Common Misconceptions about the Syrian Conflict

This page explains in detail twelve misconceptions about the Syrian conflict.

1. Assad is 'fighting terrorism'
2. Assad is the only viable alternative
3. Assad remains in power because of popular support
4. Assad is holding the country together (pushing against sectarianism)
5. The West is seeking regime change in Syria
6. Western intervention will only make things worse
7. Getting involved in Syria means putting boots on the ground
8. Western intervention in Syria would just be repeating the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan
9. Weapons given to the FSA are falling into the wrong hands
10. ISIS is an 'opposition group'
11. ISIS's primary targets are religious and ethnic minorities
12. The White Helmets are a terrorist organisation

1. Assad is 'fighting terrorism'

The Assad regime has frequently made the claim that it is fighting terrorist groups such as ISIS.1 However, it must be recognized that the regime has historically been a major perpetrator of terrorism itself:
• It has committed, and continues to commit, war crimes and crimes against humanity2 against its civilian population in order to maintain its hold on power.3
• It allowed its borders to be used as a lifeline for al-Qaeda groups in Iraq.4
• It has regularly caused instability in Lebanon. For example, it supplied explosives in August 2012 to former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha with the intent of assassinating political and religious figures..5

The Assad regime was also instrumental in the creation and expansion of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Syria. Sky News reported that Assad and ISIS had been colluding via over 22,000 files given to the media company by the Free Syrian Army. In these files, evidence emerged of ISIS agreeing to evacuate some areas before Assad’s army attack, as well as signs of a deal between IS and Syria to trade oil for fertilizer.6 Furthermore, it emerged in April 2016 that Jihadists had earnt over $40 million from oil deals with the Assad regime government. Spreadsheets, as seen by the Wall Street Journal, documented how Assad and Jihadists had formed a ‘mutually beneficial arrangement’ despite being at war with each other.7 Additionally, at the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, the regime released known militant and extremist individuals from prison through a series of amnesties with the knowledge that they would contribute to the militarisation of the conflict.8 Many of these individuals can now be found among the leadership of groups such as ISIS.9 On the other hand, political prisoners who were known advocates of non-violence were largely kept in prison, where many remain to this day.10 In this way, Assad essentially created his terrorist enemies.11

The Assad regime has also overwhelmingly failed to engage ISIS directly or to take genuine measures to weaken it. Most notably, it failed to control ISIS's spread to cities such as al-Raqqa in northern Syria and Palmyra in central Syria. Even when it conducted airstrikes in these cities, it largely targeted civilian areas rather than ISIS military strongholds as affirmed in a March 2015 Amnesty International report detailing the regime’s offensive on al-Raqqa.12 Additionally, former US Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed:

'[Assad] has used [ISIS] as a tool of weakening the opposition. He never took on their headquarters, which were there and obvious, and other assets that they have. So we have no confidence that Assad is either capable of or willing to take on [ISIS].13

The regime's relationship with ISIS has been described as one of mutual interdependence, whereby ISIS is used to target other opposition groups and thus weaken their military capacities relative to the regime.14 This means that Syrian moderate opposition groups have had to fight on multiple fronts, both against ISIS and against the regime.15

Similarly, while Russia asserts that it is fighting IS extremists in Syria, the majority of its air strikes have targeted opposition groups threatening the Syrian regime. The atrocities committed by the Syrian regime and its allies, which far outnumber those committed by IS and other jihadist groups, have allowed IS to flourish in the first place. Trump’s misconception, which ignores the political, economic, social and cultural causes of IS’s rise, means he will be unlikely to defeat IS without the risk of creating an even stronger monster down the road.16

While the problem of terrorism does exist within Syria, Assad and his allies are clearly using it to further their own strategic goals (i.e. to bolster his position as a viable alternative) rather than engaging in a genuine fight against it.17

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2. Assad is the only viable alternative

Some argue that the overthrow of Assad will open the door for terrorist groups to take control over all or parts of Syria, and that therefore he remains the only viable alternative for Syria’s future. This argument, however, makes the false assumption that Assad’s presence in Syria is preventing the expansion of terrorist groups such as ISIS, when actually the opposite is true.

In fact, dismantling the Assad regime is really the only way to prevent ISIS from expanding, as the protection of civilians from the brutal Assad regime will allow opposition groups in Syria to focus their efforts on tackling ISIS. The High Negotiation Committee, representing over 30 different military and political opposition groups, stated in their 2016 plan that they are working to achieve democratic and religious pluralism after dismantling Assad’s regime.18 Furthermore, the Free Syrian Army have openly stated that they are committed to fighting ISIS as well as the Assad regime, legitimizing their claims for wanting a democratic resolution to the crisis in Syria.19 These opposition groups currently face two major obstacles in their pursuit of these objectives. The first is that they are faced with constant bombardment from the Assad regime, exhausting their capacity to fight ISIS. Second, these groups are insufficiently supported by the international community, weakening their ability to provide effective opposition.

Furthermore, arguing that Assad is the only viable alternative also overlooks the root cause of the conflict in Syria. Since 2011 the regime has violently suppressed its civilian population, destroying entire cities and neighbourhoods,20 employing barrel bombs and chemical weapons,21 using starvation as a method of war,22 and inviting foreign militias to wreak havoc, all of which has provided the opportunity for criminal groups such as ISIS to take root within Syria.23 As stated by Minister of State Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon in September 2017, ‘[Assad’s] oppression has caused untold human suffering, fuelled extremism and terrorism, and created the space for Daesh’.24

Undoubtedly, ISIS has proven itself to be a ruthless group that takes anyone that opposes it or refuses to pledge allegiance to it as an enemy.25 Its brutal tactics are well-documented, including public beheadings, mass executions, and stonings.26 As it is a designated terrorist group (as per UN Security Council Resolution 271027), eliminating this group remains a valid objective.

However, until civilians are protected from the Assad regime's atrocities (94% of victims have been killed by the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance28), criminal groups, whether ISIS or otherwise, will continue to operate in Syria. Even an effective elimination of ISIS will only see the emergence of other similar groups to fill the voids. UK policy towards Syria, therefore, should be targeted towards the root cause of the issue - the Assad regime.

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3. Assad remains in power because of popular support

By: Amr Salahi and Brian Slocock

Regime supporters often argue that Assad has a legitimate claim to power as he has democratically won elections. In fact, Assad himself has alleged multiple times that the only reason he maintains his rule is because he commands the support of the Syrian people. To an audience with little knowledge on Syria this may seem convincing, especially as media coverage of the conflict can be misleading. For example, Vanessa Beeley, a British blogger, has made no secret of her own backing for Assad. In late 2016, Beeley visited Aleppo after its fall to the Assad regime and conducted interviews in the presence of regime minders. Unsurprisingly, all her interviewees praised the regime and poured scorn on the rebels.29

Other journalists sympathetic to Bashar al-Assad have often pointed to opinion polls which appear to suggest that Assad has substantial support among the Syrian population. A recent poll carried out by Daniel Corstange of the Hoover Institution used a sample of 2,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and appeared to show that nearly 40% of these refugees sympathise with the Assad regime while just over 50% sympathised with the rebels. But, taking a sample of just 2,000 refugees cannot act as a sufficient reflection of all opinions of the 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries, and further 6.5 million internally displaced persons within Syria. Moreover, even for refugees living in other countries, the oppressive attitude towards free speech enforced under Assad’s regime means that many Syrians, both inside and outside the country, are too afraid to express their true beliefs. Vice News correspondent Isobel Yeung, who visited Syria after the elections, described the oppressive situation there, stating, “You go and are standing in the rubble of destroyed, devastated cities with the people who were part of the resistance against Assad but are now saying [about Assad’s regime], 'No, they're fine, those guys are great.' Because if they don't, they die.”30

However, it is not just foreign media coverage that wrongly depicts Assad as popular amongst his people. In 2014, Assad held (and won with a huge majority) a general election to secure his place in power. So, how did Assad win the 2014 general election if he does not have the popular support of his people? The “competitive” election were introduced to give the illusion that Assad was operating democratically, as for the first time in decades there were multiple candidates on the ballot.31 Yet, this was a corrupt election from start to finish.

