[Marxism] Black flag is now the only one in Raqqa

Marv Gandall marvgand2 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 19 09:06:50 MDT 2013

On 2013-09-19, at 8:27 AM, Michael Karadjis wrote:

> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Juan Fajardo" <fajardos at ix.netcom.com>
>> "Aug. 15 ISIS pushes FSA unit the Ahfad al-Rasoul brigades out of the city of Raqqa, after detonating several suicide car bombs, including one that destroyed the brigades' headquarters there."
>> 'Rebel-on-Rebel Violence Seizes Syria' (Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2013)
>> http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324807704579082924138453120.html
> More on this, and a detailed description of the situation in Raqqa more generally, both the good and bad:
> http://therepublicgs.net/2013/09/16/al-raqqa-the-reality-of-the-military-brigades-the-administration-of-the-liberated-city-and-the-revolutions-to-come/

Below an article on the same subject by Hassan Hassan, a Western-educated Syrian journalist in the UAE who has written for the Guardian, al-Monitor, and other English-speaking publications. The WSJ article to which Juan Falardo linked earlier is behind a paywall, and is reproduced below Hassan's article. I'd be surprised if the FSA weren't drawing attention to these increasing clashes to secure more and better weapons from the US and other countries. Their use against the jihadists rather than the regime would bring the interests of the US, Russia, and Iran into alignment. The al Quada linked ISIS and al-Nusra Front have opposed the involvement of the US in the conflict with this concern uppermost in mind.

Rebel vs. Rebel
Syrian jihadi groups are now kidnapping and killing one another. Is this the beginning of an all out war, or an opportunity for the moderates?
Foreign Policy.com
SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

If the United States wants to move against jihadists in Syria, there has never been a better time. Tensions between moderate rebel groups and extremist forces are coming to a head across the country.

The potential of a U.S. military strike over the past several weeks -- which mainstream forces largely welcomed, and jihadists, fearing that the United States would target them, opposed -- appears to have exacerbated tensions between the groups. Full-blown clashes broke out in the north and east of the country today, with Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated groups in the city of Deir Ezzor battling with the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Meanwhile, ISIS also launched an offensive on the northern town of Azaz, which lies close to the Turkish border.

The clashes follow an ISIS announcement earlier this week declaring war against the FSA-affiliated Farouk Brigades in Aleppo, along with another moderate rebel brigade. Dubbing its operation "The Repudiation of Malignity," the jihadist group said its offensive was in response to an attack by the brigades against its headquarters in the northern city of al-Bab last week.

ISIS even appears to be picking fights with more radical brigades. The jihadist group reportedly kidnapped nine commanders from the Ahrar Souria group in the northern city of Raqqa on Sept. 12. It also killed a commander from the powerful Ahrar al-Sham militia, after the man objected to ISIS's kidnapping of Malaysian aid workers. In going after Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS is turning a former friend into an enemy: The Salafist group stood by ISIS last month when itclashed with Ahfad al-Rasoul, an FSA-affiliated rebel group, and as popular protests erupted against ISIS.

ISIS's feuding with moderate Syrian rebels seems to be sanctioned by the very top of the al Qaeda hierarchy. In an audio statement last week, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri warned his followers in Syria to avoid cooperation with "secular groups that are allied to the West."

That's not to say that mainstream rebel groups can afford to shun al Qaeda affiliates entirely. In the absence of an international push to help the opposition, jihadists are still the rebels' most lethal weapon. Jihadist suicide attacks have been responsible for some of the most important strategic gains recently: Rebel groups besieged Mennagh military airbase in Aleppo for more than a year, for example, but were unable to completely capture it -- until ISIS dispatched its suicide bombers on Aug. 5. The same thing happenedat the Hamidiya military complex in the northern province of Idlib last month.

But there is no doubt that rebel groups are growing increasingly uneasy with the behavior of al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in rebel-held areas in the country's north and east. Jihadists may be an indispensable asset on the front lines, but their behavior in liberated areas -- where they have kidnapped activists and aid workers, terrorized civilians, and tried to implement an alien form of Islamic law -- is alienating Syrians.

The eastern city of Abu Kamal, close to the Iraqi border, has emerged as a case study of the jihadists' limited appeal. Over the past several months, multiple residents told me that Syrians were growing increasingly restless over the jihadists' presence. They cited their tendency to interfere in people's personal affairs and force their own worldview on residents. But their central complaint was the extremists' focus on maintaining a monopoly over local resources: One resident from Abu Kamal and another from Aleppo told me that jihadists tend to claim anything under government control as spoils of war, from schools to telephone and water facilities.

