Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has expressed his gratitude to the supreme leaders of Iran and North Korea in two recent letters thanking them for standing behind his government, which has been accused by the West of perpetrating human rights abuses throughout a six-year war against jihadists and other insurgent groups.
In a letter sent Thursday to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Assad thanked the leading Shiite Muslim cleric for providing crucial support to the Syrian military as it advanced against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) toward the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where a three-year siege by the militants was broken earlier this month. Since a 2011 uprising threatened Assad’s control over the country, Iran has been a leading sponsor of the Syrian leader’s efforts to combat various forces opposed to his government.
“The Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran are continuing the fight against oppression and aggression and eliminating the threats of terrorism,” Assad wrote, according to Press TV, the English-language affiliate of the semi-official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
The Syrian military’s comeback in recent years has deeply hampered the interests of the U.S., which previously supported rebels attempting to overthrow Assad. This support dwindled as the Syrian opposition grew increasingly fractured due to infighting with more extremist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and as Russia stepped up military backing to Assad. The U.S. has since switched its focus to curbing ISIS influence via support for the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.
While the U.S. still calls for Assad’s eventual removal from power, this shift in strategy has opened the door for closer cooperation with Russia. This detente has not, however, extended to Iran. Unlike in Iraq, where the U.S. reluctantly accepted Iran’s extensive role in fighting ISIS alongside the U.S.-backed Iraqi military, forces…