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Don’t lose sight of Syria’s main terrorist leader

Image of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Russia [Press Service of the President of Russia/Wikipedia]
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Russia [Press Service of the President of Russia/Wikipedia]

So, after a dramatic press conference presided over by Donald Trump, we are led to believe that Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi died in an underground tunnel “whimpering and crying” like a dog. There will be few tears shed for the terrorist leader and, not surprisingly, the US military is milking his demise for all its worth.

A day after Trump’s announcement, the head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, released a grainy video of the raid on the compound where Baghdadi was cornered as US soldiers engaged the remnants of the self-appointed caliph’s bodyguard.

Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest and after the raid the compound was flattened. McKenzie said that two children had died with the Daesh leader in the tunnel, not three as previously reported. He could not confirm Trump’s graphic description of Baghdadi “whimpering” before his death.

It mattered not. The media has lapped Trump’s words up and other leaders around the world have gushed enthusiastically on the nearest available podium as they hailed the end of the terrorist leader. It seems as if just about everyone is trying to take credit for Baghdadi’s demise, none more so than the current Iraqi leadership.

READ: Baghdadi is dead, but what about Daesh?

With so much still to consider, forgive me for not sharing Fareed Yasseen’s enthusiasm. “Today justice prevailed,” crowed the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States after the military operation which killed Baghdadi. “The brutal leader of Daesh has met his end. We would like to express our gratitude to the US military personnel who carried out the daring raid in Syria that led to this outcome.”

A statement issued by Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of its Armed Forces read: “After your brothers in the armed forces were able to militarily defeat Daesh and eradicate its presence from the Iraq regions, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service today completed this achievement with a major role in tracking down the criminal Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in a unique operation that began in June of last year and resulted in the arrest of carriers and close associates of Al-Baghdadi’s family that led to where he was inside Syrian territory.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Daesh leader

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Daesh leader

Abdul-Mahdi noted that the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council “contributed further” to the investigation and disclosure of the facts with detainees close to Daesh leaders. “On this occasion, we extend our sincere thanks and gratitude to all Service Officers who contributed to this great achievement, and who dedicated themselves to sacrifice for the sake of their homeland and their people.”

Meanwhile Iraqi President Barham Salih hailed the US operation as “a great milestone in the war against terror” before adding: “While remembering his victims, we must ensure the fight continues to eradicate the scourge of terrorism through continued security vigilance, inclusive political systems, and development.” Giving credit to Iraq’s National Intelligence Service for the successful US operation, Salih concluded, “Iraq’s Armed Forces and Intelligence services will continue with Iraq’s partners in the coalition to relentlessly pursue Daesh terrorists and to defeat their ideology.”

READ: After Baghdadi death, Nobel laureate Nadia Murad asks: What about the rest?

That’s all well and good, but I now fear that we are taking our eyes off the ball and losing sight of the fact that Bashar Al-Assad is the main terrorist leader in Syria, and he is still in power and more emboldened than ever. So enough of the self-congratulatory back-slapping. I’d like to know when the Arab world and its leaders will get rid of the man sitting in Damascus. Trump no longer talks about removing Assad and Europe is relatively silent about this monster who can never be regarded as part of any solution for ending the unrelenting eight-year civil war in Syria.

Over the years he has been responsible, directly and indirectly, for the deaths, injuries and suffering of millions of Syrians and their children. Without his own reign of terror, around 12 million Syrians would not have fled their homes as refugees or internally displaced people in the country that the Assad dynasty has ruled so brutally for almost 50 years. His regime is responsible for the slaughter of many more people than were killed or suffered under Daesh.

It is important for us to remember that the uprising in Syria was never about the rise of Daesh, Baghdadi or the deluded band of killers who murdered, maimed, raped and pillaged their way across the region for his terrorist group, which at its height ruled a huge swathe of land across Iraq and the Levant. Nor had the Syrian revolution anything to do with those Kurds who were seeking self-determination with or without the help of the dodgy PKK or YPG. The presence of the US or Russia in Syria had nothing to do with this particular Arab uprising either.

Let’s remember that ordinary Syrian people became revolutionaries overnight because they finally snapped under the iron fist of Assad; and that, sadly, he is still in power. Let’s remember that there are still 7,000 Syrian women and 400 children being held with neither charge nor trial in Assad’s dungeons, where they are undergoing daily torture and unimaginable brutality. And let’s remember that hundreds of thousands of other prisoners are being brutalised in the regime’s prisons as detailed in secret reports and dossiers released to the media.

READ: UN chief calls for ‘endgame’ talks in Syria

There was one ray of hope which shone through the bluff and bluster of Trump’s media circus, and that was the news that a court in Germany has charged two suspected former Syrian intelligence officers with crimes against humanity. Identified only as Anwar R, the first is suspected of torturing at least 4,000 people in 2011-12. This resulted in 58 of his victims being killed. The other suspect is known only as Eyad A; he is charged with torture in at least 30 cases.

Key evidence was gathered after a UN photographic exhibition in 2015, which showed the world the corpses of torture victims killed under Assad’s rule. The trial in Koblenz of the two men, who were arrested in February, is expected to start early next year. It cannot come soon enough, as it might lead to others being caught in the net of the international judiciary. We can only hope that this will include Assad.

It is understandable that there is jubilation over the demise of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but we must keep our eyes on the main cause of terrorism in Syria today, which is the regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad. And then we must do something to bring it to an end, sooner rather than later. It’s the least we can do for his victims, both living and dead.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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