Blame Assad above all others for the rise of ISIS

Alex Rowell writes: In the week since Al-Qaeda spinoff the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) brought Iraq back into international headlines by seizing around a third of the country in a matter of hours, there has understandably been a great deal of soul-searching and hair-pulling as to how a group that was supposed to have been “decimated,” in a country that was supposed to be last decade’s headache, has once again managed with just a few hundred men to humiliate an army many times its size and generally outfox the entire world.

Fingers have been hastily pointed in every direction, with culprits found ranging from the timeless “conspiracy” (in the Iraqi prime minister’s words) to Tony Blair (who took to his website Saturday to cantankerously declare his complete innocence of all charges). An increasingly widespread claim – appealing perhaps because of its ring of an ironic morality tale about imperial folly – has it that ISIS’ growth is in fact the doing of the West’s closest but most duplicitous Arab allies, the oleaginous Gulf dictatorships, who have done to us once again what they’ve been doing since they backed the Afghan Mujahideen that nurtured Bin Laden in the 1980s. Will we ever learn?

Lost in this din, driven more by the grinding of old axes than dispassionate consideration of the evidence, is the obvious fact that one man has contributed vastly more than anyone else to getting ISIS where it is today: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [Continue reading…]

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5 thoughts on “Blame Assad above all others for the rise of ISIS

  1. Syd

    As one ISIS defector told the Daily Telegraph … in a quote that didn’t make the final text, that ISIS had even been infiltrated by regime agents. “I know men who were officers in the police and Syrian intelligence branches who are now in ISIS. They grew long beards and joined.”

    There’s a reason the Daily Telegraph cut that quote from the piece — it destroys the defector’s credibility. I can believe that Assad buys oil from ISIS, and takes the group off the bombing list. That’s the kind of cynical opportunism that all states engage in. It’s why Saudi Arabia is one of our dearest friends, and why we sell them so many weapons.

    But an Allawite growing a beard and joining a fundamentalist Sunni organization? That is insanely foolhardy. (If he can spot them so can others.) It’s also hard to see what influence they could have within the organization if they suspiciously advise everyone to go easy on the Shiites.

    …analysts have identified a number of former prisoners now at the head of militant groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and a third group, Ahrar al-Sham, which fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra but has now turned against ISIS….

    Of course the head of ISIS used to be a prisoner of the Americans, and the current head of Al Qaeda was once a prisoner of the Egyptians. And Lenin was a prisoner of the czar. This is not necessarily evidence of collaboration.

    Assad could easily be guilty of collaborating with ISIS. But it’s also true that the natural course of war encourages the most extremist elements. Any long war is going to see a strengthening of fundamentalist Islamist groups. The American occupation of Iraq saw the same dynamic.

  2. Paul Woodward

    I agree that claims about regime infiltration of ISIS should be viewed with skepticism and would add that this relates to a pervasive problem in the perception of so-called proxies. (I would also add, though, that the line separating an infiltrator from a defector can be blurry. Rule by violence produces loyalty that can never be trusted.)

    The conspiratorially-minded have a fixation on state power and imperial power and make no distinction between support and control. No doubt Assad has long recognized that ISIS has in numerous ways been serving his interests — especially since ISIS has been in open conflict with other rebel groups. But with ISIS now taking control of part of Iraq and the ensuing strain this imposes on Assad’s closest allies, the growth of ISIS’s power poses a new threat to the Syrian regime.

    Likewise, the label “extremist” is often confusing because it suggests inflexibility. Although ISIS is extreme in its brutality, it seems to be very pragmatic in the formation of its alliances, hence its collaboration with Baathists or former Baathists.

    The ranks of ISIS are filled with fanatics, but fanatics aren’t simply robots following commands. Their individual commitment far exceeds that of any man who is simply getting paid to fight. That’s, in part, why they pose such a threat to so-called professional forces.

    As for who bears the ultimate responsibility for turning Syria into a hotbed of extremists and a launchpad for the creation of a caliphate, without dispute that honor goes to Bashar al-Assad through his refusal to acknowledge and respond to the political legitimacy of the 2011 uprising against his authoritarian rule.

    Iraq is still suffering the consequences of an ill-conceived American invasion in 2003, but in their enthusiasm to once again denounce the neocons, too many of the opponents of that war are now glossing over the instrumental role the Syrian government has played in precipitating the current crisis.

  3. TColwell

    Assad is a blood-thirsty dictator who is, surprise, surprise, behaving like a cunning one at that!
    I am glad Rowell figured it out.

    That said, anyone who pretends to care about freedom, democracy, human rights, and self-determination can’t give a pass to the Gulf States. They’re rotten, corrupt autocracies with a pathological hatred of everything Shia. Most the trouble in the region can be traced to them. At least Assad makes it easy to unify against his rule. Last time I checked, the Saudi princes are still our “friends.” As is apparently the sissy marshall from Cairo.

  4. H.Rust

    They key phrase here is ..” ..Although ISIS only officially formed in April 2013, its roots lie in Al-Qaeda in Iraq ..” which is derived from CIA’s Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. You blaming Assad for ISIS which grew from the seed of a CIA venture. Hilarious. Western myopia once again spewing forth its verbiage. Funny how memory only reaches as far back as the narrative it wants to serve. Rowell you’re another UK hack. Posted by Syricide 17. 06.14

    Indeed, how convenient to blame it all on Assad, while covering the tracks of the real culprits. The ancient concept of divide and conquer still works. After they have fallen, the fall guys can be turned into the most atrocious monsters, with the help of conniving media and “historians”.

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