What Does the Iraq Crisis Mean for Assad? 

How It Works
June 19 2014 1:27 PM

What Does the Iraq Crisis Mean for Assad? 

Nic190011
Assad and Maliki in 2007.

Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

ISIS has, for a while now, had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. Though the Sunni group is ostensibly committed to his downfall, it has also served his interests by dividing the rebel movement, fighting against more moderate groups, and scaring off foreign supporters of the opposition, so he has to a large extent refrained from attacking it, allowing it to consolidate control in eastern Syria.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

That strategy now appears to be coming back to bite him. With ISIS gaining in Iraq, Iraqi Shiite militias—who have provided crucial support to Assad—are now heading home to fight in their own country. This could put more strain on both Assad’s own forces and the Hezbollah fighters supporting him.

Advertisement

With their ISIS rivals focusing on Iraq and pro-Assad forces at least somewhat defeated, it seems like this could be a moment of opportunity for other non-ISIS rebel groups. This also depends on whether or not their longtime backers in the Gulf are scared off by the chaos.

In any event, the events in Iraq do seem to have changed the regime’s strategy. The Christian Science Monitor’s Nicholas Blanford notes that over the weekend “the Syrian Air Force staged its first major attacks on ISIS strongholds in the provinces of Raqqa and Hasakeh.”  He quotes the Atlantic Council’s Frederic Hof, who suggests that while the group once served a purpose for Assad, ISIS’s “shelf life in Syria has expired.”

Among the most unfortunate of the bizarre and contradictory entangling alliances created by the Iraq crisis is that the United States is considering using military force to defend a government that has backed Assad, working in tacit cooperation not only with Iran but with militias that have fought on his behalf.

In the last few days, the Syrian government has been doing its best to make this option less appealing. This week Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs—the regime’s non-chemical weapon of choice—on a refugee camp near the Jordanian border, killing 20 people, mostly women and children. The Organization for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons also released a preliminary report this week saying that available data suggests the government has been using chlorine gas against civilians in a “systematic manner” since agreeing to turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles.

There aren’t a lot of good guys to be found in this war.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 2:44 PM Where Do I Start With Mystery Science Theater 3000?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.