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A short introduction to the history and people of Syria, a neighbor to Iraq and a vital part of any successful long-term strategy there.

Syria – A Brief Introduction

Since the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. – led invasion of Iraq, the Middle East has become a region of much more interest for the average citizen of nations like the United States and Great Britain. Life in the region is so different from our everyday experience that we find it hard to imagine ourselves there. But, hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and military contractors are there, and will continue to be there for years to come, and it is a region that we must better understand. In its report to President Bush, the Baker Commission included their belief that victory and peace in Iraq required a dialogue with its neighbors. Though some of us in the West have some experience or memory of Iran, there is another neighbor to Iraq that we know nearly nothing about, and that is Syria. This is a brief introduction to Syria, for Americans and Britons, in hopes of better understanding the viewpoint of this vital player in Middle East politics.

Syria, like many of the nations in the region, was once under the colonial rule of the French, and became independent only about 60 years ago. However, its capital, Damascus, is one of the oldest human cities on Earth, having been inhabited as early as 5,000 BC. It has since that time passed from one empire to another, including the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and the Mongols, who nearly destroyed the city in 1400. One of the jewels of the city is the Umayyad Mosque, one of the oldest prayer sites in the religion of Islam. The mosque is an important piece of common history between Muslims and Christians, because of the fact that it houses in a shrine the remains of John the Baptist, who is honored as a prophet by both religions. In 2001, it became the only mosque ever to be visited by a pope when John Paul II traveled there to visit those remains.

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