Why is US supporting ISIS in Syria while opposing it in Iraq?



US is supporting the rebels in Syria who are trying to bring down Assad's govt. ISIS is one of the rebels. So directly or indirectly, US is supporting ISIS in Syria.

But the same US is opposing the same ISIS in Iraq. why?

The only reason I can come up with is that because Syria is Russia-friendly, US is supporting ISIS there, but as Iraq is US-friendly, it opposes ISIS there. So say, if ISIS attacks Iran, US will support ISIS and if it attacks afghanistan, US will oppose ISIS.

what are your thoughts?

Registered User

Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 1 554

1The US has tried to avoid supporting the extremist rebels in Syria (i.e. ISIS) while still supporting the moderate ones. Some of the support may get to them in the end, but it isn't officially sanctioned. – Chris Mueller – 2014-06-29T23:58:14.783

15The US is not supporting ISIS in Syria. – Publius – 2014-06-30T00:00:05.657

3@ChrisMueller That's why I say "directly or indirectly". US may not support ISIS directly, but whatever US is doing in Syria is empowering ISIS. – Registered User – 2014-06-30T09:02:31.027

3Is the same story same song, the US supported Sadaam Hussein vs Iran in a 10 yr war, then called him an evil dictator, they supported Osama Bin Laden in the Afgan Russian war, then called him a terrorist. Now they supported ISIS vs Syria, the ISIS was not strong enough to topple the Syrian gov. so they migrated to Iraq (a country still in anarchy)....now they are a savage terrorist organization. – None – 2014-09-08T21:46:24.057

@user4449, there's a big time-lag in your example. The US supported Saddam and Bin Laden against the Soviet Union, not since the early 1990s. The Soviets were seen as a big threat. The situation in Syria is completely different. The US supported the moderate, anti Assad groups, in no small part because Assad was killing hundreds of thousands. If Isis attacks Iran, the US will keep out of it. If if was just Isis and Assad the US would keep out of it. It was the MILLIONS of Syrians who were neither Isis nor Assad that Obama wanted to support, but later backed out cause it was too hard – userLTK – 2016-05-27T22:53:31.740



'America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests' - Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State

  • It serves US government's interests (which, to dig one hole deeper, MAY or MAY NOT be the same as "America's interests") to support Sunni rebels in Syria.

    More specifically, the reasons are both:

    • domestic: Al-Assad is seen as a brutal mass-homicidal dictator, and there are domestic forces pushing to oppose him and support the rebels on humanitarian/human rights/etc... grounds

    • geopolitical: Any opposition to Al-Assad and prolongation of his war serves to distract and weaken and pressure Iran, which is the main geopolitical opponent of USA in the Middle East. If Al-Assad wins, Iran creates a Shia-dominated axis they control (Iran, Syria, Hezbullah-dominated Lebanon, Shia-governed-and-Iran-pressured Iraq).

  • It serves US government's interests to oppose ISIS in Iraq.

    More specifically, the reasons are both:

    • domestic: if Obama - after campaigning that we should get US military out of Iraq - loses Iraq to Al Quaeda offshoot, he will be extremely vulnerable politically to his opponents.

    • geopolitical: leaving aside the cynical view that the only reason Obama administration would care about ISIS because Republicans would use the issue against him, it IS in the deep geopolitical US interest to prevent an Al-Qaeda offshoot from establishing a terrorist state in Iraq.

      The existence of such a state in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was, after all, what enabled Al Quaeda to succeed in 9/11 attacks AND the grounds that USA went after Taliban and Saddam; and Iraq is a significantly more impactful ground to operate out of for Jihadist groups.

The fact that supporting rebels in Syria would help ISIS in their goals in Iraq either didn't occure to Obama administration; or if it did it wasn't deemed impactful enough to warrant not doing. We won't really know which option it was till the discussions on the topic are either leaked or declassified.

Remember that until recent ISIS successes neitrher USA nor Iraqui government had even a remote clue as to how powerful ISIS has grown, and were caught completely with their pants down, intelligence-wise.


Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 84 347

1"The fact that supporting rebels in Syria would help ISIS (...)" is not a fact, since the rebels in Syria have been fighting against ISIS for 4 years and gave ISIS its most decisive defeats. – Evargalo – 2018-05-24T07:12:35.080

@Evargalo - it's more of a higher level "enemy of my enemy" thing – user4012 – 2018-05-24T10:33:38.200

2Iraqi government is also Iran-friendly. Also the image of Assad being a mass homicidal dictator was created artificially so to gain support for his overthrow, so it can be easily reverted. – Anixx – 2014-07-01T08:12:03.053

I am not sure that I buy the label of Terrorist organization for ISIS. That said what they want is to reestablish the caliphate which is definitely against US interests in the middle east. – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T15:30:48.203

@Chad - they are an offshoot of Al-Quaeda. They executed civilians. – user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:33:52.173

@Anixx - I saw a low-ball figures of 4000 civilian deaths in 2013. He doesn't need "images" created artificially.