Earlier this month, clashes erupted between the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and FSA-affiliated groups. When the gunfire stopped, the moderates were able to negotiate a ceasefire deal that represented a body blow to Jabhat al-Nusra's influence in the area: The jihadist group agreed to ask foreign jihadists in its ranks to leave the city, "as there is no fighting in Abu Kamal and so there is no need for wearing masks or even carrying arms." The groups also agreed that security in the city must be handled exclusively by the "security brigade," and other FSA-affiliated rebel groups. Finally, it prohibited Jabhat al-Nusra from establishing checkpoints in the city, and stipulated that houses can only be raided through a court order and by FSA brigades.

Remarkably, Jabhat al-Nusra issued a two-page apology to the people of Abu Kamal, in which it blamed the FSA for forcing the war on the jihadist organization. It said that it had pulled its fighters from the frontlines to defend itself against "groups that seek to establish a secular state." Jabhat al-Nusra asserted in the apology that it could easily defeat the FSA -- but the fact that it tried to reach out to the public, rather than engage in further confrontation, suggests that it's mindful of growing public opposition.

Abu Kamal is predominantly tribal and more conservative than most areas in Syria, but this development proves that it's not a natural breeding ground for jihadist groups. Extremists have tried repeatedly to establish a foothold there -- when the regime's forces left the region, jihadists presented themselves as a force that could get things done. They distributed badly-needed cooking gas, fuel, and foodstuffs to the local population. Meanwhile, the FSA groups stumbled, neglecting the population and focusing on their own financial gain. Jihadists, however, are their own worst enemies -- as time passed, the local population grew restless of their medieval style of rule.

Al Qaeda's operatives in Syria have worked hard to avoid the mistakes they committed in Iraq, where they alienated potential supporters with brutal, indiscriminate tactics. The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, has repeatedly called on his followers to be flexible on religious matters that are not usul -- or fundamentals -- to avoid antagonizing local populations. But that sentiment has not trickled down to rank-and-file jihadists. In addition to the fighting against fellow rebel brigades, they have shot at Syrians protesting outside their headquarters in Raqqa, executed a teenage boy in Aleppo, and detained Italian priest Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a longtime advocate of religious coexistence in Syria.

Jihadists know that the single greatest threat to their existence is not drone attacks or a regime military offensive, but rejection by local populations. They are paranoid about a repeat of the rise of "Awakening Councils," or sahwat, which began in Iraq's Anbar Province after al Qaeda alienated the Sunni population of the area. Sahwat is a pejorative term among jihadists, who believe that the Americans pitted Sunnis against each other in Iraq, only to betray them three years later by handing power to a Shiite government that marginalized their sect.

Syria has not yet seen the rise of sahwat -- but the jihadists' fears will likely be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their attacks on rebel groups may be designed to forestall the very possibility of such an awakening: Many of the groups it has targeted are part of an umbrella organization known as Jabhat al-Asala wa Tanmia -- a Salafist-leaning group believed to be funded by private donors in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which has been vehemently attacked by some Gulf citizens who support jihadi groups as sahwites.

Syrians' growing hostility towards jihadists is not the result of a push from outsider powers -- it comes from genuine public concerns about their presence. As people in rebel-held areas no longer have a need for the jihadists' ruthlessness in battle, moderate groups will have a new opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the local populations in liberated cities and towns, as well as on the front lines. If the world wants an ally in their fight against creeping extremism, they will find a broad array of Syrians willing to help them drive the jihadists out.
Hassan Hassan is deputy opinion editor at The National, an English daily based in the United Arab Emirates. He tweets at @hhassan140.

*	*	*

Rebel-on-Rebel Violence Seizes Syria
Wall Street Journal
September 18 2013

An al Qaeda spinoff operating near Aleppo, Syria's largest city, last week began a new battle campaign it dubbed "Expunging Filth."

The target wasn't their avowed enemy, the Syrian government. Instead, it was their nominal ally, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

Across northern and eastern Syria, units of the jihadist group known as ISIS are seizing territory—on the battlefield and behind the front lines—from Western-backed rebels.

Some FSA fighters now consider the extremists to be as big a threat to their survival as the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

"It's a three-front war," a U.S. official said of the FSA rebels' fight: They face the Assad regime, forces from its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, and now the multinational jihadist ranks of ISIS.

Brigade leaders of the FSA say that ISIS, an Iraqi al Qaeda outfit whose formal name is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, has dragged them into a battle they are ill-equipped to fight.

