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Why Damascus Says It Is 'Fighting IS'


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

As the United States and its allies continue to pound Islamic State (IS) militants in the northern Syrian town of Kobani this week, Damascus has emphasized its own role in fighting IS and other "terrorists" in Syria.

Via stories reported in its state media, Damascus is putting out the message that the Bashar al-Assad government is both willing and able to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the fighting in Kobani.

On October 16, Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the Assad government had sent humanitarian convoys with aid for 2,000 families displaced from Kobani to Hasaka and Efrin in the Aleppo province.

Through this story, Damascus is also, albeit indirectly, accentuating Syria's territorial integrity under the governance of the Assad administration.

SANA cites Syria's minister of social affairs, Kinda Al-Shammat as saying there is a "tragic humanitarian situation" in Kobani.

Al-Shammat (and SANA) blamed IS militants for that situation, referring to "the besieged Ayn Al-Arab [the Arabic name for Kobani] city, northeast of Aleppo, against which the terrorist organization of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been for weeks launching attacks in a bid to seize control of it."

Damascus has used the situation in Kobani to emphasize its own role in the fight against IS -- and to push the line that the Syrian people are united in support of the Assad government in the fight against terrorism.

On October 17, SANA reported that "hundreds" of Aleppo university students had gathered in support of "the citizens of Ayn Al-Arab" who are "besieged by the Islamic State terrorist organization."

SANA cited Aleppo University's representative of the ruling Ba'ath Party, Abdulkader al-Hariri, as predicting a speedy victory over the Islamic State group.

In heralding this victory, neither al-Hariri or SANA referred to the Kurdish YPG militias fighting IS in Kobani. Neither was there any reference to the U.S.-led coalition against IS.

Instead, the Ba'ath Party representative said that the defeat of terrorism would be "thanks to the Syrian Arab Army's sacrifices and the wise leadership of President Bashar al-Assad."

Beyond the rhetoric, these reports betray Damascus' fear that the U.S.-led coalition against IS in Syria could be extended against Assad's forces. The Syrian government is particularly concerned about a plan proposed by Turkey to establish an internationally monitored buffer (and no-fly) zone on Syrian soil, in order to provide a safe haven for those displaced by the fighting in and around Kobani.

Social Affairs Minister Al-Shammat revealed this concern in a dig at Turkey over the situation in Kobani. Displaced people who crossed into Turkey "have been treated badly," she said.

Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to India, Riad Kamel Abbas, said Ankara was supporting IS against Syria. The Islamic State group is an "American myth, which gets direct support from Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey and is funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar," he said.

Abbas also suggested that the Assad government was an essential player in fighting Islamic State terrorism, telling reporters in New Delhi on October 15 that "intelligence leaders" of several European states had asked Assad to "take care" of European nationals who were fighting in Syria.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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