– user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:35:52.303

1@DVK - They have ties to Al-Queda, they are not an offshoot(though yes our propaganda has tried to portray them as such). Thankfully the US has not been executing innocent civilians for the last 12 years in Iraq or Afghanistan... If they had then would they not also be terrorists? Especially since we also have ties to Al-Queda – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T15:37:33.590

@Chad - they were previously known as AQI. Also, no, US has not executed any civilians on purpose. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/13/isis-beheadings-and-the-success-of-horrifying-violence/

– user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:46:44.493

@Anixx - also, contrary to your answer, the people in USA who see Assad as a human rights blight and push Obama to act against him are the MOST left wing parts of US society. – user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:50:14.273

4I feel like this doesn't answer the question, because the proper answer is that we're not supporting ISIS. Explaining why we're supporting some rebels in Syria says nothing about whether we're supporting ISIS spsecifically. – Publius – 2014-07-01T15:57:44.600

4@Avi - effectively, we ARE supporting ISIS. Support for rebels weakens Al-Assad which in turn support ISIS. Support for rebels with materials gives ISIS access to those materials when they are seized. Intentions don't matter. Consequences do. – user4012 – 2014-07-01T16:59:29.403

@DVK having the same interest as someone doesn't mean supporting them. Is Israel supporting al-Qaida by fighting Hezbollah? – Publius – 2014-07-01T20:52:24.277

1@Avi - yes. They don't mean to, but they do. Which is, if you noticed, why Israel carefully is NOT fighting anyone right now aside from pinpoint targeting Hezbollah weapons transfers from Syria – user4012 – 2014-07-02T19:09:18.830

@DVK Then I think you're interpreting the definition of "Support" loosely enough that asking why someone supports somebody is a meaningless question, because it is very likely not intentional. – Publius – 2014-07-03T00:23:56.090

@Avi - Google Define: give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act. Note that there's no mention of intention. – user4012 – 2014-07-03T00:48:00.843

@DVK My point is that using that definition renders OP's question meaningless. – Publius – 2014-07-03T01:42:49.170

1let's not let this comment thread drift too off topic – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2014-07-03T15:06:08.183

2He is paraphrasing Palmerston: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." Kissinger is a former history professor, and 19th diplomatic history was his specialty. – user24000 – 2017-05-31T14:59:58.990


First of all, the US is not supporting ISIS (or ISIL or IS, as it's also called) in Syria. The presence of extremist elements among militant groups in Syria is one of the major reasons why the Obama administration has been so cautious about giving weapons to Syria rebels. This concern seems to be widespread among the US political leadership (for example, it was one issue were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney mostly agreed).

It could be asked if, by supporting other rebels, the US is indirectly supporting ISIS, since the rebel groups all oppose Assad. Considering the violence that has occurred between the various rebel factions, it would be difficult to argue that (for example) supporting the Free Syrian Army against ISIS is tantamount to supporting ISIS.

It should also be pointed out that just as there are numerous rebel factions in Syria, so too are there numerous anti-government factions in the areas of Iraq where ISIS is active. It's often unclear how much strength ISIS actually has and how much of the rebellion is controlled by these other militant group.


Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 438

3Yeah, I'm not sure where people are getting this notion that America is supporting ISIS. – None – 2015-11-21T16:01:17.427


The U.S. is actually supporting the free Syrian army. But your point is correct. This is why arming the free Syrian rebels or the "moderate Muslims" in Syria is so difficult. It's a very complicated issue.

Here's a great article summarizing the lead up to the call for millitary intervention in syria by the United States http://thepoliticus.com/content/military-intervention-syria

Dammand Cherry

Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 827

They already found the weapons supplied to FSA in ISIS hands. – user4012 – 2014-09-09T20:37:36.900

1They also just found out that Steven Sotloff's location was sold to ISIS by "moderate Muslims". So if you arm "moderate Muslims" more then likely those would end up in ISIS hands. – Dammand Cherry – 2014-09-09T21:05:11.693

3Normally, when someone answers a question with a link, we expect them to summarize what's at the link and how it answers or otherwise resolves the question. This helps protect against dead links. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2014-09-09T21:23:59.520


America is supporting ISIS in Iraq as well. All US airstrikes being carried out so far in Iraq against IS have been highly ineffectively .

Quite the opposite is the case. There are reports from the iraqi public that they witnessed US supplying IS with weapons via air.

Therefore the iraqi government share now intelligence with Russia, Syria and Iran to cooperate their fight against the terrorists. They are even considering to request Russia's airstrike support as it has shown to be veru effective in Syria.


Wouldn't there have been a binding decree (fatwa) to mobilize the people by the highest religious authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyed al-Sistani, and the overwhelming public response, ISIS would have taken Baghdad one year ago and no US or any other western power could have prevented this.



Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 863

2That's so true! – None – 2016-01-07T10:33:58.343

1Yeah, a right fair answer. Well done. – Shia_Sunni___________UNITY – 2016-02-14T16:25:29.803


In Syria the governmet is moderately left. The state controls the economy and the country is the only remaining (after Libya) country in the Muslim world officially declared "socialist" in the constitution.

That's why the US opposes it.

In Iraq the last officially "socialist" regime was that of Saddam Hussain. The US overthrew it and installed a "neocon" (in the sense of lassez-faire) or liberal (in the international rather than US sense) regime. A wide program of privatization was implemented and lot of US-imposed legislation was adopted.

This includes some intellectual property innovations that would be controversial even in the US. For instance, most of the Iraqi farmers were subjected to paying royalties to US agricultural companies such as Monsanto.

That's why the US supports the Iraqi government.


Posted 2014-06-29T15:04:12.380

Reputation: 8 839

2Actually the Syrian regime is very right(not left though not as far right as Iran). – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T15:33:37.770

2"most of the Iraqi farmers were subjected to paying royalties to US agricultural companies such as Monsanto" - citation needed – user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:37:30.553

@DVK - Good call... but I have read the same so the sources exist. – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T15:39:36.700

@Chad - were they forced to pay while NOT using Monsanto's seed? – user4012 – 2014-07-01T15:47:36.273

1You cant not use seeds that do not have monsanto patented genes anymore. They have polluted the seed-stock. Any signifigant quantities of seedstock have been shown to have 90% Proliferation of their GM strains – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T15:57:28.147

@Chad - in Iraq? Or in USA? – user4012 – 2014-07-01T17:00:33.003

@DVK Both. The problem exists through out most of the world. – SoylentGray – 2014-07-01T17:38:23.120