Syria has been in a three-way civil war: the Alawite military force of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad; the US coalition consisting of the US-trained Free Syrian Army, Turkey, France, the UK, Germany, Australia, Canada, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; a smattering of jihadist forces, the biggest of which is the Islamic State – all three fighting each other. Now, the Russians have put their skin in the game taking Assad’s side, vowing to fight anyone who wishes to take Assad down.
Vladimir Putin’s strategy of temporarily propping up Assad while clearing Syria and the region – with the help of Iran, Iraq, and Hezbollah – of Islamic extremism is a sound one. The US coalition must join Putin in this effort to rid the region of the Islamic State and other similar militant groups which have rendered both the Sunni Free Syrian Army and Iraqi Shiite militias helpless so far.
The war in Syria and the region is not a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias, but a war of ideology between the radical Sunni extremists – the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and its offshoots – and the rest of the Islamic Ummah, the extremists accusing the rest of the Muslims of takfir or apostasy.
The common enemy of Russia and the US coalition, in the region, is Islamic extremism. Its eradication should be the first priority. Syria must indeed transition from Assad to a viable opposition, and this can happen only politically as a negotiated agreement.