headed for the French embassy.  Rather than stand around and do nothing, as the security forces of the police state did with the Danish and Norwegian embassies, the Assad regime made it clear to the rioters that they needed to leave the French out of it:

6. (C) After the Danish Embassy was attacked (along with the Swedish and Chilean missions housed in the same building) and the Norwegian Embassy was torched, Syrian security officers acted much more resolutely to prevent damage at the French Embassy. Sheikh xxxxx friend Ayoubi, the Minister of the Awqaaf, was on the scene trying to calm the demonstrators and get them to disperse. Ayoubi told xxxxxxx that the senior Syrian security officer then informed him “Thats it. Tell them to disperse or we will use live ammunition” to stop the rioting and to prevent them from storming the Embassy.

After the burnings and rioting had continued long enough for the point to be made, Assad put an end to it — but only after the intended messages were received, loud and clear.  The message for domestic consumption was significantly different than what Assad wanted the US and other Western nations to learn from the riots:

7. (C) xxxxxxx assessed that the SARG allowed the rioting to continue for an extended period and then, when it felt that “the message had been delivered,” it reacted with serious threats of force to stop it. He described the message to the U.S. and the broader international community as follows: “This is what you will have if we allow true democracy and allow Islamists to rule.” To the Islamic street all over the region, the message was that the SARG is protecting the dignity of Islam, and that the SARG is allowing Muslims freedom on the streets of Damascus they are not allowed on the streets of Cairo, Amman, or Tunis.

None of this should surprise anyone; I wrote at the time that the riot looked like “well-planned spontaneity,” and that organization was evident in both the preparation and the surprisingly quick dispersal of “rioters.”  The role of imams in the Friday sermons has also been well known, and most people assumed that the government gave at least tacit approval to incitement of the rioters.

Now it appears that they ordered it — and picked the targets themselves, at least according to the intel collected by the US intelligence and diplomatic services at the time.  That is a different kettle of fish.  Although it’s beyond unlikely that the Danes and Norwegians would do anything about it, an attack on an embassy is an act of war, especially if directed by the host government.  If nothing else, that should force a reconsideration of the Assad regime and its role in the Middle East, perhaps especially by benighted American politicians who travel there for photo ops.

Assad certainly succeeded on one level.  His message about the inability of Arabs to handle democracy has been absorbed by the West, which has curtailed its pro-democracy push in the region considerably since that time.  The real lesson, though, is that dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat, and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

Update: I forgot to hat-tip Islam in Europe for the story; my apologies.


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“well planned spontaneity”, ha! :)

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 9:57 AM

dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat

Well put, Ed. Pretty much sums up a whole lot of what goes on in the middle east, and in Muslim enclaves in Europe.

iurockhead on December 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

Regime change we can believe in!

rightside on December 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

I can’t wait to hear a reporter question John Kerry about this…

myrenovations on December 28, 2010 at 10:05 AM

Wikileaks pretends to be an anti-war organization..in reality what they are doing will increase tensions between nations, increase mistrust between nations and potentially start a war..way to go Assange

galtg on December 28, 2010 at 10:05 AM

reset?

cmsinaz on December 28, 2010 at 10:05 AM

religion of peace.
/

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Why not use the pic of Nancy on her visit to Syria?

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Why not use the pic of Nancy on her visit to Syria?

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:07 AM

was thinking the same thing…

cmsinaz on December 28, 2010 at 10:08 AM

This is all the fault of those joooooooooooos….

(c)xxxxxxxxxxxxxx/

SHARPTOOTH on December 28, 2010 at 10:13 AM

Wikileaks has turned out to be surprisingly helpful for conservatives. I’d love to know how the leak about Cuba being angry at Michael Moore played out between Moore and Assange.

hawksruleva on December 28, 2010 at 10:15 AM

Well there is a link to it. And from there goes to the LGF page where it’s posted as well. I’m surprised that hasn’t been taken down, given the way that place has changed.

