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WikiLeaks: 2005-12-08: 05DAMASCUS6394: New Members of the Ba'ath Party Regional Command: Apparatchiks and Security Officers (C-NE5-00966)

Posted: Wednesday, November 09, 2011 at 06:54 PM CT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05DAMASCUS6394 2005-12-08 15:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL  / NOFORN Embassy Damascus

DE RUEHDM #6394/01 3421536
O 081536Z DEC 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 006394 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2015 
REF: STATE 213504 DAMASCUS 3049 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche,
per 1.4 b,d. 
1.  (C/NF) Summary:  The new, downsized, Ba'ath Party 
Regional Command announced at the conclusion of the June 
Party Congress includes nine new members and five holdovers. 
Included below is biographical information on eight of the 
nine (extensive biographic information on DefMin Hasan Ali 
Turkmani has already been reported and was not solicited for 
this tasking).  The most influential new members (in addition 
to Turkmani) are likely to be former GID chief Hisham 
Ikhtiyar and Presidential Advisor Haithem Satayhi. 
2.  (C/NF) Summary continued:  The others, with the possible 
exception of Speaker of the Parliament Mahmoud Abrash, have 
no national prominence and are not viewed as serious 
political players.  Abrash, who is not a senior Ba'ath Party 
member, obtained his seat on the RC because of a change in 
procedures in June that allots an RC seat to the Speaker 
(another one was already allotted to the PM).  Biographic 
information is also included on Mohammed Said Bukhaytan, as 
tasked, although he is a holdover from the previous RC, 
elected at the 2000 Party Congress, after presidential 
nomination.  While there were high hopes in reformist 
circles, both Ba'athist and non-Ba'athist, before the June 
Party Congress, there has been no significant movement on any 
of the reform agenda discussed before and during the 
Congress.  The composition of the current RC reinforces the 
perception that the senior Ba'athist body will not be an 
independent force for change.  However, given the removal in 
June of a half-dozen very senior Ba'athist Old Guard figures, 
the new RC is likely to follow Asad's lead closely and will 
not be as obstructionist as the previous RC was to any mild 
reform measures the President proposes.  It is worth noting 
that despite Asad's reputation as a reformer, he retained Old 
Guard figure Bukhaytan and nominated noted hard-liner 
Ikhtiyar, neither of whom has shown any interest in reform. 
End Summary. 
3.  (C/NF) MAHMOUD ABRASH:  Born in 1940, Speaker of 
Parliament Mahmoud Abrash is from a prominent Damascene Sunni 
family.  Rather than a part of the regime inner circle, he is 
viewed as "Sunni window dressing" and is generally thought to 
represent SARG views (by floating trial balloons) in his 
public utterances.  He attracts a lot of muted public 
opprobrium for appearing to be an opportunist.  Several 
contacts noted that he is very ambitious but cautious. 
Mildly reformist in orientation, he generally sticks to safe 
initiatives and is not considered a very gifted politician. 
He gained  his position on the Regional Command in June by 
virtue of a change in RC procedures that allots a seat to the 
Speaker of the Parliament.  He will lose the seat if he no 
longer serves as Speaker, because although he is a Ba'athist, 
he has no significant seniority in the Party.  Contacts say 
that Asad made the decision to allot a seat to the Speaker. 
(The PM also is allotted a seat by virtue of his position.) 
Abrash sponsored an America Accountability Act for a short 
period in Parliament in 2004, which was largely seen as a 
political stunt designed to generate a few media cycles of 
coverage to respond to the Syria Accountability Act.  It was 
quietly shelved after a few weeks of Parliamentary 
4.  (C/NF) Abrash obtained his current position as Speaker of 
Parliament through his wife, who serves as a senior assistant 
to First Lady Asma al-Asad, according to Dr. Riyad Abrash, a 
long-standing Embassy contact who is the Speaker's cousin. 
The wife asked for the First Lady's help in obtaining an 
appropriate post for her husband.  Subsequently, he was put 
on the National Progressive Front (Ba'ath Party-dominated) 
list of candidates for parliamentary elections in the spring 
of 2003 and several months later was selected as speaker.  It 
is likely that his move onto the RC was similarly engineered 
via his connection to the First Lady. 
