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article imageOp-Ed: Assad is no antidote to Islamism

By Paul Iddon     Jul 15, 2014 in Politics
The Syrian regime is trying to re-brand itself as a useful force for security when it comes to confronting the threat Islamists, who have taken root in Iraq and Syria, now pose to western countries.
Ian Black has the story in The Guardian which details just how the Syrian regime is now trying to promote Assad as a bulwark against the threat of extremism and allow him to entrench himself firmly in power. Even if only over some swaths of the country which are all predominantly in the west.
Mr. Black quotes Faisal Mekdad the new vice foreign minister of Syria who says that the Syrian regime is doing its utmost to “eliminate” dangerous groups like the Islamic State. He says this represents an apt opportunity for western powers to reevaluate their stance towards Mr. Assad and his regime and cease supporting all opposition forces since the west and Assad are essentially fighting the same enemy.
Black also points out how many opponents of Assad suspect him and the Islamic State of at least possessing a mutual understanding that for now sees to them staying out of each others way. Indeed the group controls large swaths of the country's east yet has seldom clashes with forces belong to the regime and has focused all of its efforts into killing other anti-Assad groups. Including the moderate forces, such as the Free Syrian Army, which have been calling on the west to support them for about three years now and have for the most part received only empty promises and relatively meager supplies – very meager when contrasted with the billions the Syrian regime has received from Iran and the substantial funds the Islamic State now has access to for their ambitious jihadi campaigns.
Mekdad was also quoted saying he knows “the rumors. But to those who claim that Syria is not doing its best to combat this group, I answer that if these extremists [Islamic State, al-Nusra etc.] are killing themselves and fighting for more influence and expansion, do you think we are sad? But the Syrian army has its priorities and we shall decide what we do next.”
By priorities my guess is he means its continued policy of killing the remnants of the revolution and thoroughly beating and killing the remaining moderates by letting the Islamists get a foothold across the east. Indeed many supporters of Assad have been implying that he was embattled against Islamists since the very start of the Syrian conflict when he was in reality slaying mostly unarmed demonstrators, a lot of whom were ordinary citizens disgruntled with his authoritarian rule for a number of reasons, and destabilizing and destroying his country. Now these supporters (or would it be more appropriate to say apologists?) act as if they have been vindicated in that belief in light of the gains made by Islamic State and other Islamist forces in recent months.
In a recent interview for The New Republic the former United States ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who resigned in disgust due to the manner in which his country's present administration cynically turned its back on moderate groups in Syria they promised to support and were trustworthy, flat out repudiated the notion that Assad would be a good antidote to Syria given the fact that Assad himself, in his words, constitutes “a magnet pulling in new jihadis from different Muslim countries around the world.”
What's particularly sinister about the idea of siding with Assad or excusing his brutal regime as a “force for stability” or “a lesser evil” is that it reeks of the days when the western powers of France, the United Kingdom and the United States supported and armed the other major Baathist regime which wrecked havoc in that region. I am of course referring to the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein when it was engaged in its lengthy war – in fact the longest conventional war of the 20th century – with Iran in the 1980's. A horrific period which saw western powers, to put it mildly, acquiesce to some of the Iraqi tyrants most horrible atrocities.
The instability and chaos we see in Syria today is a predictable result of the regimes heavy-handedness in dealing with what was for several months largely mass demonstrations of civil disobedience against an unjust, corrupt and dictatorial order. Demonstrations and outbursts which generated an atmosphere that could very well have given Assad a chance to introduce substantial reforms and retain hold over substantial power and even a degree of legitimacy.
Now however he is standing on the corpses of over 170,000 Syrians and continuing to fix his crosshairs on the more moderate minded opposition fighters who the outside world have largely neglected to support. My guess is that he is doing this in order to ensure that his main opponents will eventually also be other enemies of the people, hence the Islamists who have gotten hold of most of Syria's east, who will by then have little choice but to rally behind him in order to combat that very deadly threat to their lives and society.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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