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The world needs to know that the choice is not only Assad or Isis

It seems clear that the immediate goal of the Russian attacks is to degrade and demoralise moderate opposition forces as they, and not Isis, constitute the real challenge to Assad’s legitimacy. Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Akidi, former commander of Aleppo operations, told me that the Russians want to kill us all so they can convince the west that it is either Assad or Isis in Syria. They might also want to create an Alawite enclave as a last resort if the course of the conflict forced Assad out of Damascus.
One Syrian Alawite said: “We prefer the Russians; their manners and way of life are better for us. The Iranians look down on us and have less respect for our faith.” An army officer who defected three years ago told me that it is more likely that Assad’s army would feel more comfortable co-operating with the Russians than the Iranians, who are, in his words, arrogant, sectarian and ideologically driven.
This situation, coupled with a defiant and rather incoherent response from the west, reinforces the uncertainty of many Syrians, whether they are pro- or anti-Assad. Such despair is felt by those who once thought the uprising would oust Assad and open the doors for democratic reforms, and by those who believed Assad’s propaganda that the opposition were a bunch of terrorists and western agents who would be easily crushed.
It is worth recalling the hope of 2011. Syria had been under the rule of the brutal and corrupt Assad family, who ruled by terror, since 1970. Inspired by the Arab spring, many Syrians took to the streets demanding democratic reforms; Assad retaliated with extreme use of military force.
Thousands have since been killed; many others arrested and severely tortured. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, nearly 250,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of the conflict.
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