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:15 AM

And to think the US govt. knew all about this at the time and took no action about it.

albill on December 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

The real lesson, though, is that dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat, and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

Starting to sound a little like what happens around here…spontaneous union, ACORN, SEIU, et, al demonstrations…huh…who whould have thought.

PatriotRider on December 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat

Well put, Ed. Pretty much sums up a whole lot of what goes on in the middle east, and in Muslim enclaves in Europe.

iurockhead on December 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

Hey! What am I, chopped liver?

- Barry O.

turfmann on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

Why not use the pic of Nancy on her visit to Syria?

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:07 AM

oooh, drive it home deep.

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

assange is such a prick for revealing these fascinating bits of information.

he just made it much more difficult for syria to conduct foreign policy in the future. no one will trust them now! they should try him for treason.

sesquipedalian on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

The real lesson, though, is that dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat, and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

http://912member.blogspot.com/2010/05/nina-easton-on-seius-protest-of-private.html

http://www.seattlepi.com/business/404117_aigbus22.html?source=mypi

thugs, storm troopers and mindless radicals…

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:23 AM

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

Ha!

perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

President Bush believed in that theory…I wonder if this President does.

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Why not use the pic of Nancy on her visit to Syria?

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Yes, with caption saying she legitimized this Government/terrorist dictator!

bluemarlin on December 28, 2010 at 10:28 AM

bluemarlin on December 28, 2010 at 10:28 AM

And throw in a pic of John Kerry wearing a scarf just for kicks!

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Don’t most governments think that they are so powerful that no information can hurt them? They just blow smoke and no one questions anything.

Cindy Munford on December 28, 2010 at 10:32 AM

Some of us have always considered Syria a member of the Axis of Evil, this just proves it.

Don’t ya just love that picture? An islamic radical rioter doing the ‘peace sign’ … yet another in a loooong list of things they have in common with our buddies on the Left.

Tony737 on December 28, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Don’t most governments think that they are so powerful that no information can hurt them? They just blow smoke and no one questions anything.

Cindy Munford on December 28, 2010 at 10:32 AM

Most governments try to control information. That’s one of the major ways they stay in power. The internet is censored in China, Pol Pot killed all the teachers and in many Nazi occupied areas having a radio was a death sentence.

Tommy_G on December 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM

and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

unfortunately, this is the epitome of democracy, or mob rule. I think you meant freedom and liberty as a means to encourage reason and logic rather than the emotional outbursts that are guided by the Syrian government, I mean, c’mon, they’re cartoons you dullards.

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM

OT, but this is gonna leave a scar on poor ole Barry.

Ouch.

Key West Reader on December 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM

he just made it much more difficult for syria to conduct foreign policy in the future. no one will trust them now! they should try him for treason.

sesquipedalian on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

I’m sure they have lost some trust, but of course you realize treason is limited to those betraying their own country. It’s a poor satire attempt.

Esthier on December 28, 2010 at 10:47 AM

bluemarlin on December 28, 2010 at 10:28 AM

And throw in a pic of John Kerry wearing a scarf just for kicks!

scalleywag on December 28, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Why do I suspect he probably has a montage of pics like that?

bluemarlin on December 28, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Tommy_G on December 28, 2010 at 10:44 AM

But nothing seems to have come from this Wikileaks mess. I don’t know what I expected but seriously it has been anti-climatic. I worried most about the troops and our allies and I guess if there have been repercussions it is being kept from the public. To be leaked later I suppose.

Cindy Munford on December 28, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Cindy Munford on December 28, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Repercussions have already started. People who might have helped now won’t. People who have helped in the past have now been exposed. Do you suppose the Taliban will be forgiving to them? Trust has been broken, allies compromised, and the US has been made yet again to look foolish in the eyes of the world. This has undermined our effectiveness in all aspect of world diplomacy and peace keeping. Not to mention the bad precedent it sets if Assange is allowed to get away with it.

