Assad 'happy' to split Syria with ISIL: ex-UK spy

Comparing Syria to Yugoslavia’s break-up, former MI6 head says Syrian president could remain in power for a long time

Assad 'happy' to split Syria with ISIL: ex-UK spy

World Bulletin / News Desk

Syria’s fragmentation will continue unless regional powers, including Turkey, hold formal talks on the country’s future, a former British intelligence chief has warned.

Sir John Sawers said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was interested only in seizing back control of the “central spine of Syria” from Aleppo to Damascus and was “happy” to leave the east of the country to ISIL.

Sawers, who was head of the U.K.’s overseas intelligence agency, MI6, between 2009 and 2014, also said Russia had intervened in the country partly because President Vladimir Putin wanted to show the world he was a global power.

In an interview with BBC radio on Thursday morning, Sawers compared Syria to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when global powers were supporting different sides but came together to discuss a solution.

“We need to do the same on Syria so that the external powers, the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council], plus Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are sitting round the same table and exchanging analysis, understanding where each other are coming from, and as far as possible building some common ground on what the future of Syria is going to look like,” he said.

He said President Assad wanted only to re-establish control in a “central spine of Syria from Aleppo, Hama, Homs down to Damascus, and all areas to the west of that”, adding: “And they’re happy to leave the east of the country to ISIL. It suits their purposes that way.”

There is a “degree of coexistence” between Assad and ISIL in order to force out third parties like the Free Syrian Army, and Russia’s involvement could mean Assad remaining in power “for a long time”, he said.

President Putin wants to demonstrate he is not just a regional power, as U.S. President Barack Obama said earlier this year, Sawers added.

“I think that was a real jibe that hurt Putin. He wants to demonstrate that he’s a global power and a power to be reckoned with and he’s not just concerned about the states of the former Soviet Union; he’s a player around the world.”

But Sawers warned Putin was also running risks: “He’s siding with the Shia in a divided Islamic world; the Sunni forces of the Arab world and of Turkey are going to take deep exception to what he’s doing. And as the Russians discovered in Afghanistan, if you throw yourselves against an organized Islamist force, you can pay the price.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ekim 2015, 13:20