5.  (C/NF) He obtained a Ph.D in engineering in France. 
Afterwards in the 1970's he worked for Akram al-Awjai, a 
Syrian arms merchant, who brokered deals with the Saudis and 
others.  Upon his return to Syria in the late 1970's he 
landed a job at the Presidential Palace, focusing on Ba'ath 
Party activities but fell out of favor and opened a 
consulting business in Damascus that was never fully 
successful.  He spent several years in Beirut in the 1990's 
but stayed in touch with Ba'ath Party circles there and also 
got to know Ghazi Kana'an. 
6.  (C/NF) HAITHEM SATAYHI:  Satayhi combined a career in 
Ba'ath Party politics and academics to propel his political 
career forward.  He has been an advisor to the President for 
political affairs since 2003.  Satayhi obtained a Ph.D in 
Political Science from France and has served as the Dean of 
the Faculty of Political Science at Damascus University and 
also as the head of the Ba'ath Party at the university.  He 
has reformist tendencies, according to fellow Ba'ath reformer 
Ayman Abdul Noor, who says Satayhi joined Abdul Noor and 
others to form a group of New Guard Ba'athists and others who 
advised then heir-apparent Bashar al-Asad on reform issues in 
the late 1990's.  Satayhi was born in Misyaf, a small town of 
mixed Alawite-Ismaili population near Hama.  He is thought to 
be an Alawite, although one contact reported that he is an 
Ismaili.  He is thought to have good connections to the 
President.  He played a key role in organizing the 
President's visit to Damascus University to deliver his 
November 10 speech. 
7.  (C/NF) MOHAMMED SAID BUKHAYTAN:  Bukhaytan is from humble 
Bedouin origins in Deir Azour, a Sunni stronghold near the 
border with Iraq.  He built his career in the police, 
eventually attaining the rank of general in the criminal 
security branch of the Ministry of Interior.  He has been on 
the RC since June of 2000, heading the important Office of 
National Security (now occupied by Hisham Ikhtiyar).  From 
1993-2000 he served as Governor of Hama, the pre-eminent 
Sunni stronghold in Syria, with a history of Islamic 
fundamentalism.  Riyad Abrash described him to PolChief as a 
relatively simple, modest person, although Abdul Noor has 
repeatedly derided him as a reactionary, Old Guard Ba'athist 
who instinctively opposes any reform efforts, even from 
inside the Ba'ath Party.  In the re-shuffle that occurred 
after the June Party Congress, he retained his seat on the 
RC, moving up in order of precedence from 20 to three, just 
behind the President and PM al-Otri, by virtue of his 
appointment as Assistant Regional Secretary of the Ba'ath 
8.  (C/NF) HISHAM IKHTIYAR:  Ikhtiyar, the newly appointed 
head of the RC National Security Office, is the former head 
of the General Intelligence Directorate and has also served 
in senior positions in Syrian Military Intelligence.  He has 
been one of the Syrian security officers entrusted over the 
years with monitoring and repressing the Muslim Brotherhood 
in Syria.  He was a protg of the now-retired Alawite 
General Ali Duba.  Ikhtiyar is generally considered a 
Damascene Sunni, although there are suspicions that he may in 
fact have Shi'ite origins.  Dr. Riyad Abrash, who has met 
with him on numerous occasions, noted that Ikhtiyar is from 
an area called Al-Amara that is known generally as a Shi'ite 
area.  (Open source reporting indicates he was born in 
Damascus in 1941).  Abrash noted that he has on one or two 
occasions picked up reactions in conversations with Ikhtiyar 
that seemed to confirm those suspicions and noted that one 
anti-regime website had identified Ikhtiyar as a Shi'ite. 
9.  (C/NF) Ikhtiyar has developed a reputation for harshness 
and cruelty.  He is allied with SMI chief Asif Shawkat, who 
reportedly supported his ascent to the head of GID in 2001. 