Tommy_G on December 28, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Ouch.

Key West Reader on December 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM


Obama … is famous in the way that celebrities, rather than prime ministers and presidents are famous.

Hahaha OUCH is right!

Tony737 on December 28, 2010 at 11:00 AM

The real lesson, though, is that dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat, and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

We are on the verge of financial and military exhaustion, and yet we still refuse to entertain the idea that we have a magic fix-it pill for the Middle East’s woes.

Democracy is not Christianity – it is not a one-for-all cure. And we may soon be tasting its bitter fruits after a little over 200 years, while evil godless athiest nations like China and Russia chug merrily along.

Dark-Star on December 28, 2010 at 11:02 AM

This is news? Ooooh, now we have documentation that the riots were from well-organized communities. The “own goals” from Wikileaks just keep on comin’

Sekhmet on December 28, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Obama’s soft power approach emphasizes the ‘soft’ and forgets the ‘power’. It neglects even Clinton era understandings about the role of America in the world, and reverts instead to a Carter era sense of guilt that bleeds into hostility toward American interests and allies.

whoa. thanks to Key West for the link. that is certainly going to leave a mark.

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Underhanded government acts underhanded.

Act of war? Not if the countries that were attacked apologize for being attacked.

Limerick on December 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM

I am pleased that Wiki has made this information available – it shows how corrupt the Governments are . as if we didn’t know tho ..

wheels on December 28, 2010 at 11:11 AM

If they were no longer Mr. and Mrs., than she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Otherwise she has none.

Heck, my mother once admitted that expecting the same level of privacy when you shared the same bed every night with someone was beyond absurd.

Dark-Star on December 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM

Sorry! Wrong thread, plz. delete!

Dark-Star on December 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM

“This is what you will have if we allow true democracy and allow Islamists to rule.”

Translation: My head will be on a pike and you will have to nuke most of the Middle East.

Sounds like another win-win to me.

Kafir on December 28, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Nobody is surprised Syria would pull this kind of crap. This is the real take away here +100:

And to think the US govt. knew all about this at the time and took no action about it.

albill on December 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

WitchDoctor on December 28, 2010 at 11:19 AM

The real lesson, though, is that Muslim dictatorships can call up informal storm troopers at the drop of a hat, and that perhaps democracy is the best bulwark against mindless radicalism after all.

FIFY, Ed.

pseudonominus on December 28, 2010 at 11:20 AM

Key West Reader on December 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Awesome.

Disseminate that far and wide, Key West.

pseudonominus on December 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM

assange is such a prick for revealing these fascinating bits of information.

he just made it much more difficult for syria to conduct foreign policy in the future. no one will trust them now! they should try him for treason.

sesquipedalian on December 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

Wouldn’t it be funny to learn that the attempt to shut down Wikileaks and stop Assange, possibly with jail, may be an attempt to save his life. Some nations are not as tolerant to embarrassment as we are. Some with deadly results.

Phil-351 on December 28, 2010 at 12:34 PM

“Cartoon riots.”

Just stop and reflect for a second, about how freaking crazy and stupid these people must be….

logis on December 28, 2010 at 1:58 PM

religion of peace.
/

ted c on December 28, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Yeah. They didn’t like the cartoons depicting Mohammad and Muslims in general as rabid beasts so they protest by acting like… rabid beasts.

Yakko77 on December 28, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Key West Reader on December 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM

DUDE!

That was the singular most brutal yet accurate analysis of the Obama Admin. I’ve read in a long tine.

Yakko77 on December 28, 2010 at 7:10 PM

And to think the US govt. knew all about this at the time and took no action about it.

albill on December 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

Vice President Cheney wanted to get the Syrians for their role in allowing bombers into Iraq… certainly this was one more reason. We have too many liberals in the country though… I remember how bad the opposition was at the time, do you? Nearly the whole country seemed like it had lost its mind.

scotash on December 29, 2010 at 6:11 PM