Assad’s ‘good deeds’ in Syria can’t go unpunished

March 31, 2016
An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015, purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. REUTERS/Social Media

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015, purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. REUTERS/Social Media

When I went into Old Homs just days after Bashar al-Assad’s regime regained it from the rebels in June of 2014, there was not a stray cat in the streets. The historic town was all but abandoned, though a few residents had returned to assess damage to their homes and shops. They could be seen a man or two here, a couple there, this one scratching his head, the other sitting on a plastic chair by the curb staring at what used to be his life before the uprising-turned-war. It appeared as if nothing was moving, except for the dust devils. I covered my nose from whatever stench that hung in the air, some mix of broken concrete and bodies that had long been buried.

 But in the distance something was happening. I could hear the faint banging of a hammer and nail, a noise that grew and multiplied as I got closer to its source. It was coming from the courtyard of the historic church of the Belt of Marry, which, in better days, displayed a belt that was supposedly worn by the Virgin Mary in a glass case. The belt and its enclosure were no longer there, but I found about a dozen men furiously working with hand tools to repair the minor damage that the church had sustained in battles. Two tall billboards flanked the entrance to the church with a picture of Assad waving in the air with his ironic re-election slogan; “Together, we’ll rebuild.”

The church patriarch quickly made rounds through the courtyard and into the parish, commenting on progress to the men at work. Then the governor of Homs showed up with a small entourage — all of them in a hurry — and inspected remolded corners and a patched up ceiling, as if to ensure it would all look good for the cameras. Indeed, these were preparations ahead of Assad’s “surprise” visit — with Syrian TV in tow — aimed at bolstering Assad’s imminent reelection. (Assad did win, but the elections were widely dismissed as a ruse.)

Posing in churches “recaptured from terrorists” is the ultimate prize for Assad, who has appointed himself as the protector of Syria’s religious minorities. From day one, he has painted the country’s uprising as an international conspiracy that will unleash terror onto the region and abroad. He is in fact on record repeatedly forewarning that Europe and the world would reel from “an earthquake” of terror if he were to fall.

And now, with all the pomp and glory of recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra, and the next round of peace talks scheduled to start on April 11, Assad will predictably try to present himself as the “secular regime” that protects World Heritage sites from the wonton destruction of Islamic extremists. Syrian TV is already monopolizing the airwaves with footage of the “victory,” and Russia Today keeps airing “exclusives” of the Syrian army’s defeat of Islamic State in Palmyra.

What is not mentioned is an explanation of why, exactly, did Assad lose Palmyra to Islamic State last May? His forces had all the advantages from the air, after all.

One regime insider told me that Assad badly wanted to convince the U.S.-led coalition to bomb the Islamic State fighters who were visible for miles in the desert on their march to Palmyra. It was intended to show that the regime was partnered with the West in the so-called “War on Terror.”

“After all, not only was ISIS marching toward a World Heritage Site, but it was also the gateway to Homs and the coast, where ISIS would have threatened Syria’s Christian and Alawite minorities,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

But the coalition forces took no such step, and neither did the Syrian Air Force. Instead, top Syrian Army commanders and their Iranian advisers withdrew from Palmyra, leaving behind dozens of conscripts without provisions or support, according to locals and regime insiders. The conscripts were subsequently killed by Islamic State, and footage of these crimes was referenced by Syrian TV announcers as evidence of the state’s own war on terror.

Assad has engaged in a cynical game of “tactical withdrawals” and months of ignoring Islamic State as the terror group quickly swallowed one third of the country. Before the rise of Islamic State, Assad released known jihadists and criminals from his prisons under the guise of amnesty. He told the international community that he was releasing political prisoners to appease the demands of his opposition. He knew the jihadists would wreak havoc and show him as the only alternative.

Assad is not the protector of religious minorities, but rather he has held minorities hostage in the face of an uprising he is willing to sacrifice his nation to crush. Nor does he embody a secular regime (even if he and his wife happen to be secular individuals). Syria under his government has never allowed civil marriage or the conducting of personal matters, such as inheritance and adoption, outside of church or mosque rules. In fact, like most Arab countries, Syria adheres to a mix of religious law and the Napoleonic penal code.

If there is one thing to Assad’s credit, it is the fact that he has not wavered from his strategy, which his supporters sum up with the slogan: Assad, or we burn the country.

14 comments

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Your analysis is flawed. The West has acted cynically, specifically the neocons under Bush and Obama have had, and continue to have, an agenda of world hegemony. This agenda has NOTHING to do with the republic which once existed in the USA, and has everything to do with Empire and Fascism. Great job being a propagandist!

Posted by I_AM_SULLY | Report as abusive

so what exactly do the author want out of the situation? live under ISIS?

