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One cartoon that captures the horrible truth about Assad and ISIS

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made it really difficult for the world to intervene to stop the Syrian civil war, now three years of violence, much of it Bashar al-Assad's forces attacking his own people. If the alternative to Assad is ISIS, how can a Western intervention guarantee Syria will be any better off?

This horrific situation was, in part, brought about by Assad's deliberate design. This deeply sad cartoon, by prominent Iranian artist Mana Neyestani, illustrates the brutality and calculation of Assad's plan.

assad cartoon iranwire mana neyestani

IranWire/Mana Neyestani

The really sharp point in Neyestani's cartoon is that Assad is bashing the protestors, but ignoring ISIS. That directly mirrors his real-life strategy of targeting moderate rebels, but only devoting minimal resources to rooting out ISIS.

In essence, Assad and ISIS seem to have made an implicit deal: ISIS temporarily gets a relatively free ride in some chunks of Syria, while Assad gets to weaken his other opponents. The two sides still hate each other, but both benefit from the status quo.

In 2006, Neyestani was imprisoned by the Iranian government for a cartoon depicting a cockroach as ethnic Azeri; it sparked riots and a police crackdown. Today, he lives in exile in France, and IranWire — an Iranian diaspora website — regularly runs his cartoons. This one is a biting, depressing satire of Assad, whom the Iranian government backs to the hilt, and his cynical manipulation of the ISIS threat.

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