First, to be eligible to stand, candidates had to meet very restrictive conditions, ruling out the possibility of any real opposition challenging Assad. For example, anyone wanting to be a candidate had to get the endorsement of 35 members of the People’s Assembly – which meant they had to be approved by the ruling Baath Party (of which Assad is the leader). As a result, only two minor figures, unbeknown to most of the public, could stand against Assad. These candidates, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent respectively,32 a result so meagre they may as well have not run at all. It was not enough for the Syrian regime that Assad should win this rigged contest – he also had to be seen to win with an unquestionable majority. Assad was suspiciously elected with an alleged 10.3 million votes out of a total of 11.6 million (88.7%).33

Furthermore, voting for the 2014 election only took place in government-held areas of the country,34 meaning that whilst the results appeared as overwhelmingly in favour of Assad, millions of citizens in opposition held parts of Northern and Eastern Syria were excluded from the vote.35 This has led many international actors and members of the opposition to condemn the election as futile. John Kerry, US Secretary of the State, described the election as the ‘big zero’ stating that it was ‘meaningless because you can't have an election where millions of your people don't even have the ability to vote, where they don't have the ability to contest the election, and they have no choice’.36 Syrian refugees living abroad were also largely excluded from the vote, as many were forced to illegally cross the border into Turkey and Iraq, meaning that they were unable to lawfully vote in those countries.37

Also, an important point to note is that many Syrians, both in the country and living abroad as refugees, chose not to vote. A combination of disenfranchisement from the government and apathy felt towards politics in Syria encouraged many to abstain from voting in protest against the corrupt nature of the elections.38 Many Syrians have been left feeling betrayed as they deem elections that take place during a civil war both a tactical and unfair move on behalf of Assad and his regime.39 For example, in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, Syrians were dropping shoes into a rubbish bin labelled ‘ballot box’ to demonstrate their disgust.40 In fact, out of over 2.7 million Syrian refugees living abroad, just tens of thousands were able to vote.41

In light of civilian attempts to dismantle the regime, Assad has also sought other methods of legitimizing his right to rule in Syria. For example, Assad repeatedly emphasizes that Syrian civilians, including those who come from predominantly opposition-held areas, often seek refuge by fleeing to regime-held areas. While this may be true, the reason for this is rarely out of support for the regime, but rather because opposition-held territory is subject to the daily and indiscriminate use of force by the regime, making such areas uninhabitable.42

Finally, another unfortunate reality is that it is foreign backing, not popular support, which has propped up the Assad regime until now. Russia, for example, have intervened directly in Syria since September 2015, essentially working as Assad’s air force,43 claiming to be willing to exhaust all their resources to prop up Assad’s regime.44 Indeed, There are also thousands of estimated pro-regime foreign fighters in Syria including Iraqi Shiites, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, Iranian and Russian troops, and others from countries around the world including the US and Canada.45 These foreign fighters helped the regime achieve a military comeback after 2013, when its collapse seemed inevitable. As the strength of the regime army is constantly being challenged, it depends directly upon foreign support for its survival.46

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4. Assad is holding the country together (pushing against sectarianism)

By Mary Rizzo

One of the greatest myths of the Syrian conflict is that it is a sectarian war between an ever more violent, backward and militant Sunni population and a more urbane and progressive Shi’a, Alawi and Christian population that is resisting their advances. Tied to this myth is the idea of the irreplaceable quality of Assad, wherein only he and his party can serve as a stabilising factor of national unity, protecting minorities and religious tolerance in the face of Sunni religious extremism.47 However, many Christian Syrians have come forward in protest to this idea, stating that ‘hundreds of innocent Christians seeking freedom have been tortured to death in Assad’s jails or shot to death by his brutal thugs’.48

Furthermore, the Syrian conflict did not begin as a battle between religions. In the Assad narrative, it is a conflict between extremist fundamentalists and secular moderates. However, placing the conflict in these terms is a misleading strategy undertaken by the regime. Following the 1966 coup that eventually brought Hafez Assad to power in 1970,49 Assad consolidated this unchecked power and wealth by a system of patronage through policies that favoured his own co-sectarians (the Alawites). In exchange for their loyalty, these allies were granted employment opportunities, the command of the military and crucially, and the regime’s extensive security apparatus, resulting in a ruling minority enforcing the suppression of all political dissent.50 The dominant trait of all these personalities who benefitted from favouritism is not their sectarian belonging, but their absolute support to the Assad regime. A lack of redress of inequality by Hafez Assad’s successor (his son Bashar Assad) who brought the promise of reform,51 events in modern Syrian history with clampdowns affecting the Sunni majority (such as the Hama massacre of 1982),52 and the use of arbitrary detention of anyone remotely seen as a threat to the regime, have all broadened the gap between the sects and have aggravated the inequality between the ruling minority and the Sunni majority, who still comprise 74% of the population today.53 All of the above simply exacerbated ongoing tensions, leading to the common belief among the Alawites that the fall of the regime could lead to revenge against their community.54 The reality of the situation in Syria is that there is essentially a clash between an authoritarian, ruthless leadership and the masses, which was sparked by the 2011 demonstrations by the masses calling for reforms and rights that had long been denied to them.

To maintain its power, the regime has depicted the ongoing war as a continuation of the Sunni-Shi’a schism (dating back to the dawn of Islam) rather than as a struggle of the disenfranchised masses seeking the establishment of their rights. Despite Assad’s claims to the contrary, there are many instances of sectarian provocations by the regime to both cement the support of its loyalists and to deliberately turn a non-sectarian, peaceful uprising into a sectarian war with Islamist extremist groups as the most visible element on the opposing side. Examples of this are shown when Sunni captives are often forced by loyalist soldiers to say “there is no God but Bashar al-Assad” while being tortured;55 the destruction of mosques;56 and the bringing in of foreign Shi’a fighters to fight for the regime.57

It must be emphasised that the militarisation of the conflict began when an order was given by Assad regime commanders to their own soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters.58 The soldiers were told by their superiors that they were fighting infiltrators, Salafists, and terrorists. Soldiers interviewed were surprised to encounter unarmed protesters instead, but were still ordered to fire on them. Ensuing from this was a mass defection of troops whose first goal was to protect the population and only later to bring the regime down. Prior to the aforesaid provocations and in spite of the manipulation of the national troops to obey orders based on a misrepresentation of the protesters, there was never a religious or sectarian goal in the opposition, though there may be religious identification in some of the battalions.

