A senior Baath party organizer and former aide to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, has been named by western intelligence officials as one of the key figures directing the Sunni insurgency from his hiding-place in neighboring Syria. \nSources say that Younis al-Ahmed -- who has had a US$1 million price tag placed on his head by the US -- is one of between 20 and 50 senior Baath party figures based in Syria who, they believe, are involved in organizing the guerrilla war against the US-led multi-national forces in Iraq and against the new Iraqi security forces. \nThe naming of Ahmed comes amid growing concern that hardline factions in Syria are providing protection for cells still loyal to the old Iraqi regime who were involved in organizing the flow of money, people and material for fighters in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. This is despite Syrian moves to tighten up its border with Iraq after complaints from Washington and London that arms and foreign terrorists were crossing into Iraq. \nThe intelligence officials believe the activities of the Syrian- based former regime members -- who quickly formed into cells after the fall of Saddam -- may be a considerably more significant threat to the interim government of Ayad Allawi than the more widely visible activities of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been behind a series of beheadings and suicide bombings. \nBefore the 1m dollar bounty was placed on his head, Ahmed, also known as "Khadr al-Sabahi," had been traveling between Syria and the Sunni triangle to direct fighting and disburse funds. More recently, however, say sources, he has remained in Syria, choosing not to risk capture by crossing the border. \nThe naming of Ahmed, and the allegation that he is basing himself permanently in Syria, seems designed to pressure the Syrian authorities to clamp down on the activities of ex-regime officials operating there. \nLittle is known about Ahmed save that he was a senior regional Baath party organizer with links to Saddam's feared internal intelligence service, and there is some suggestion he may have received training in Moscow at some point. \n"The main organizational strength behind the insurgency is Baathist military intelligence types who enjoy safe refuge in Syria," said one official. "So although Syria has clamped down on the border, they have not done anything about the planners and organizers. We are talking about 20-50 people who have access to funds, who know how to organize and use existing networks and are adept at reforming into cells." \nThe new assessment that former Baath party officials in hiding in Syria might, in reality, be more significant than Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, suggests an important change in emphasis in the understanding of the increasingly more violent insurgency. \nZarqawi, some officials now believe, could not survive "if he was not tolerated and exploited by the old Baathists." \nThe claim that Ahmed is continuing to direct the insurgency from inside Syria is a further embarrassment for the Anglophile President Bashar Assad, who has been keen to modernize his country. It follows an number of incidents of mortar-fire across the Syrian border towards US positions inside Iraq, most recently on Friday. And the disclosure of Ahmed's role from Syria comes amid growing concern in Baghdad and western capitals over the increasing evidence of destabilizing external interference in Iraq's affairs. \nBoth Arab and Western diplomats admit that there is evidence of arms, money and fighters coming into Iraq from Saudi Arabia but that it is almost impossible to quantify at what level. Indeed, Saudi officials are as concerned with weapons coming into Saudi. \nThe Saudis are also worried that a failed state in Iraq would allow terrorists to set up camps close to its vast border to target the kingdom. Officials believe Saudi money is helping to finance the jihadist groups in Iraq -- like Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group -- but are not certain what amounts are involved. \nAnd while UK forces have been brought in to help seal the smuggling routes in the desert areas that border Jordan, control of the Iraq-Saudi border area is complicated by the huge distances, awkward terrain and difficult helicopter flying conditions. \nIranian factions, centered around the Republican Guards and religious leaders in Qom, have also been accused of financing of Iraqi Shia political and militia groups including the firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr with the aim of "pricking the US." The disclosure, however, that it is largely regime officials who are leading and funding the insurgency, tapping into a widespread discontent among many Iraqis, will raise questions again over whether the resistance is conforming in large part to a plan prepared before the fall of Baghdad. \n"The idea that it was organized before the war is beginning to reassert itself," said Rosemary Hollis of The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, London. \n"There is a thesis that is gaining some currency with Arab nationalists that this definitely required a lot of preparation. There is also an increasingly long-term view, that they are playing a long game and, with a properly managed resistance, this is a conflict that can be won and that the Americans can be forced to go home," she said.
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