Why has ISIS not carried out a single serious attack on the Assad regime?

While the world's attention has been focused on Kobani over the last two
weeks, the Assad regime continues its bloody war. Most recently, the
regime killed scores of people in Damascus and dropped barrel bombs in
several cities. More people are fleeing Syria, adding to the number of
millions of refugees and internally displaced people. With the rise of
ISIS, the Assad regime has not become a lesser security threat for the
Syrian people and neighboring countries. To the contrary, the carnage
and chaos it causes continues to be one of the most fertile and
disastrous breeding grounds of extremism in the Middle East.

In the meantime, ISIS continues to advance to new territories in Iraq
and Syria. After ISIS was stopped at the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, it
began to move toward Baghdad again. It made significant advances toward
the Iraqi capital over the last few weeks. It remains in control of
Mosul and other swaths of territory. It will not be a big surprise if
ISIS makes a surprise attack on Baghdad when the world's attention is
turned to Kobani.

While all this happens and ISIS kills Sunni opposition groups, Shiites,
Western journalists, Yazidis, Christians and so on, it is yet to carry
out any attacks on the Syrian regime. Is this not strange? ISIS is using
the weapons it captured in Iraq and Syria in its current barbarism. In
Syria, it uses the Russian-made weapons it seized from the Syrian army.
In Iraq, it uses the American-made heavy weaponry it seized from the
Iraqi army. With other opposition groups weakened or destroyed, it has
no shortage of fighters joining from around the world.

It is no secret that ISIS received substantial support from the Assad
regime since the spring of 2014 when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) took
major hits in the battle. This was also when the international community
failed to provide help. ISIS moved into territories cleared by the
Assad regime's aerial strikes whose main targets were the FSA and other
opposition groups. As ISIS took control of much of the north of Syria,
Assad felt secure because ISIS territories created some sort of a
buffer-zone between Damascus and the opposition-held areas in the north.

The PYD was already doing that for Assad in the Kurdish-populated areas:
instead of joining the Syrian opposition, the PYD and its military
wing, the HPG, formed multiple alliances with the Assad regime on the
one hand and the PKK on the other. Turkey sought to engage the PYD and
its leader Salih Muslim but on the condition that it severe its
relations with the regime in Damascus. Instead of taking a clear
position, the PYD continued to play double games, jeopardizing its own
position in a tricky and brutal war. It was not just Turkey but also the
leaders of the Iraqi Kurdistan as well the Americans that warned the
PYD leadership of avoiding shady deals with the regime.

Let's ask again: why has ISIS not carried out a single serious attack on
the Assad regime? If, as some claim rather preposterously, Turkey
supports ISIS because it opposes the Assad regime, why have we not seen
any serious battles between ISIS and Assad forces? Why is ISIS moving
away from Damascus and other regime-held major cities and instead moving
to the north, i.e., Turkish-Syrian border and east, i.e., north-western

The Assad regime and its allies find ISIS a helpful tool; it is their
useful idiot that they can use against the moderate Syrian opposition to
divide and weaken it. ISIS is also an effective instrument in the
propaganda war where ISIS's scenes of beheadings, barbaric and horrible
as they are, are fully used to shadow the killing of more than 200,000
people by the Assad regime. It also provides a cover, though a temporary
one, for the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by
Assad and his commanders.

In Iraq, ISIS is a coalition of impossible allies. Moderate Arab Sunni
tribes, ex-Baathists and Saddam commanders, Islamic opposition groups
and even some Naqshbandi groups have all joined ranks with ISIS against
what they see as an oppressive, dysfunctional and sectarian Baghdad.
What binds them is not an ideology of Wahhabism, though this is what
appears on the surface, but rather a politics of solidarity against a
common enemy. What will convince these groups to part ways with ISIS is a
new security and political architecture in Iraq where all will feel
equal and empowered.

It looks like the only party not afraid of ISIS is the Assad regime.
ISIS is yet to make any advances against the regime. It is as though the
territories of the so-called Islamic State do not include the
territories held by the Baath regime in Damascus. It even looks like the
Assad regime is happy with the ISIS threat as it provides a comfort
zone for it. ISIS must be fought against and defeated. But this should
be done with a proper strategy that addresses the root causes of the

by Asst. Prof. Ibrahim Kalin