The regime, always to win sympathy abroad and to maintain its hold on the loyalists internally, have duly conflated all who fight against its forces and now against the many and varied troops that the regime has brought into the country to fight on its behalf. The fact that the regime has strengthened the so-called “Islamic State” to suit its purposes is widely ignored. The perception of the “complexity” of the war is heightened as the regime depicts every force against it as “terrorists”, and that any force not fighting with it is effectively seeking to destroy Syria. This propagates the idea that there is no difference between the opposition to the regime and ISIS, both being a mortal enemy of the nation. Focus is then shifted onto a supposed Salafi or Al Qaeda origin of the national opposition or its Western backing. The regime further offers the narrative that forces against Assad are simply fighting a proxy war against Iran and Russia, using Syria as nothing more than a battlefield. Thus, Assad’s army is resisting against not only Islamic terrorism, but also against the ‘Imperialist West’. The regime needed to create a plausible distortion that manipulates public opinion internally and abroad as to the “necessity of Assad”. However, this is just that – a manipulation – and must be viewed with both suspicion and caution as strong evidence of Assad’s further attempts to pull wool over the eyes of Syrian civilians and the wider international community.

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5. The West is seeking regime change in Syria

By Amr Salahi

The words “regime change” are very often heard when discussing Syria. In April 2017, when referencing Syria, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, “Regime change is something that is going to happen because all the parties are going to see that Assad is not their leader”.59 Haley’s comment came a few days after the US strike on the Assad regime’s Sharyat airbase, which took place in response to the regime’s chemical massacre in the opposition-held town of Khan Shaykhun. Indeed, even US President Trump expressed interest in seeking an end to Assad’s rule following the April 2017 chemical attack.60 He stated that his “attitude toward Syria and Assad had changed very, very much” and that the attack had “crossed many, many lines- beyond a red line”,61 referring to Obama’s previous promise to stop Assad after the chemical attacks of 2013.62

While senior US officials such as Haley and Trump have openly spoken of regime change, this does not reflect the actual policy of the US and other Western countries. The Syrian revolution broke out in 2011, during which time Barack Obama was the President of the United States. In the two years preceding, his administration had adopted a conciliatory approach to Bashar al-Assad, softening the tough line that George W. Bush’s administration had taken. The Obama administration saw the Assad regime as an important guarantor of stability in the Middle East, willing to negotiate peace with Israel and rein in groups that the US considered terrorist, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.63 Following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the US ruled out any intervention in Syria. A leaked memo from the intelligence platform Stratfor on 31 March 2011 described US policy as “support” for Assad, saying that “Washington could have easily sent a warning to Damascus by saying that ‘Libya-like treatment for Syria is one of the options’”.64 Another Stratfor e-mail was much more revealing, comparing the US attitude towards Syria with Egypt: “In Egypt, the U.S could afford to abandon Mubarak and let the military keep running the show…. [the U.S. administration] probably had a pretty high degree of confidence that the country was not going to descend into chaos if Mubarak were to be forced out by the deep state. In Syria that is not the case. The sectarian nature of the country added to the fact that it’s not really isolated from its neighbours by large tracts of desert the way Egypt is, but rather, intertwined with Lebanon, Turkey, and to a lesser degree, Iraq makes the prospect of the Syria regime collapsing much more dangerous than Mubarak being pushed out… the irony is that everyone thought the US viewed Mubarak as an ally and Bashar as an enemy”.65

This geopolitical calculation explains many of the policies that the US adopted over the following years. As Assad stepped up his campaign of repression in 2011 by killing protesters and imprisoning and torturing activists, the US had no choice but to distance itself from him and be seen to take some kind of action. Sanctions were imposed by the US but they had no effect on Assad’s grip on power.66 This US policy of condemnatory statements accompanied by a total lack of action, or purely cosmetic action, against the Assad regime, would continue for the next six years and is one of the main reasons that Assad remains in power today.

The US and its allies have ignored the appeals of Syrians for help against the Assad regime. Calls for a no-fly zone (and later, a no-bombing zone), made in 2011 when the regime first began to strike civilian targets from the air, have been continually ignored – even though the United States has demonstrated that it is capable of imposing one.67

As the regime’s repression of the Syrian revolution reached new levels of brutality in 2012, the Obama administration continued to refuse to supply arms to opposition groups, only providing humanitarian aid.68 It is true that beginning in 2013, arms did begin to be supplied on a small scale, although nowhere near the levels required to defeat Assad. Importantly, the arms supplied did not include anti-aircraft missiles to defend rebels and civilians from the regime’s air strikes, which were responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths.

The US’s response to the August 2013 chemical attack on eastern Ghouta most clearly demonstrated the US’s policy against intervention and regime change. When the regime murdered 1400 people in one day with deadly sarin gas, it crossed what President Obama had called a “red line” that would lead to US intervention. Indeed, despite pledging to destroy all chemical weapons alongside Russia in 2013,69 the US has failed to make any significant ground, as highlighted by the fact that the chemical attack of April 2017 was able to take place.70

The US’s policy of turning a blind eye to the Assad regime’s atrocities has not gone unnoticed by Syrians. At a demonstration in the town of Kafranbel in April 2014, protesters held up a sign saying, “Obama! Your Role in Syria will never be accepted as a mistake like [Bill] Clinton’s in Rwanda, but it will be a premeditated crime!”71

Furthermore, things are not set to change in the US, with President Trump stating during his campaign that he intends to shift to a more pro-Assad foreign policy, saying for example, “I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS”72 (although in fact Assad has been instrumental in the rise of ISIS in Syria – see Misconception 14). Assad responded by saying that he was willing to work with the Trump administration.

While the Trump administration responded militarily to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack and has rhetorically taken a much tougher line on Assad since April 2017, there is nothing to suggest that there is any significant change in US and Western policy. Statements made by US officials to the effect that the US wants regime change in Syria are contradicted by other statements. A spokesman for the US Central Command, Ryan Dillon, praised the alleged Assad regime advances against ISIS, saying in June 2017 “If they [Assad regime forces] want to fight ISIS in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then that would be welcomed.”73

French President Emmanuel Macron was very candid about his own lack of support for regime change in Syria, emphasising in June 2017 that he saw no alternative to Assad, who he described as an enemy of the Syrian people but not an enemy of France.74 In effect, what he was saying was that he supported the continuation of a genocidal dictatorship in Syria and did not care about the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed in the 21st century’s most brutal conflict. This, unfortunately, has been the West’s message and policy since 2011 and the Syrian people know this. Notwithstanding the “regime change” conspiracy theories popular in leftist and ‘anti-imperialist’ circles, the West’s policy ever since 2011 has been regime preservation.

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6. Western intervention will only make things worse

By Amr Salahi

Saying that Western intervention will only make things worse in Syria is a very simplistic view that disregards the extent of the monstrosities taking place in the country. Many anti-war advocates argue that Syria is a “quagmire” and that any intervention in what they characterise as a “complex civil war” will only cause more casualties and create further instability. For example, during the siege of East Aleppo in late 2016, shortly before the city’s fall to the Assad regime, Lindsey German, the national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, wrote an article saying that previous interventions in Iraq and Libya were “solid proof that western bombing and intervention only makes things worse”.75 However, this statement falsely assumes that the political situations of Iraq and Libya are exactly the same as that in Syria. “Intervention the Middle East” cannot be used as a blanket term to associate Syrian intervention with that of Iraq and Libya, discounting efforts which could, and should, be made to end the ongoing slaughter of innocent civilians by Assad’s regime. German’s statement came at a time when the Assad regime and its Russian ally had committed horrific massacres in East Aleppo, destroying every hospital in the rebel-held part of the city.76 Surely then, Western intervention for the purpose of civilian protection would be a natural and necessary response to end the utter brutality enacted by Assad and his Russian allies?

The Assad regime, backed by its Russian ally and foreign militias from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries is today the most powerful actor in Syria. The weaponry at its disposal is far superior to that of the rebels, and unlike the rebels, it has an air force which it uses indiscriminately to devastating effect. In fact, in 2016 the United Nations characterised the regime’s actions against the Syrian people as “extermination”,77 which not only highlighted the West’s recognition of Assad’s atrocious behaviour, but also their lack of intervention in trying to better the situation.

