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De Facto Coalition?
Assad Regime Bombs ISIS’s Power Center

Bashar Assad’s regime bombed civilian targets in the ISIS’s stronghold of Raqqa yesterday. The city has often been the target of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, although we target military locations mostly on its outskirts. Nevertheless, the recent strike is likely to fuel Sunni Arab concerns that the Syrian government is de facto a coalition partner. The Wall Street Journal reports:

At least eight regime airstrikes hit areas described by residents as largely residential or commercial starting Tuesday afternoon. Accounts of the death toll from residents and activists varied from at least 50 to nearly 90. They said bodies were still being counted, but many were dismembered, complicating the task. […]

Coalition warplanes usually strike buildings on the city’s outskirts that are widely known to be Islamic State positions, residents said, another factor that had lowered fears of civilian casualties from air raids. However, the regime attacks on Tuesday hit central areas including a market mosque and residential neighborhoods.

A no-fly zone has traditionally been America’s reaction to such brutality, but NATO commanders reiterated that they have no intention of establishing one. Furthermore, thoughts of a de facto American-Assad alignment are more than just the fever dreams of a conspiracy-theory prone region: President Obama explicitly confirmed in his letter to Ayatollah Khamenei that the U.S. has no intention of going after Iran’s partner, Assad.

As long as the U.S. continues to be seen as Assad’s air force—and lets his actual warplanes commit acts like these—building a Sunni coalition against ISIS will be beyond difficult.

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  • Anthony

    The U.S. strategy of forming an alliance against the Islamic State is complex (Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia). See “The Islamic State reshapes the Middle East.”

    • Andrew Allison

      I don’t see it as being especially complex. Once a clear objective has been established, the strategy is relatively straightforward. It’s the objective that’s complicated. Do we want to contain ISIS? The obvious first step is dog-against-dog. Do we want to discourage it from acts of barbarism against the US and its citizens? The answer is to make the cost of doing so insufferable (a word I chose with care). Doing so will, unfortunately, kill a lot of innocents, but the cost of not being as brutal as they will prove very high.

  • jeburke

    I see this quite differently. It’s preposterous to imagine that the US should or will go to war against both ISIS and Assad at the same time. Assad’s forces are the only significant foe facing ISIS at the moment. While we are not about to ally with Assad, it would be madness to attack him now (and no-fly is meaningless without shooting down violators). Sure, this complicates our relations with anti-ISIS Sunnis, but making war on Assad would be one huge complication too.

  • Fat_Man

    Obama wants, yearns, to be Iran’s toady. It is his fondest desire. It is only a problem for Americans.

    • Andrew Allison

      Toady is not the word I’d use, bitch seems more appropriate.

      • Fat_Man

        The mot juste is too graphic for polite conversation.

  • gabrielsyme

    Let’s not forget that ISIS and the al-Nusra front are organisations funded, supported and fostered by various Sunni regional powers (Turkey, Qatar, the Saudis). Their aim: conquer Syria (and, if they got lucky, Iraq too), restore Sunni rule and expel/exterminate minorities (Kurds, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Nusairis, Ismailis, etc.). The game plan of the Sunni powers was to present the West with the choice of permitting ISIS/Nusra to accomplish these goals; or to force the West to accomplish those goals for them, under the rubric of “defeating Assad” and “building a Sunni coalition”.

    For America to assist these broader Sunni goals would not only be to assist in crimes against humanity, but also to incentivise Sunni nations in the region to increase their covert support for terrorist organisations elsewhere in the region (which we are already seeing in Yemen).

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