A Syrian defector known as “Caesar” leaked images that are merely a small sample of what goes on inside of Assad’s prisoners and torture camps. Testifying before Congress last July, Caesar said that there are 150,000 civilians in custody in Assad’s prisons. Assad also continues to gas his own people even after the major Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013 that killed nearly 1,800 civilians and left 3,600 injured. Around twenty-five to thirty chemical attacks have been reported since.
Much attention was rightly given to the plight and then execution of American, British, and Japanese journalists and humanitarian workers by ISIS, but less known is the believed regime kidnapping of American journalist Austin Tice, alleged killings of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik in Homs, and the torturing to death of British humanitarian doctor Abbas Khan. This illustrates that though the regime does not publicly boast about its crimes, it is just as vicious as ISIS.
There are also geostrategic considerations that would hurt the United States if it acquiesced and fell for Iran’s aims in Syria. Teaming up to fight ISIS will not create a rosy rapprochement between the two countries. Iranian leadership has hegemonic and imperialistic aims to export its revolutionary ideology. This would be counter not only to the interests of American allies in the region, but would also likely lead to a cold-war like situation between Iran and the United States, especially if Iran acquires nuclear weapons.
Teaming up with Iran could also bolster the influence of jihadis. Fourteen years ago on September 11, al-Qaeda had only about two hundred members. Today, there are hundreds of thousands jihadis worldwide. Due to the perception that a regional religious war is coming, how many Sunni jihadis will there be in another fourteen years? How many Shia jihadis will there then be, too? What kind of security situation would this lead to, not only in the Arab world, which still has major economic, demographic, and governance issues, but also in the West? These are worst-case scenarios, though they would not be surprising if the United States takes Assad’s bait. The United States should not be in the game of picking sides. Its track record of being duped by the Assad regime over the past decade does not portend well. Assad is not the solution. Think twice, before getting fooled twice.
Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Rena and Sami David Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. He is also a PhD candidate at King’s College London and founder of Jihadology.net.
Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai is the Syria research assistant in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A political refugee from Syria, she is involved in the Syrian protest movement. Follow Alrifai on Twitter @OulaAbdulhamid.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Ricardo Stuckert/ABr