There is no doubt that the regime and its allies have been responsible for the vast majority of deaths in Syria since March 2011. For example, the Syrian Network for Human Rights stated that as of 2017, 94% of civilian deaths in Syria were attributed to the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance.78 Yet, despite their condemnation of the regime, the West remain heavily distanced from Syria, giving arms-length aid rather than the direct support its civilians need.

However, it is important to note that some western military intervention in Syria is already taking place. Since 2014, a US-led international coalition has been targeting the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, although this has been at the exclusion of the Assad regime. After Donald Trump became President of the US in January 2017, the international coalition stepped up its campaign against ISIS while abandoning its restraint in targeting civilian areas. In May 2017, for the first time ever, the international coalition killed more civilians (273) than any other party, including the Assad regime and Russia.79

However, does this mean that Western intervention will necessarily “make things worse” in Syria? In April 2017, in response to a regime chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun which killed 80 civilians, the United States carried out an airstrike on the Shayrat airbase from where the chemical attack had been planned and executed. The next day residents of rebel-held Idlib province noticed that there were no more regime or Russian warplanes in the sky. The question, therefore, is not if Western intervention will make things worse, but rather what kind of intervention will make things better. Diplomacy and negotiations have so far failed to stop the regime in its murderous campaign against the Syrian people, meaning that targeted Western intervention may be the only option left. Since 2011, before the entry of ISIS into Syria, Syrians have been calling on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over the country to protect civilians from the regime’s barrel bombs and missiles.80 In 2015, when Russia intervened on behalf of the Assad regime, opposition activists came up with a variant of the no-fly zone, calling for a “no-bombing zone” which would protect civilians from the Assad regime while ensuring that this would not entail conflict between the international community and Russia.81

When the US administration bombed the Sharyat airbase it was in effect implementing this plan, sending a clear message to the regime that they could no longer use deadly sarin gas. However, this strike was not followed up and soon after regime planes continued to drop barrel bombs on civilians. The US administration and the international community had the opportunity to show the Assad regime that bombing civilians would no longer be tolerated by striking any airfield from which airstrikes against civilians are launched. Such action, if taken in 2011, could have saved tens of thousands of civilian lives and still has the potential to do that today. Western intervention aimed at protecting civilians from Assad, rather than just targeting ISIS, will tackle the root cause of the Syrian crisis. It would not only make Syrians safer, but will also contribute to international peace and security.

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7. Getting involved in Syria means putting boots on the ground

By Elena Cotton

Due to bias and often misinformed media coverage of Syria, it is easy to assume that Western involvement in Syria automatically equates to direct military intervention – that is, boots on the ground. However, advocates for civilian protection in Syria have recently been pushing for a more pragmatic and realistic course of action – a ‘no-bomb zone’.

What is a no-bomb zone?
The no-bomb zone proposal works as a four-part strategy: 1) Western nations in alliance against the Assad regime would issue it a warning. This would come in the form of an ultimatum – if Assad chooses to continue bombing civilians, the West will retaliate. 2) The warning would apply to all of Syria through the use of long-range radars. 3) The retaliatory attacks would be in the form of ‘long-range precision attacks’ aimed at military bases or runways, NOT civilian areas. As they are ‘long-range’ these attacks can be launched from outside Syrian territory, meaning that there do not need to be any boots on the ground or even aircraft in Syrian airspace. 4) If Russia’s air force violated the terms of the no-bombing zone, then the West would respond not by targeting their planes, but rather by continuing to enforce precision attacks against Assad’s military bases.82

How is this different to a no-fly zone?
A no-fly zone is expensive, dangerous and puts the lives of intervening military personnel at risk. A no-bomb zone is different because it can be conducted from afar. With the use of long-range radars, Western bases would be able to detect threats without ever having to enter the Syrian airspace.83

What are the benefits of a no-bombing zone?
A no-bombing zone is the first step to turning the crisis around. It is the only policy option that saves lives and creates the opportunity for humanitarian aid to be given to civilians; reduces the incentive for migration out of Syria; reduces the extent of radicalization in Syria; makes a political solution for Syria more likely by creating breathing space for peace. Also, as a no-bombing zone is not a safe-zone, as it does not require troops on the ground.84

Why hasn’t it been done yet?
The US have only stated in July 2017 that they are willing to employ a no-fly zone, but only if Russia agrees.85 This essentially makes the US’s announcement meaningless as the Russians have been vehement supporters of the Assad regime and will never consent to such a course of action.

Furthermore, the UK seemingly holds support to take this course of action as a YouGov poll taken in October 2016 revealed that 64% of participants were in favour of the UK implementing a no-fly zone in Syria. Therefore, pressure for the British government to help defend the Syrian people from Assad’s deadly regime remains heavy.86

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8. Western intervention in Syria would just be repeating the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan

By Elena Cotton

It is a common mistake to assume that the political situations of all countries located in the “Middle East” are one and the same. However, this is a very dangerous approach to take when discussing Syria, especially if it is applied as a “logical reason” to prevent Western intervention in the conflict. Whilst there are some similarities between Iraq and Syria, there are also some key differences that must be considered. Firstly, unlike with nuclear weapons in Iraq, in Syria the international community are certain that chemical weapons are being unlawfully used against civilians by Assad’s regime. This has repeatedly been proven by Assad’s history of chemical attacks in both 201387 and 2017,88 instigated to arouse an atmosphere of fear and submission to his regime. Moreover, the use of chemical weapons is just one of many methods the regime are using to quell the opposition, with others including mass imprisonment in detention centres (200,000 since 2011)89 and the repeated use of barrel bombs- 13,000 in 2016 alone90 - to decimate entire cities. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, intervention in Syria is being proposed as a limited strike, not an invasion.91 Although there are fears that Trump is increasing the number of troops in Syria (akin to an Iraq-style invasion) this is both mere speculation and not what experts are advising as the best way to resolve the conflict.92 Finally, an important distinction between Iraq and Syria is that the issue of nuclear weapons in Iraq was a total fabrication. It is now widely accepted that the West used lies to justify a policy that it wanted to implement for its own benefit. Syria, however, started as a grassroots movement among civilians, not an attempt by the West to impose any kind of imperialist strategy. Syrians are now calling for the West to protect civilians, enabling them to achieve their right to self-determination.

In fact, this use of ‘decisive force’ that the US employed in Iraq and Afghanistan is exactly the opposite of what is being recommended in Syria. Rather than directly sending in troops to occupy areas or create safe zones, advisors are suggesting that the West support freedom movements, such as that of the Free Syrian Army, which can create some form of lasting national stability.93 Moreover, up until now the focus of the West in Iraq and Syria has been the abolition of terrorist organisations- Al Qaeda, ISIS etc. Although this has been partially successful – the deployment of 7,500 troops has meant that ISIS has lost much of its power94 – this has meant that, in Syria particularly, Assad’s hold on power has been strengthened. However, if the West were to intervene in a way that could weaken Assad’s regime and strengthen the democratic peace-seeking opposition (the FSA), then the likelihood of ending the Syrian conflict would be increased. However, it is important that such intervention is undertaken in the form of no-bombing zones, rather than through an aggressive and ill-thought out military invasion.

