Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who was reelected this year in an election the United States government deemed a “sham,” asserted the legitimacy of his government and insisted that the Obama administration is supporting the Islamic State in a wide-ranging interview with Paris Match magazine.
The interview, which is the first attempt by Assad in a long time to improve his image in the West, focuses largely on the Syrian civil war, and the interviewer does not shy away from asking Assad directly about his use of chemical weapons and his attacks on civilians. From the beginning, Assad lays most of the blame on outside influences. “Let’s be honest: had Qatar not paid money to those terrorists at that time, and had Turkey not supported them logistically, and had not the West supported them politically, things would have been different,” he says of “terrorists” that are fighting against his regime. He does not distinguish between moderate rebels who are seeking merely to overthrow him in the name of democracy and the terrorists of the Islamic State, and repeatedly condemns the United States for supporting the opposition “terrorists.”
Of the opposition forces, Assad says that “Obama himself said” that the opposition was “fake.” He goes on to explicitly blame the United States for the creation of the Islamic State:
The truth is that ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006. It was the United States which occupied Iraq, not Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in American prisons, not in Syrian prisons. So, who created ISIS, Syria or the United States?
He returns to this accusation later in the interview, when asked how he explains the war to his children. He claims his children ask him why the United States “launch[es] an aggression against us, and why it support[s] terrorists and destruction.” He also calls the airstrikes against the Islamic State– led by the United States and believed to have benefited the Assad regime significantly– “illegal.” When asked what hurts his wife, Aasma al-Assad, the most about the current situation, he attacked the United States and affiliates yet again, for “having allies among these medieval states in the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
He is similarly defiant about winning his presidential election this year. He says he will never step down so long as he remains elected (through elections that his government is responsible for running), because “we as Syrians will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state.”
According to United Nations estimates, there are a total of nine millions Syrian refugees, with about 6 million of those internally displaced, while others flee to neighboring Jordan, Turkey, or Lebanon. The war continues to rage with little end in sight, as the Islamic State continues to keep its hold on its “capital,” Raqqa, and has nearly erased the border with Turkey, using Turkey as a launching pad to bring Western terrorist recruits into Syria.