Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Death in Syria

Syria's Interior Minister has reportedly "committed suicide." Note the quotation marks, since the announcement--from Syrian state media--doesn't say where or how General Ghazi Kannan died.

The Jawa Report has a detailed summary and extensive links on the story. For more than 20 years, General Kannan ran Syrian intelligence in occupied Lebanon, and there is considerable speculation that his sudden "death" may have its basis in that previous assignment. Earlier this year, Syria was forced to withdraw from Lebanon, after its agents were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. International outrage over Hariri's death (in a massive car bombing) sparked the so-called "Cedar Revolution" which compelled Damascus to end its military occupation of Lebanon.

While Kannan became Interior Minister before the Hariri assassination, it was his network of agents and operatives that likely carried out the plot and when events went sour, he got the blame. In the cut-throat world of the Assad government, that is enough to warrant a death sentence, particularly when senior Sryian officials made millions of dollars a year from their Lebanese "business interests." With Syrian withdrawal (and the sudden loss of income), there was plenty of clamoring for Kannan's head within the Damascus government. President Bashir Assad (whose own future is far from assured) was only happy to oblige.

But there are other factors which may have prompted Kanaan's demise. The UN is scheduled to release a report on Hariri's death in a couple of weeks, and their investigators interviewed Kanaan on the subject. While Kanaan is a leading suspect in the Hariri assassination, any plan of that sort would have required approval at the highest level of the Syrian government. Kanaan's death provides a convenient scapegoat for the Lebanese and the world community, deflecting attention from other conspirators within the Syrian government.

Just hours before his death was announced, Kanaan granted a final interview to a Lebanese journalist. He ended the interview with the chilling (and prophetic) words, "you won't hear from me again." It will be interesting to see if any of Kanaan's former colleages meet a similar fate, as the Assad government tries to distance itself from Syria's murderous activities in Lebanon.

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