The Ticket

White House on Syria: We learned from Iraq

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

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Majed Aldin Ghazal of the Syria Olympic athletics team carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of …

The White House urged Syrian rebels on Tuesday to leave key governmental institutions "intact' when they topple President Bashar al-Assad. Press secretary Jay Carney said the plea was partly rooted in what is widely considered one of the worst errors of the Iraq War.

Amid high-level defections from Assad's regime and opposition forces seemingly gaining ground, "it is certainly the case that contingency planning is the responsible thing to do," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. The spokesman declined to discuss "specifics" like possible aid.

"We have to think about what we can do to support a Syrian-led democratic transition that protects the rights of all Syrians," he said. "We have to figure out how to support the return of security and public safety and how to get the Syrian economy up and going.

"I can say that in this transition we think it's essential to make sure that the state's institutions stay intact and that we send very clear expectations about avoiding sectarian warfare," he said.

After the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer banned members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from holding influential government posts and disbanded Iraq's military—a pair of decisions widely blamed for fueling what became a bloody insurgency.

Asked whether that example had shaped the message to Syria's rebels, Carney replied: "That precedent is useful to look at." "There are other precedents also to look at--and the experience that we've had, and that the region has had, in various countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring," he said.

"But it is also true, as I have said or tried to say frequently, that each country in the region is different. So I would not suggest that any other country's past experience is identical to what we can expect or what we could expect in Syria if various decisions were made about the transition.

And Carney said Washington hoped "for a transition that brings about a government that is inclusive, that is responsive to the Syrian people and that acknowledges and enforces the liberties and rights of all Syrians."

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