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9. Weapons given to the FSA are falling into the wrong hands

By Michael Karadjis

Countless times we have heard western policy-makers claim that they cannot allow arms to get to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) because they might “get into the hands of extremists”. However, the reality is that there are relatively few weapons in “the right hands” (the FSA), whereas there are large quantities of advanced killing equipment in the wrong hands (the Assad regime, ISIS and, to a lesser extent, Nusra – now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, JFS). Therefore, blocking or limiting weapons to the FSA for fear that they might stray into enemy ownership puts the group at a distinct disadvantage, as they are less armed and, thus, less well equipped to fight the regime and terrorist groups that pose a real threat to Syria’s security.

Ironically, by far the worst ever leakage of arms to ISIS comes not from the FSA, but rather from the US-backed Iraqi army. Amnesty International released a report in 2015 on weapons leakages to ISIS, which concluded that “the bulk of the arms and ammunition currently in the possession of IS has been seized from or has leaked out of Iraqi military stocks”.95 When ISIS seized Mosul in mid-2014 the Iraqi army were forced to flee. ISIS then seized over 2,300 US-supplied Humvees,96 tanks and armoured personnel carriers,97 and various small arms and light weapons and ammunition – enough to supply approximately three divisions in a conventional army (10,000 to 20,000 soldiers per division)”. Masses of similar equipment was seized from Tikrit and a number of other Iraqi towns and military depots, particularly in Ramadi in May 2015, when the Iraqi army abandoned “a half dozen tanks, a similar number of artillery pieces, a larger number of armoured personnel carriers, and about 100 wheeled vehicles like Humvees”.98 All this advanced killing equipment changed the course of the war – earlier in 2014, the FSA had expelled ISIS from the whole of western Syria and parts of the east (eg Deir Ezzor). After acquiring this new equipment, ISIS seized back Deir Ezzor and advanced up to eastern rural Aleppo. While hugely damaging to the conflict, the FSA were responsible for none of these weapons leakages. So, blocking weapon distribution to this group simply makes no sense.

In fact, most US-supplied aid given to the FSA has not made its way into enemy hands.99 The record shows that, overwhelmingly, relatively few arms provided to the FSA have ended up with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, let alone with ISIS.

Throughout the struggle in Syria, the US have continually committed themselves to supplying humanitarian aid – $364 million in 2016 to those affected by the war100 – but often refuse to take a strong political stance, most notably through their reluctance to arm rebel groups. Weaponry provided to the FSA throughout the war has been extremely limited compared to the military capacities of its opponents. Reports of rebels being supplied 16 bullets a month,101 for example, highlight the limitations of this “support”. Indeed, after President Trump’s election to office in the US, he openly stated that he was committed to reducing weaponry aid to Syrian rebels as “we have no idea who these people are”.102

This inadequacy and infrequency of FSA weaponry has various consequences. First, if terrorist groups have better weaponry – due to their own supply routes over the Iraqi border, and/or from funds provided by wealthy private sources in the Gulf – then they are in a better position to defeat the FSA and seize their limited weaponry resources.

The second consequence of inadequate weapons to the FSA is that it makes it harder for the group to attract recruits, as they seem less likely to be able to overthrow the regime. As both the FSA and Nusra/JFS are fighting Assad, many civilians are more willing to join Nusra/JFS due to their greater wealth of resources. This is especially true given the very fluid nature of group membership in Syria. Apart from hard-line terrorists and dedicated democrats, most fighters are somewhere “in the middle” and join the group with the best arms, money and organisation. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed al-Abboud, who commands the eastern front for the Supreme Military Council (the highest military leadership of the FSA) said that “we want to give fighters salaries, even as low as $US50”,103 but without Western support, this would be an impossibility. Therefore, the paucity of FSA arms and inferior wealth of resources acts as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups like JFS, meaning that by not supplying aid to moderate opposition groups, the West are helping to strengthen the very extremist groups that they claim to be fighting against.

TOW Missiles
The most advanced weapons given to the FSA have been US-made TOW anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), supplied by Saudi Arabia from its stocks.104 This began in 2014 and, in 2015, Saudi Arabia supplied FSA with 500 TOW antitank missiles.105 This was a huge help to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but did little to tackle the issue of Russian and regime airstrikes against civilians.

The US took a far less interventionist approach, supplying a limited number of TOWs to “vetted” rebel groups to better control supply and use it as a form of leverage to co-opt these rebels. The purpose of this co-optation was made clear by a member of the northern FSA coalition, Harakat Hazm, the first group to receive TOWs in 2014:

“By September 2014 the United States started to pressure us to leave the battle field against Assad and to send all our forces to fight ISIS. We had no problem [fighting] ISIS, but [we] wouldn’t agree to stop fighting Assad. From then on, our relations with the Americans went from bad to worse and eventually they stopped backing us. When Jabhat al-Nusra attacked us, we had already lost all foreign support. We lost because we dared to disobey the Americans.”106

Similar demands were placed on the FSA Southern Front (SF), which received a large number of TOWs. After a string of victories in early 2015, the US imposed a series of “red lines” on the SF,107 such as banning it from moving towards the central area of Daraa and from any attempt to link up with the rebel-held outer suburbs of Damascus, as well as cutting off the supply of TOWs. In January 2016, US intelligence officials demanded the SF stop attacking regime forces and instead focus their efforts on the terrorist groups of Nusra and ISIS.108 If they did so, they were promised new weaponry, and if not, the weapons freeze would continue.

Even while the US or Saudi Arabia were supplying TOWs, they imposed strict conditions on the FSA to limit the possibility of these missiles getting into the “wrong hands”. Resupply is allegedly reliant on a valid video of their use,109 together with sending back the spent casings of the round. The argument behind this is that the rebels cannot stockpile them, greatly limiting the possibility of Nusra or ISIS seizing them. Although, these conditions fail to account for how difficult it is to fulfil these conditions, as when the weapons are being used the FSA’s main focus is on targeting the enemy, not collating proof to show they have done so.

By October 2015, some 550 TOWs had allegedly been sent to the FSA over an 18-month period, according to Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Brookings Doha Center.110 While this may sound significant, the conditions imposed greatly limited the ability of the rebels to use them effectively, and while they did at times make a difference on the battlefield, this tended to be a “sweetener” for the rebels before being pressured to stop fighting the regime. Additionally, this limited supply of TOWs is futile in the face of high-tech weapons (T-90 tanks and anti-missile systems) that are being continually supplied to Assad’s regime by Russia.111

Nevertheless, the number of TOWs that the FSA have received and used correctly is huge when compared to the number known to have fallen into the “wrong hands.” According to Lister, only four TOWs were known to have fallen into the hands of Nusra by October 2015.112 Given that some 300 TOWs had allegedly been delivered to the FSA by this time, this represented a 99% success rate.

Anti-Aircraft Missiles
The final point is that the US has vigorously enforced an embargo against the rebels receiving anti-aircraft weapons.113 Given that Assad has been waging an air war since 2012, this is particularly problematic.

In theory, the embargo aims to prevent anti-aircraft weapons getting into the hands of terrorists. Yet such weapons already exist on the black market. A 2015 Amnesty International report shows that anti-aircraft weapons are scattered all over Iraq as a result of the American invasion, meaning that ISIS has had plenty of opportunities to seize them.114 This is not to mention, as stated above, that ISIS seized some from the Syrian regime.

In contrast, when FSA groups have tried to buy portable anti-aircraft missiles (manpads) on the black market, “somehow, the Americans found out and our purchase was blocked”.115 Meanwhile, last year ISIS were able to shoot down a Russian warplane.116 Thus, US policy of blocking these arms to the FSA has not prevented the most ultra-terrorist organisation getting its hands on them.