Some U.S. officials said they see it as a battle for the FSA's survival.

In recent months, ISIS has become a magnet for foreign jihadists who view the war in Syria not primarily as a means to overthrow the Assad regime but rather as a historic battleground for a larger Sunni holy war. According to centuries-old Islamic prophecy they espouse, they must establish an Islamic state in Syria as a step to achieving a global one.

Al Qaeda militants from central command in Pakistan and Pakistani Taliban fighters have also set up operational bases in northern Syria, people familiar with their operations said.

The spread of ISIS illustrates the failure of Western-backed Syrian moderates to establish authority in opposition-held parts of Syria, some of which have been under rebel control for over a year.

The proliferation of the Sunni jihadists and extremists has brought a new type of terror to the lives of many Syrians who have endured civil war in the north. Summary executions of Alawites and Shiites, who are seen as apostates, attacks on Shiite shrines, and kidnappings and assassinations of pro-Western rebels are on the rise.

Estimates on the size of ISIS range from 7,000 to 10,000 fighters. Fighters from ISIS—though it shares the goal of toppling Mr. Assad's Shiite-linked Alawite regime—have frustrated Sunni communities that until recently embraced the military prowess and social services of Islamist rebels, local residents said.

The FSA's fight with extremists is spurring new rebel calls for Western help, after the U.S. put on hold what had looked like imminent strikes on the Assad regime. Instead, diplomacy has taken over, after a U.S.-Russian deal to disarm Syria's chemical weapons.

A parallel effort continues by Gulf states—and to a much lesser extent by the U.S.—to strengthen select rebel units viewed as moderate, according to Western officials familiar with the arms flow to Syrian rebels.

The FSA's Supreme Military Council, and other rebels who want the U.S. to intervene on their behalf, see the rise of ISIS as an opportunity to firmly separate themselves from al Qaeda militants, whose presence they believe is holding the U.S. back.

This account of the growing influence of ISIS and its backlash is based on interviews with FSA rebels fighting ISIS, Syrian jihadists who have fought alongside the al Qaeda group or are familiar with its operations, and Western officials.

Representatives of ISIS, a group also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and in Arabic as al-Dawla, couldn't be reached for this article.

"There's been a real shift in focus [among Syrians in the north]," a Western official working with the opposition said. "A sense of 'We can't get rid of the regime without getting rid of Dawla first.' "

U.S. officials said one reason for the delay in funneling small quantities of light arms to rebels, which began this month, is the difficulty of creating secure pipelines of delivery to intended recipients.

The chaos of the Syrian battlefield, where those fighting to overthrow Mr. Assad sometimes fight side-by-side with those who see Syria as a springboard for global jihad, has compounded U.S. concerns over this process.

U.S. and other Western officials said they were aware of a local backlash and localized FSA counteroffensives against ISIS. They welcomed FSA efforts to draw a line between al Qaeda fighters and the rebels who Western states back.

The extremists pose a threat to the ability of the political opposition, too, to gain legitimacy on the ground and better coordinate with the Free Syrian Army.

In the past half-year, as the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the main opposition body, deliberated over forming what it calls an interim government, extremists have gained ground across the north.

"It's an uphill struggle for the coalition's interim government to establish itself inside Syria in the face of threats from the regime, and extremists, but there is still an opportunity to be missed here," a senior Western diplomat said. "It's still the case that a majority of Syrians are not up for Talibanization. Given a moderate alternative, they will choose that."

The other alternative: A lawless north becomes a launchpad for jihadists, akin to areas of Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula.

"The roots of Waziristan, of southern Yemen have been planted in northern Syria," a Western official working with the opposition said.

The group has moved quickly. In mid-August, ISIS pushed a well-known FSA unit, the Ahfad al-Rasoul brigades, out of the city of Raqqa in northern Syria after tit-for-tat killings and bombings between their fighters.

On Wednesday, clashes broke out in the town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, between ISIS fighters and rebels from an FSA-allied group, leading to some casualties on both sides, opposition activists in the town said. Clashes continued past midnight, activists said.

Along Syria's border with Turkey, ISIS fighters are trying to wrest the four major crossings from other rebel units, in a bid to control supply routes, according to rebels battling the extremists, and Western officials.

In recent weeks, ISIS fighters have adopted a strategy of dropping back—taking rear positions—as rebels with the FSA alliance leave for front lines to fight government forces, allowing ISIS to build a presence in towns and villages left without security or services.