Posted by inspiron530s | Report as abusive

Oh, please. Assad is smeared in every possible way but accusing him of deliberately allowing ISIS progress is smelly. It curiously coincides with the emerging documents showing close cooperation between ISIS and Turkey which no doubt has not been without attention of the CIA to say the least. The puzzle is falling in place that Turkey was financing ISIS and the anemic US coalition campaign was in fact a cover up for supporting ISIS. For priority was destroying Assad by any means, ISIS or ‘opposition’ thugs organized by the CIA and Pentagon. This perfectly explains why just 50 Russian planes changed the fate of the war in just a couple of months.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

Oh, please. Assad is smeared in every possible way but accusing him of deliberately allowing ISIS progress is smelly. It curiously coincides with the emerging documents showing close cooperation between ISIS and Turkey which no doubt has not been without attention of the CIA to say the least. The puzzle is falling in place that Turkey was financing ISIS and the anemic US coalition campaign was in fact a cover up for supporting ISIS. For priority was destroying Assad by any means, ISIS or ‘opposition’ thugs organized by the CIA and Pentagon. This perfectly explains why just 50 Russian planes changed the fate of the war in just a couple of months.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

US+Saudi+Turkey engineered this civil war, Assad will ave Syria

Posted by JohnnyKnows | Report as abusive

Still Assad seems to me lesser of two evils.

Posted by rcvisee | Report as abusive

@wik & JohnnyKnows, you both are ABSOLUTELY correct.

The US created ISIS as an excuse to get rid of Iran’s ally.
No chance of that happening………..

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

So what’s new? We all know that Assad, Russia and Iran are the bad guys. We must all hail the genocidal Salafists, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Good piece!

Posted by ccrane | Report as abusive

Yes. God question. Why on earth did not the US with its hundreds of bombers in the region allow Palmyra to be captured by IS who approached through virtually open desert????

Posted by Manuka | Report as abusive

“Joe Biden let the cat out of the bag when he told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School last October: “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” (youtube, watch?v=dcKVCtg5dxM&t=53m20s)

[US ally] “Turkey has long been accused by experts, Syrian Kurds, and even U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden of supporting or colluding with ISIL. (…) allegations “range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services”. Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed that Turkey supports ISIL. Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.

In July 2015, a raid by US special forces on a compound housing the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer”, Abu Sayyaf, produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIL members. According to a senior Western official, documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid revealed links “so clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIL “that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara”. (wikipedia, Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant#All egations_of_Turkish_support)

[US ally] “Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist jihadism, which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and others. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide (…). According to a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state, “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”” (wikipedia, State-sponsored_terrorism)

“Various sources have reported that Al-Nusra has issued a fatwa calling for Kurdish women and children in Syria to be killed, and the fighting in Syria has led tens of thousands of refugees to flee to Iraq’s Kurdistan region. As of 2015, Turkey is actively supporting the Al-Nusra.” (wikipedia, Kurdistan#Syrian_Civil_War)

“The Independent reported that Saudi Arabia and Turkey “are focusing their backing for the Syrian rebels on the combined Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, a command structure for jihadist groups in Syria that includes Jabhat al-Nusra.” (wikipedia, Al-Nusra_Front#External_support)
etc

Posted by sensi | Report as abusive

“Joe Biden let the cat out of the bag when he told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School last October: “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” (youtube, watch?v=dcKVCtg5dxM&t=53m20s)

[US ally] “Turkey has long been accused by experts, Syrian Kurds, and even U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden of supporting or colluding with ISIL. (…) allegations “range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services”. Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed that Turkey supports ISIL. Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.

In July 2015, a raid by US special forces on a compound housing the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer”, Abu Sayyaf, produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIL members. According to a senior Western official, documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid revealed links “so clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIL “that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara”. (wikipedia, Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant#All egations_of_Turkish_support)

[US ally] “Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist jihadism, which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and others. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide (…). According to a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state, “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”” (wikipedia, State-sponsored_terrorism)

“Various sources have reported that Al-Nusra has issued a fatwa calling for Kurdish women and children in Syria to be killed, and the fighting in Syria has led tens of thousands of refugees to flee to Iraq’s Kurdistan region. As of 2015, Turkey is actively supporting the Al-Nusra.” (wikipedia, Kurdistan#Syrian_Civil_War)

“The Independent reported that Saudi Arabia and Turkey “are focusing their backing for the Syrian rebels on the combined Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, a command structure for jihadist groups in Syria that includes Jabhat al-Nusra.” (wikipedia, Al-Nusra_Front#External_support)
etc

Posted by sensi | Report as abusive

Haha. Yes, Assad gets to be boss of the rubble pile. Now there’s a great legacy.

You know you clung too hard to the palace when all the smart people have left your country. And your military is infiltrated with foreign operatives gathering information on you, and siting oil wells for future looting by other countries. Assad is a pathetic loser. A classic example of ego instead of leadership.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

This is a proud moment for everyone involved with destabilizing the country of Syria and creating this mass exodus of refugees.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

“Assad is not the protector of religious minorities” as if religious minorities needed protection in Syria, where ” كل مين عا دينو والله يعينو ” (let each one follow his own religion and God will support) was the nation mantra. Until the civil war was ignited by by the same Arab Gulf entities that sprung ISIS, Syria had no religious minorities issues. For religious persecution, look to the one Arab country that imprisons Christian worshipers.

Posted by worldscan | Report as abusive