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10. ISIS is an 'opposition group'

With the exception of Kurdish military groups which are fighting for regional autonomy or for an independent Kurdish state,117 Syrian opposition groups exist within the context of a national struggle against a brutal dictatorship. Despite being fractured and diverse themselves, their primary aims are to depose Assad and to instate their visions for a post-Assad Syria.

ISIS, on the other hand, exists for a purpose that is unrelated to this struggle against the Assad regime, and does not even have Syria-specific objectives (its origins and its leadership come from Iraq rather than Syria118). Rather, ISIS's aims, as it formally declared in June 2014, are to establish and maintain a caliphate that will rule over Muslim lands.119 This vision has no regard for state boundaries, and hence, ISIS poses a threat to the modern international legal order.

The international level of ISIS’ threat to civilian life is highlighted by the stream of terror attacks that occurred in the UK throughout 2017.120 Whilst vicious and brutal, none of these attacks were directly related to the struggle in Syria, nor were they made with attempts to dismantle the Assad regime. Therefore, ISIS should not be viewed as a Syrian opposition group, but an international terrorist organization.

ISIS has assumed as an enemy any group (including the Assad regime) that does not submit to its rule.121 However, its central aim is unrelated to the Syrian people’s uprising against the Assad dictatorship. As such, it cannot be designated as an opposition group in the strictest sense, but should rather be considered as a third party to the Syrian conflict.

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11. ISIS's primary targets are religious and ethnic minorities

Minority groups are undoubtedly at grave risk under ISIS rule, as the group has adopted a clear stance against ‘all non-believers and apostates’ in its quest to establish an allegedly pure Islamic caliphate.122 The group has engaged, for example, in forced displacement, ethnic cleansing and possible genocide against the Kurdish, Yazidi, Christian, Shiite, and other minority communities in both Syria and Iraq.123

However, the reality is that victims of ISIS’ brutality are not confined to any specific demographic. Indeed, ISIS has inflicted its brutality against any group that resists its rule or refuses to adopt its specific interpretation of Islam,124 thus including Sunni Muslim groups that refuse to pledge allegiance to it or to accept its stipulated manner of practicing the religion.125 This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that tens of thousands of Sunnis have been displaced by ISIS – with 82,000 out of 172,000 Sunnis being refused re-entry to their homes after fleeing the group.126 Revenge killings against Sunnis are also common practice by ISIS, a frightening reality considering that even in 2017 2-3 million Sunnis still live under ISIS control.127

ISIS's threat therefore lies upon any group that resists its rule and is not confined to minority communities. Sunni Muslims, constituting 74% of the Syrian population,128 are also not protected or safe under ISIS.

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12. The White Helmets are a terrorist organisation

By Dr. Alessandro Columbu

The White Helmets (WH), or the Syrian Civil Defence as they are widely known in Syria, are a group of rescue activists established with the aim of saving lives in areas facing bombardment by the Assad regime and its allies. The group consists of around three thousand Syrian volunteers and was founded in 2013 with Turkish search-and-rescue specialists.129 The WH have rescued over 95,000 people and have lost 191 volunteers in their rescue operations because of Syrian air force shelling, aimed specifically at undermining their humanitarian work.130 Indeed, their role in the humanitarian crisis has been widely acknowledged, particularly through their nomination for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2016.131

Several news outlets controlled either by the Assad regime or by Russia, such as Russia Today, have attempted to taint the reputation of the WH. The accusations have aimed at discrediting the genuineness of their humanitarian work and have associated the group with extremist organisations such as al-Qaeda and al-Nusra.132 These claims, however, are not based on any evidence and have been dismissed as speculations, especially given that the WH only operate in areas under the control of the opposition.133 Efforts to distort the work of WH with misinformation were particularly acute in the period preceding the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, going as far as to claim that the videos showing the WH activists rescuing the victims of bombings were the work of actors. As WH rescue operation videos have consistently been authenticated, each of these claims against WH have been discredited, showing the groundlessness of accusations linking the WH to terrorist groups.134

As for the origins of the organisation and its links to governments, Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and Editor-in-Chief of EA WorldView, has explained that although the WH were established largely thanks to foreign efforts, its members are mostly ordinary civilians from Syrian communities – ranging from decorators, bakers, and tailors to engineers.135 While the group is open about the funding and support it receives from Western governments,136 its mission is that of protecting civilians and saving lives, devoid of any form of political agenda or affiliation to political parties.

