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Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad
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The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with the international community to combat these resurgent militants.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem says Damascus welcomes even the United States, which is backing Syria's more-moderate opposition.

"The coming few days will judge the seriousness of regional and international countries in fighting terrorism. Until now we have not sensed this seriousness," said al-Moallem.

Getting that sort of cooperation would be a big boost for Assad, says American University professor Akbar Ahmed.

"It would exonerate him and in a sense it would also establish his legitimacy in the eyes of his own regime that look, 'We did all this because it was necessary. There may have been some bloodshed, but it was necessary. And here is the proof, that even the West - who are the biggest critics of what we are doing - even the West, the United States and the U.K. have now come onboard,'" said Ahmed.

But acknowledging the Islamic State threat - and attacking its fighters in Iraq - does not make Washington an ally of Damascus even as State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the Obama administration considers a range of options "not limited by borders."

"That doesn’t mean that our view has changed of the brutality of the Assad regime and the brutality of the actions that he has taken against his own people," she said. "But given the growing threat of ISIL, it is a threat that we need to take on and work with countries in the region to do that."

Regional leaders agree there must be a broader coalition to defeat the Islamic State, even if that may directly benefit Syria's government and its allies, says U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Steve Heydemann.

"The risk is that we are in some ways rewarding Iran, rewarding the Assad regime, rewarding the Russians for bad behavior to the extent that the Assad regime, with Iranian and Russian support, created the conditions that permitted the rise of ISIS for the Saudis and the West to now become involved in solving the problem that those governments and those movements had a hand in creating suggests that we are helping them to avoid the consequences of their own policies," he said.

Center for a New American Security analyst Nora Bensahel says there is "very careful thinking" in Washington about the Islamic State.

"The United States certainly does not want to be seen as intervening in the civil war, period, much less being seen as intervening on the side of the Assad regime. So that's why we're seeing a lot of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions now starting to be flown so the United States can get a better picture hopefully of what's going on on the ground to inform future decisions," she said.

U.S. military action against Islamic State fighters so far has been limited to airstrikes in Iraq, but there may be more direct involvement in a broader fight that President Obama says "won't be easy, and it won't be quick."