Some Syrians in the villages that dot the Turkish border have changed their lifestyles to dodge persecution by followers of ISIS's fearsome brand of Islamic extremism.

Local men grow beards to pass without scrutiny through ISIS checkpoints. Many Syrian activists and aid workers, wary of their affiliations with Western aid agencies and governments, now say they prefer to work in Turkey and avoid cross-border trips, many border residents and aid workers said.

These jihadists see a long-term mission in Syria. Foreign fighters have begun to move their families to Turkish border areas, locals said.

The trickle of families picked up after the possibility of a U.S. strike on Syrian government targets emerged late last month in response to an Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus. U.S. officials said they saw indications the militants hoped they could seize on a U.S. strike to shift momentum against the regime.

As the U.S. threat receded, emboldened ISIS militants ramped up efforts to win local support, said Hamid Ibrahim, a spokesman for FSA leader Gen. Salim Idriss.

"They are telling them: 'We told you that you can't depend on America for freedom. Don't be fooled—you only have us,' " Mr. Ibrahim said.

The Supreme Military Council, led by Gen. Idriss, has been the focus of U.S. efforts to bring a command-and-control structure to rebels—but has now lost to the Islamist extremists most of its ability to operate in some parts of the north.

ISIS fighters recently raided a council arms depot filled with lights weapons and ammunition, funded by the Gulf states and funneled to the council with the guidance of the Central Intelligence Agency, council members said.

From Idlib in the north to Deir el-Zour in the east, Syrian activists are looking for Western help to learn ways to push back against al Qaeda's influence.

In Aleppo and Hama, local rebel police forces are being trained with U.S. funds to put security in the hands of American allies.

The foreign jihadists have become a problem even for some of the hard-line Syrian Islamists who worked most closely with them on the battlefield. One such group is Ahrar al-Sham.

On Sept. 10, a gunfight that broke out at an ISIS checkpoint in Idlib killed a revered leader, Abu Obeida, as he accompanied Turkish and Malaysian relief workers on a distribution mission, unleashing criticism in Islamist rebel circles against ISIS.

ISIS members, posting on social-media networks, said the delegation was stopped because fighters confused the Malaysian flag for the American flag.

They deny intending to kill Abu Obeida, and said they aimed to shoot him in the legs only to keep him from running away after they had ambushed him and stuck him in the trunk of a car.


Gaining Ground
The spread of Iraqi al Qaeda groups in Syria

Late 2011 The Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, al Qaeda's Iraq branch, moves operatives to Syria to set up a new affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

January 2013 Al-Nusra, led by Abu Muhammad al-Golani, announces itself as an official entity in online videos. In the months that follow, al-Nusra becomes a leading Syrian rebel fighting force, attracting thousands of jihadists, including foreigners. It also provides social services in parts of northern Syria—and ends up designated by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization.

April ISI leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi changes the name of ISI to Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, in an attempt to swallow Jabhat al-Nusra into a broadened entity. Al-Nusra's leader, al-Golani, rejects the plan, pledging allegiance to central al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Spring 2013 In the months that follow, the two groups separate. Syrian jihadists leave al-Nusra for ISIS. ISIS begins to attract thousands of foreign fighters to Syria.

June 13 At conference in Cairo of regional Sunni clerics, over 100 prominent religious leaders sign a document urging jihad in Syria; more foreign fighters flock to the civil war.

Aug. 15 ISIS pushes FSA unit the Ahfad al-Rasoul brigades out of the city of Raqqa, after detonating several suicide car bombs, including one that destroyed the brigades' headquarters there.

Sept. 10 A leader of hard-line Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham is killed after a clash at an ISIS checkpoint in Idlib.

Sept. 11 Al Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri urges Islamists fighting in Syria not to work with the secular opposition. He also calls for 'lone-wolf' or small-scale attacks to damage the U.S. economy.

Sept. 11 Syrian government warplanes bomb a field hospital in al-Bab, a town in Aleppo under ISIS control. Residents and FSA fighters respond by attacking the ISIS headquarters in the town.

Sept. 12 ISIS fighters take over a base in eastern Hama including a depot with dozens of rockets, rocket launchers and armored vehicles.

Sept. 13 ISIS's eastern Aleppo unit declares war on its rivals in a campaign it named 'Expunging Filth,' identifying two FSA units by name.

Sept. 18 ISIS and an FSA-allied unit clash in Azaz, an Aleppo town 2½ miles from the Turkish border. An opposition activist in the town said ISIS attacked the unit for trying to obstruct the al Qaeda group from arresting a German doctor working at an Azaz field hospital.

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