Go back to the list of misconceptions

1. ‘Bashar al-Assad Interview: The Fight against Terrorists in Syria’, Global Research, 21 January 2014.
2. ‘Syria: The Story of the Conflict’, BBC Middle East, 11 March 2016.
3. See, for example, HRC, Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (5 February 2013) UN Doc A/HRC/22/59; HRC, Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (18 July 2013) UN Doc A/HRC/23/58.
4. Rowan Scarborough. ‘Al Qaeda "rat line" from Syria to Iraq turns back against Assad’, The Washington Times, 19 August 2013.; Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. ‘Maliki Says Terrorism in Iraq "Directly Related" to Syria’, Al Monitor, 07 October 2013.
5. Kareem Shaheen, ‘Ex-minister’s bomb plot conviction puts focus on Lebanon’s shady ties with Syria’, The Guardian, 14 May 2015.
6. Stuart Ramsey, ‘IS files reveal Assad’s deals with militants’, Sky News, 2 May 2016.
7. Josie Ensor, ‘How Isil colluded with Assad to make $40m a month in oil deals’, The Telegraph, 25 April 2016.
8. Simon Speakman Cordall, ‘How Syria’s Assad Helped Forge ISIS’. Newsweek, 21 June 2014.
9. Ibid.
10. Phil Sands, Justin Vela and Suha Maayeh, ‘Assad regime set free extremists from prison to fire up trouble during peaceful uprising’, The National, 22 January 2014.; Alexandra Sandels, ‘SYRIA: More Than 200 Political Prisoners Released, Rights Group Says; Police Station Reportedly Burned by Mourners for Slain Protester’, Los Angeles Times, 26 March 2011.
11. Charles Lister, ‘Profiling the Islamic State’, Brookings Doha Center, November 2014., pg. 12.
12. ‘Syria: Ruthless and unlawful government attacks killed scores of civilians in al-Raqqa’, Amnesty International, 17 March 2015.
13. ‘Kerry: There Is Evidence That Assad Has Played "Footsie" With ISIL’, Real Clear Politics, 18 September 2014.
14. Alice Fordham, ‘Syrians in Raqqa Believe Assad Regime Benefits from War on ISIS’, NPR, 5 December 2014.
15. Asaad Hanna, ‘We are Syria’s moderate opposition: and we’re fighting on two fronts’, The Guardian, 29 January, 2016.
16. Haid Haid, ‘Setting the record straight on Trump’s misconceptions about Syria’, Middle Eastern Eye, 23 November 2016.
17. Alice Fordham, ‘Syrians in Raqqa Believe Assad Regime Benefits from War on ISIS’, NPR, 5 December 2014.; Zachary Laub, ‘The Islamic State’, Council on Foreign Relations, 18 May 2015.
18. Patrick Wintour, ‘Syrian opposition coalition to announce democratic transition plan’, The Guardian, 7 September 2016.
19. Akbar Shahid Ahmed, ‘Syria rebels want Trump to know they’re the ones fighting ISIS’, The Huffingotn Post (3 March 2017).
20. The Atlantic Council, ‘Breaking Aleppo’, (Washington, 2017), p4.
21. BBC Middle East, ‘Syria chemical ‘attack’: What We Know’, BBC, 26 April 2017. ; Martin Chulov, ‘What do we know about the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria?’, The Guardian, 30 June 2017. ; Lauren Said-Moorhouse, ‘Sarin used as weapon in Syria chemical attack, watchdog says’, CNN, 30 June 2017.
22. Martin Chulov, ‘Starvation in Syria remains weapon of war despite partial ceasfire’, The Guardian, 8 April 2016.; ‘US says Syria using starvation as “weapon of war”‘, Middle East Eye News, 29 October 2016.
23. This is in line with the remarks of former British Ambassador to the UN Sir Mark Lyall Grant that ‘Al-Assad is not the answer to the terrorist threat; he is the cause of it’, and that ‘as long as Al-Assad remains in power, there will be no peace in Syria’. UNSC 7222nd Meeting (22 July 2014) UN Doc S/PV.7222; UNSC 7281st Meeting (21 October 2014) UN Doc S/PV.7281.
24. ‘Syria: Politics and Government’, They Work for You, 20 September 2017.
25. Ryan Lucas, ‘ISIS subdues influential Sunni Muslim tribes with gifts — or brutal mass killings’, National Post, 24 January 2015.
26. Zachary Laub, ‘The Islamic State’, Council on Foreign Relations, 18 May 2015. at pg. 28; Human Rights Council, ‘Rule of Terror: Living under ISIS in Syria’ (19 November 2014) UN Doc A/HRC/27/CRP.3, para’s 14, 20-21, 32-36, 52, 58-59; Daniel L. Byman, ‘Comparing Al Qaeda and ISIS: Different goals, different targets’, Brookings, 29 April 2015.
27. UNSC Resolution 2170 (15 August 2014) UN Doc S/PV.2710.
28. ‘The 6th Anniversary of the Breakout of the Popular Uprising towards Freedom, and the killing of the First Civilians’, Syrian Network for Human Rights, 18 March 2017, p2.
29. ?????
30. James Warren, ‘Vice goes inside Syria to see what media censorship really looks like’ Poynter, 23 February 2017.
31. ‘Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on’, The Guardian, 4 June 2014.
32. ‘Assad re-elected in wartime election’, Aljazeera News, 5 June 2014.
33. ‘Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on’, The Guardian, 4 June 2014.
34. Sophie Cousins, ‘Syrian refugees stranded and unable to vote’, DW, 3 June 2014.
35. ‘Assad re-elected in wartime election’, Aljazeera News, 5 June 2014.
36. ‘Assad re-elected in wartime election’, Aljazeera News, 5 June 2014.
37. Josie Ensor, ‘Syria bars “unofficial refugees” from voting in presidential election’, The Telegraph, 28 April 2014.
38. Natalie Carney, ‘Syrian refugees vote (or don’t vote) from abroad’, DW, 3 June 2014.
39. Dominic Evans, ‘Assad wins Syria election with 88.7 percent of votes: speaker’, Reuters, 4 June 2014.
40. ‘Syria holds presidential election widely condemned as rigged’, PBS News Hour, 3 June 2014.
41. Heather Saul, ‘Syria elections 2014: Voters turnout for ballot denounced as “sham” by West’, The Independent, 3 June 2014.
42. Kheder Khaddour. ‘The Assad Regime’s Hold on the Syrian State’, Carnegie Middle East Center, 8 July 2015.
43. Alexander Winning and Katya Golubkovaj, ‘Damascus was 2-3 weeks from falling when Russia intervened: Lavrov’, Reuters, 17 January 2017.
44. Barak Barfi, ‘In Aleppo, I saw why Assad is winning’, Politico, 2 December 2016.
45. Zachary Laub, ‘Who’s who in Syria’s Civil War’, Council on Foreign Relations, 28 April 2017.
46. Justin Jin, ‘Pressure from All Sides: The War in Syria and Foreign Intervention’, The Politic, 25 April 2017.
47. Majid Rafizadeh, ‘For Syria’s minorities, Assad is security’, Aljazeera, 16 September 2011.
48. Bahnan Yamin, Samira Moubayed, Mirna Barq, and George Stifo, ‘Don’t be fooled: Assad is no friend of Syria’s Christian minorities’, The Hill, 5 November 2017.
49. ‘Hafiz al Assad’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8 March 2017.
50. Susan Sachs, ‘Assad patronage puts a small sect on top in Syria’, The New York Times, 22 June 2000.
51. ‘A Wasted Decade: Human Rights in Syria during Bashar al-Asad’s First Ten Years in Power’, Human Rights Watch, 16 July 2010.
52. Jason Rodrigues, ‘1982: Syria’s President Hafez al-Assad crushes rebellion in Hama’, The Guardian, 1 August 2011.
53. ‘Syria population 2017’, World Population Review 8 June 2016.
54. Sadek Abdulrahman, ‘The lost cries of Alawites’, The Syrian Observer, 30 September 2014.
55. Liam Stack, ‘Blindfolded, a Prisoner is Made to Swear His Love for Bashar al-Assad’, The New York Times, 24th September 2012.
56. ‘Targeting mosques by the Syrian governments armed forces’, Syrian Network for Human Rights, 11 June 2016.
57. Martin Chulov, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Patrick Wintour, ‘Iran hails victory in Aleppo as Shia militias boost Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’, The Guardian, 14 December 2016.
58. ‘Syria: Defectors Describe Orders to Shoot Unarmed Protesters’, Human Rights Watch, 9 July 2011.
59. Harriett Alexander, ‘Regime change in Syria is one of many priorities, says Nikki Haley’, The Daily Telegraph, 9 April 2017.
60. ‘Syria chemical ‘attack’: What We Know’, BBC, 26 April 2017.; Martin Chulov, ‘What do we know about the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria?’, The Guardian, 30 June 2017.; Lauren Said-Moorhouse, ‘Sarin used as weapon in Syria chemical attack, watchdog says’, CNN, 30 June 2017.
61. Krishnadev Calamur, ‘The Trump administration appears to embrace regime change in Syria’, The Atlantic, 6 April 2017.