Based on personal interactions, Abrash described Ikhtiyar as 
open-minded and a very focused listener.  Abdul Noor has 
described him as cunning and smart, the chief architect of 
regime efforts to smear its opponents, via rumor and 
disinformation carried over the Internet and in official and 
unofficial media.  Dr. Samir al-Taki has noted that while 
heading GID, Ikhtiyar established and has since overseen for 
several years a small think tank that produces hard-line, 
generally anti-American policy papers.  The group also 
provides a review of western, especially American media, 
which, like the policy papers, receives the President's 
regular attention.  Al-Taki reported that DFM Mu'allim 
complained regularly about this hard-line policy input, and 
pressed al-Taki to establish a more moderate alternative to 
counter Ikhtiyar's policy shop.  These contacts identify 
Ikhtiyar as one of the leaders of the hard-line camp in the 
inner circle of the regime, along with Shawkat, Shara'a and 
Maher al-Asad.  One of his sons obtained his MD in the U.S., 
according to Abrash. 
10.  (C/NF) YASSER HOURIEYEH:  Like Satayhi, Hourieyeh has 
combined academics and Ba'ath Party politics to forge a 
successful career on the Syrian political scene.  Educated in 
eastern Europe (Ph.D from the University of Bucharest in 
Romania 1980), he served as a professor of chemistry at 
al-Ba'ath University in Homs from 1986-2000.  Hourieyeh was 
on the Homs City Council 1990-1994, served as Ba'ath Party 
Secretary for the al-Ba'ath University Branch from 1996-2000, 
and as President of the University from 2000-2005.  He is 
currently the head of Youth and Higher Education Office of 
the RC (since June 2005).  Hourieyeh is a Sunni, born in Homs 
in 1948. 
11.  (C/NF) USAMA ADI:  Adi's primary qualification for 
membership on the RC is that he comes from a respected Sunni 
family in the Hama area and was hence viewed as a good 
replacement for the outgoing Hama RC member Walid Hamdoun, 
according to Abdul Noor.  Adi is the head of the Workers and 
Farmers Office of the RC.  He has a law degree from Damascus 
University.  Adi served as Chief of Police at various times 
in Tartous, Lattakia and Aleppo, attaining the rank of 
general.  From 2002-2005, he served as Governor of Aleppo. 
He was born in 1947. 
12.  (C/NF) BASSAM JANBIYEH:  Head of the RC Office for 
Professional Associations, Janbiyeh is considered the "Druze" 
representative on the RC.  He is a dentist from the Druze 
town of Suwayda, who served as head of the Dentists' 
Syndicate there ( 1994-2000), before moving on to head the 
Ba'ath Party in Suwayda from 2004-2005.  He was born in 1956. 
13.  (C/NF) SAID DAOUD ELIA:  Elia is a Syriac Arab Christian 
from resource-rich, politically troubled Hassake province in 
northeastern Syria.  The Christians are an important (but 
small) minority in Hassake.  He presumably obtained his RC 
seat in large part because he is a Christian and an ethnic 
Arab (from a heavily Kurdish area).  A law graduate, Elia 
started his career as a teacher and Ministry of Education 
official.  According to Abdul Noor, the Ba'ath Party 
cultivated Elia and used him in Hassake over the years to 
counter the influence of the Kurds.  He served on the Hassake 
City Council from 1983-1987, while he continued to obtain 
more senior positions in the Ministry of Education.  He 
served as Ba'ath Party Secretary for the Hassake branch for 
several years before being appointed the Governor of Idlib 
province near Aleppo, in early 2005.  He resigned in June to 
assume his position on the RC as the head of the 
Organizations Office.  He was born in 1953. 
14.  (C/NF) SHANAZ FAKOUSH:   Fakoush is a Sunni from Deir 
Azour.  She was involved in Ba'ath Party political activities 
as a student in the 1970's and became active again in Deir 
Azour in the 1990's.  She had little or no national 
prominence before her appointment to the RC.  According to 
Abdul Noor, she was appointed because "they needed a woman 
and they did not want to appoint Butheina Sha'aban."  Fakoush 
was born in 1953.  She obtained a BA in Arab literature from 
Damascus.  She is the only new member of the RC (with the 
exception of Turkmani) who was chosen from the 94-member 
Central Committee of the Ba'ath Party, a much less powerful 
body than the RC which is often viewed as a moribund 
organization that serves as a waystation for a handful of 
senior Ba'athists awaiting an RC seat.  She was born in 1953. 





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