IRBIL, Iraq – With global attention turned to crises raging elsewhere in the region, a triumphant and defiant Bashar Assad was sworn in Wednesday for a third term as president of war-ravaged Syria.
Assad’s address during an elaborate ceremony at the presidential palace overlooking Damascus, the Syrian capital, reported by the official Syrian Arab News Agency, was a virtual declaration of victory in the war that has convulsed the Middle Eastern nation since 2011.
Still, he vowed to fight on to evict “terrorists” –as he routinely calls antigovernment rebels – from remaining strongholds such as the northern cities of Aleppo and Raqqah.
“They wanted … a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries,” Assad told his supporters, lauding those who stood by his government in the now-stalled rebellion backed by the United States and its allies in the region.
“They employed every dirty trick, they left no perverted path untaken, and they failed,” Assad said of the rebels while praising the Syrian people for “standing like a spear in the face of cunning.”
Critics immediately assailed the address as divorced from the reality on the ground, considering much of Syria remains out of government control. The conflict has wrecked the economy, left vast swaths of the nation in ruins, cost more than 100,000 lives and led more than 3 million Syrians to flee the country.
Sounding confident, Assad warned that Arab countries and other nations would pay a “high price” for having supported a rebellion that has seen Islamist fighters from across the world descend on Syria.
Today, the Islamic State group that has seized territory in Syria also threatens the U.S.-backed government in neighboring Iraq and has already been blamed for plotting to destabilize Lebanon’s fragile, multi-sectarian democracy. Some analysts say the spreading chaos has bolstered Assad’s position as a bulwark against al-Qaida-style extremists.
In Syria, Assad’s forces have seen a year of battlefield victories, retaking the strategic city of Homs and other areas. His government has also completed a transfer of its chemical weapons stocks for destruction despite widespread skepticism that he would comply with a United Nations mandate.