Syrian activists: Destroying Assad means destroying Islamic State group

Syrian activists: Destroying Assad means destroying Islamic State group
4 min read
02 December, 2015
Many Syrian activists are frustrated by the UK debate on bombing the Islamic State group in Syria and feel that the cause of the problem, Assad, is being ignored completely.
The flag of the Syrian government in a protest against bombing IS in Syria [Getty]
As the UK parliament debates air strikes on IS targets, many Syrian activists are sceptical that the plans will do anything to improve the situation in war-torn Syria.

"The debate that is on-going right now is focusing on airstrikes against IS – this is not a comprehensive strategy…" said Haid Haid, spokesperson for Planet Syria.

"The attitude of the West seems to be either bomb IS or do nothing in Syria…we need to get out of this either/or approach," he said.

"Neither tackles the roots of the problem that allows IS to flourish: Assad and his atrocities."

Activists point out that the largest killer of civilians in Syria has been Assad, who has been responsible for over 90% of civilian deaths in the country which are estimated to be in the region of 300,000.

Syrians demonstrate against Russian intervention in Kafranbel [facebook]
Many also allege varying degrees of strategic cooperation between Assad and IS who are currently attacking rebels from two fronts. Assad himself has made acknowledgements that there were "strategic withdrawals" from certain areas of Syria, mostly controlled by IS.

Additionally, many Syrian activists, and even a former IS hostage, French journalist Nicholas Henin, have also said that airstrikes could lead to a recruitment drive to IS.

"We are just fuelling our enemies and fuelling the misery and disaster for the local people," Henin said. 

"After French airstrikes, without the presence of humanitarian aid, people will align themselves with whoever will protect them" said Haid, adding that the proposed intervention "doesn’t take into account local dynamics."

Arming the Kurds a risky option

Alternatively many advocate arming Kurds as a way to defeat IS, including some leftists and liberals who are otherwise opposed to bombing.

However, in the wake of clashes between Kurdish forces, and rebel factions and Islamists over the weekend in villages north of Aleppo, many are concerned that support to Kurds is raising ethnic tensions.

Although Haid said that the idea of arming Kurds "isn’t bad", it should not be done in a way that excludes local communities and other progressive forces in Syria.

"The arming of the Kurds increases tensions instead of pushing people together…" said Haid, adding that it may fuel "another conflict in the future."

Haid said that the failure to take into consideration "local dynamics" in military intervention lead to the rise of IS in Iraq in the first place.

Syrians taking on IS

On the other hand, Syrians have seen some success against IS unaided by western airstrikes.

"In rural Idlib and Aleppo, IS were pushed out with the help of local communities," he adds.

Haid and the Syria Campaign do however advocate a NATO-enforced No Fly Zone.

Although many feel that since the Russia intervention in Syria, this has now become unfeasible, Haid said that they will not stop their call for an end to bombardment.  

"We have to differentiate between calling for what is doable, and calling for what is right.  Protecting civilians should be the priority," he said.

Salim Salamah, a Palestinian activist from Syria, agreed with the establish of a No-Fly-Zone, and is disparaging of the discourse around military intervention against IS.  

"As usual it ignores the elephant in the room…we are concentrating on one little aspect of the whole issue, this is a huge failure," he said.

"As much as ISIS remains a threat, Assad remains the greatest threat…he caused the mass destruction of the country…" Salim said.

"If UK politicians want to make a significant contribution in Syria, they need to stop Assad."

The root of the problem: Assad

Dani Qabbani, a media opposition activist speaking from the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyah, is also opposed to the bombing of Raqqa, and frustrated with conversation on Syria which has diverged away from Assad atrocities.

"I think it's just another step in prolonging the war, leading to more tragedies and death," he said.

"If bombing doesn’t target Assad militias, all are in vain and the war will not end…because Assad is the source of terrorism…If they decide to bomb, Assad is one to be bombed after all the massacres he has carried out."

However, Qabbani ultimately feels that bombing either side would be unhelpful and wants the UK to arm Syrian rebels.

"We hope that the UK arms FSA…we can do the rest," he said.  

"We only think of Syria without Assad and his regime's terrorism. We are not sectarian neither do we love blood. We were forced to carry weapons after 9 months of peaceful demonstrations," said Qabbani, referring to the Syrian regime’s shooting of demonstrators in 2011 which many perceive as initiating the Syrian war.

"ISIS can't be defeated because ISIS is a mentality not a body. Let's imagine ISIS is destroyed, trust me, you will witness another body with another name but the same mentality. You should ask how to defeat ISIS and its mentality? You can defeat them by cutting the head; Assad."