62. Glenn Kessler, ‘President Obama and the “red line” on Syria’s chemical weapons’, The Washington Post, 6 September 2013.
63. Clay Claiborne, ‘Barack Obama’s Courtship of Bashar Al-Assad’, The Daily Kos, 14 September 2012.
64. Ibid.
65. Ibid.
66. Ibid.
67. For example, when Assad targeted Kurdish forces supported by the US, the US Defence Department clearly warned him to desist or face military action. Josie Ensor, ‘US warns Assad after air strikes near its Syria base: we will defend ourselves’, The Daily Telegraph, 22 August 2016.
68. Tara McKelvey, ‘Arming Syrian rebels: Where the US went wrong’, BBC News, 10 October 2015.
69. Michael R. Gordon, ‘US and Russia reach deal to destroy Syria’s chemical arms’, 14 September 2013.
70. BBC Middle East, ‘Syria chemical ‘attack’: what we know’, BBC, 26 April 2017.
71. 11 April 2014.
72. Michael Crowley, ‘Trump’s Praise of Russia, Iran and Assad riles GOP experts’, Politico, 10 October 2016.
73. Frederic Hof, ‘Syria: Policy Made in Tampa?’, The Atlantic Council, 26 June 2017.
74. ‘France’s Macron says sees no legitimate successor to Syria’s Assad’, Reuters, 21 June 2017.
75. Lindsey German, ‘Aleppo Debate: MPs in Denial Once Again’, Stop the War Coalition, 14 December 2016.
76. Bethan McKernan, ‘Aleppo: Pro-government forces slaughter at least 82 civilians while closing in on Syrian city’, The Independent, 13 December 2016.; Martin Chulovet. al. ‘East Aleppo’s last hospital destroyed by airstrikes’, The Observer, 19 November 2016.
77. Adam Withnall, ‘Assad regime kills so many detainees it amounts to extermination of civilian population, UN says’, The Independent, 8 February 2016.
78. Samuel Osborne, ‘Syrian government forces responsible for more civilian deaths than Isis, human rights group claims’, The Independent, 7 October 2015.
79. ‘964 civilians killed in May 2017’, Syrian Network for Human Rights, 1 June 2017.
80. ‘Syria protesters call for no fly zone’, BBC News, 28 October 2011.
81. ‘How can a no fly zone work?’, Syria Solidarity UK,
82. ‘How can a no fly-zone work?’, Syria Solidarity UK, 15 October 2016.
83. Ibid.
84. Ibid.
85. Angela Dewan, ‘US could work with Russia on Syria no-fly zones, Tillerson says’, CNN, 6 July 2017.
86. ‘Poll: 64% of Brits want a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Aleppo’, YouGov, 6-7 October 2016.
87. Glenn Kessler, ‘President Obama and the “red line” on Syria’s chemical weapons’, The Washington Post, 6 September 2013.
88. ‘Syria chemical ‘attack’: What We Know’, BBC, 26 April 2017.; Martin Chulov, ‘What do we know about the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria?’, The Guardian, 30 June 2017.; Lauren Said-Moorhouse, ‘Sarin used as weapon in Syria chemical attack, watchdog says’, CNN, 30 June 2017.
89. ‘Over 200,000 Syrian’s remain in Assad’s prisons: SNHR’, The Syrian Observer, 8th July 2015.
90. Bethan Mckernan, ‘Assad ‘dropped 13,000 barrel bombs on Syria in 2016’, watchdog claims’, The Independent, 11 January 2017.
91. Paul Rosenburg, ‘Syria isn’t Iraq, but the similarities outweigh the differences’, Aljazeera, 6 September 2013.
92. Ed Krayewski, ‘President Trump escalates wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and maybe Afghanistan too’, Reason, 28 March 2017.
93. Paul Rosenburg, ‘Syria isn’t Iraq, but the similarities outweigh the differences’, Aljazeera, 6 September 2013.
94. Josh Lederman, ‘From Afghanistan to Syria: US military forays in the 21st century’ Global News, 6 April 2017.
95. ‘Iraq: Taking stock: The arming of Islamic State’, Amnesty International, 7 December 2015.
96. Alexander Smith, ‘Iraqi PM Haider Al-Abadi Says Forces Lost 2,300 Humvees to ISIS’, NBC News, 1 June 2015.
97. ‘Iraq: Taking stock: The arming of Islamic State’, Amnesty International, 7 December 2015.
98. Robert Burns, ‘US weapons likely fell into ISIS hands when the Iraqi army fled their posts in Ramadi’, Business Insider, 20 May 2015.
99. Al Jazeera, ‘The US lost track of $1 billion in weapons, and they might end up in ISIS’ hands’, Business Insider UK, 25 May 2017.
100. Yasmeen Serhan, ‘The United States’s $364 Million Humanitarian Aid to Syria’, The Atlantic, 27 September 2016.
101. Adam Entous, ‘Covert CIA Mission to Arm Syrian Rebels Goes Awry’, The Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2015.
102. David E. Sanger, ‘Donald trump likely to end aid for rebels fighting Syrian government’, New York Times, 11 November 2016.
103. Michael Kelley, A Full Extremist-To-Moderate Spectrum Of The 100,000 Syrian Rebels [GRAPHIC]’, Business Insider Australia, 19 September, 2013.
104. Mathew Bell, ‘Why are US-made anti-tank missiles showing up in Syria?’, PRI, 17 April 2014.
105. Jeremy Bender, ‘Saudi Arabia just replenished Syrian rebels with one of the most effective weapons against the Assad regime’, Business Insider UK, 9 October 2015.
106. Felix Legrand, ‘Foreign backers and the marginalization of the free Syrian army’, Arab Reform Initiative, November 2016.
107. Scott Lucas, ‘Syria Daily, August 23: Regime Carries Out Another Mass Killing in Douma’, EA World View, 23 August 2013,
108. Albin Szakola and Ullin Hope, Daraa rebels ordered to stop fighting Syria regime: report’, Now Media, 20 January 2016,
109. Ken Dilanian, ‘US providing anti-tank missiles, but not anti-aircraft weapons as Russia bombs moderate rebels’, US News, 13 October 2015.
110. Ibid.
111. Robert Fisk, ‘Syria civil war: State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge’, The Independent, 26 February 2016.
112. Ken Dilanian, ‘US providing anti-tank missiles, but not anti-aircraft weapons as Russia bombs moderate rebels’, US News, 13 October 2015.
113. Jeff Seldin, ‘Advanced Weapons May Reach Syrian Rebels Despite US Concerns’, VOA News, 26 October 2015.
114. ‘Taking stock: The arming of Islamic state’, Amnesty International, December 2015.
115. Charles Lister, ‘Russia’s intervention in Syria: Protracting an already endless conflict’, Huffington Post.
116. ‘ISIS downs jet near Palmyra, 2 Russia pilots killed’, Alarabiya Net, 9 July 2016.
117. David Pollock. ‘Syria’s Kurds Unite against Assad, but Not with Opposition’, The Washington Institute, 31 July 2012.; ‘The Kurdish National Council in Syria’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015.
118. Martin Chulov. ‘Isis: The Inside Story’, The Guardian, 11 December 2014.
119. Zachary Laub, ‘The Islamic State’, Council on Foreign Relations, 18 May 2015. at pg. 28; ‘ISIS jihadists declare "Islamic caliphate"’, Al Arabiya, 29 June 2014.
120. BBC, ‘London Bridge attack: Timeline of terror attacks in the UK’, BBC UK, 19 June 2017.
121. Alessandria Masi, ‘Beheading Video Sends Brutal "Message to America": What Does ISIS Want?’, International Business Times, 19 August 2014.
122. Can Erimtan. ‘ISIS and its Mission: Religious Cleansing, Genocide & Destruction of the Past’, Reuters, 10 May 2015.
123. Amanda Holpuch, Harriet Sherwood and Owen Boycott, ‘John Kerry: ISIS is committing genocide in Syria and Iraq’, The Guardian, 17 March 2016.
124. Ryan Lucas, ‘ISIS subdues influential Sunni Muslim tribes with gifts — or brutal mass killings’, National Post, 24 January 2015.
125. Can Erimtan, ‘ISIS and its Mission: Religious Cleansing, Genocide & Destruction of the Past’, Reuters, 10 May 2015.; ‘ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq’, Al Arabiya News, 5 July 2015.
126. Mustafa Salim and Zakaria Zakaria, ‘ISIS: A catastrophe for Sunnis’, The Washington Post, 23 November 2016.
127. Ibid
128. ‘International Religious Freedom Report for 2011’, US Department of State, 2011. at pg. 2
129. Yasmeen Serhan, ‘Who are the White Helmets?’, The Atlantic, 30 September 2016.
130. The White Helmets,
131. ‘The Guardian view on the Nobel peace prize: give it to Syria’s White Helmets’, The Guardian, 5 October 2016.
132. ‘Russian diplomat accuses White Helmets of supporting terrorism’, Tass, 27 April 2017.
133. ‘White Helmet Hearsay’,
134. Patrick Worrall, ‘Eva Bartlett’s claims about Syrian children’, Channel 4, 20 December 2016.
135. Scott Lucas, ‘Who are Syria’s white helmets and why are they so controversial’, The Conversation, 7 October 2017.