(CNSNews.com) – An emerging coalition currently comprising Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria is needed to save the Middle East, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Iranian television Sunday, charging that the U.S. and its allies are using terrorism as an instrument to subjugate the region.
This new coalition “must succeed,” he said. “Otherwise the whole region, not only one or two countries, will be destroyed. We have full confidence in this.”
In his first media interview since Russia began to launch airstrikes in Syria in support of his regime, Assad suggested to Iran’s state-run Khabar TV that a year-long airstrike campaign by a U.S.-led coalition has been ineffective against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) because the West does not really want to defeat the terrorists.
Accusing U.S. allies like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting “terrorists” fighting against his regime, he said that “had the United States really wanted to fight terrorism, it would have put pressure on those countries.”
“That is why I don’t believe that this coalition will do anything except strike a balance between the existing forces in order to keep the fire alive and perpetuate the process of erosion in Syria and Iraq and later other countries of the region, so that we all remain weak for decades and maybe generations,” he said.
In contrast to what he described as a failing campaign against ISIS by the U.S.-led coalition, Assad expressed confidence that one involving Russia, Iran and Iraq would have “great chances of success.”
“This coalition will, no doubt, achieve real results on the ground, particularly that it enjoys international support from countries which do not have a direct role in these crises and in this region,” he said.
(It’s not clear what “international support” Assad was referring to. Beyond Iran and Iraq, public support for Russia’s military actions has been limited, although Venezuela, Egypt and Kyrgyzstan have welcomed them.)
Russia claims to be targeting ISIS and other “terrorist” groups in its airstrikes, although Western officials say the Russian efforts are only nominally against ISIS, and that U.S.-backed rebels have also been hit. The Assad regime labels as “terrorists” all of the rebel groups fighting against it.
Assad said the U.S.-led campaign could not succeed because “the state which supports terrorism cannot fight it.”
“That is why, and after more than a year, we do not see any results. On the contrary, we see that is has been counterproductive. Terrorism has expanded geographically, and the number of volunteers or recruits to these terrorist organizations has increased.”
Building on that narrative – that Russian airstrikes are already proving effective whereas those carried out by the U.S. and others over a year have purposefully not been – Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told state TV Sunday that Russia’s successes have driven the targeted groups and their backers “crazy.”
“The U.S.-led coalition is not serious and all of its raids on the ISIS brought no tangible results because the real purpose was not destroying the ISIS but on the contrary preserving it for as long as possible with the aim of achieving certain goals,” the SANA news agency quoted al-Zoubi as saying.
Since last Wednesday, Russia says its warplanes have carried out more than 60 missions targeting “more than 50 ISIS facilities,” including command centers, ammunition depots and training camps.
“These efforts resulted in destruction of material and technical basis of terrorists and considerably reduced their combat potential,” Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of the armed forces general staff, told reporters on Saturday.
“Intelligence says that militants are leaving controlled areas. Panic and desertion has started among them,” he said. “About 600 mercenaries have left their positions and are trying to flee to Europe.”
For its part, the U.S.-led coalition has carried out 2,580 airstrikes in Syria (and another 4,604 in Iraq) as of Thursday, according to U.S. Central Command. The U.S. has accounted for the vast majority, while in Syria others have been carried out by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The Obama administration has rejected the notion that two coalitions are necessary in the fight against ISIS.
“There’s no need for another international coalition against ISIL when 60-plus nations are already aligned and having an effect against ISIL,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing in mid-September.
At the time he also dismissed the idea that Iraq might join a Russia-led coalition, calling Iraq a “staunch and steadfast” member of the U.S.-led one.
Since then, the Iraqi military has set up an anti-ISIS intelligence-sharing center in Baghdad with the Russians, Iranians and Syrians.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has even said he “would welcome” Russian airstrikes against ISIS inside his country, although Russia say there are no current plans to expand the campaign beyond Syria.
Interviewed by France 24 television on Thursday, Abadi disputed that he was siding with one coalition at the expense of another, saying he would prefer there to be just one coalition involving everyone committed to destroying ISIS.
“To be honest with you, for us what matters is how we can best fight Da’esh [ISIS],” he said. “I’m not trying to establish – I’m not party to this polarization, this bickering, political bickering. I want to save Iraq and the Iraqi people.”
As part of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes airstrikes as well as training, equipping and advising Iraqi forces to fight ISIS, the U.S. currently has 3,359 troops stationed in Iraq, along with another 2,092 from other coalition members.