[Marxism] Syrian Rebels Deal Qaeda-Linked Group a Reversal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 8 20:08:25 MST 2014

NY Times JAN. 8, 2014
Syrian Rebels Deal Qaeda-Linked Group a Reversal


BEIRUT, Lebanon — For months, the patchwork of rebel brigades spread 
across northern Syria watched with foreboding as a new group gradually 
expanded its control, filling a vacuum left by nearly three years of war.

The group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is linked to Al 
Qaeda and known as ISIS, seemed less interested in fighting President 
Bashar al-Assad than in imposing its ultraconservative version of Islam, 
antigovernment activists said. It banned smoking, ousted other rebels 
from their bases, and detained and executed those it decided were 
opposed to its international jihadist project.

Last week, mounting tensions between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria 
and other rebel groups exploded into clashes that have raged across 
northern Syria, left hundreds dead and further shattered the battle 
lines in a conflict that is increasingly destabilizing neighboring 
countries. Rebel fighters have driven the group from a number of areas 
in recent days, and on Wednesday they ejected it from its headquarters 
in the major city of Aleppo, dealing the group a sharp reversal.

The rebel infighting is by far the most widespread and deadly among Mr. 
Assad’s opponents since the start of the conflict nearly three years 
ago. It also highlights the divide between international efforts to 
convene a peace conference in Geneva on Jan. 22 and events on the ground.

The White House has worked to ensure the attendance at the conference of 
the opposition’s political leadership, the Syrian National Coalition. 
But that rebel group has stood by helplessly as violence has engulfed 
the territory where it had hoped to establish an alternative to Mr. 
Assad’s government. Its mostly exiled leaders have no sway over fighters 
in Syria.

While the rebels have recently been gaining on the Islamic State of Iraq 
and Syria, their victory in Aleppo was quickly tempered by the discovery 
of dozens of prisoners found dead in the building’s courtyard, their 
hands tied and their eyes blindfolded, as if they had been executed by 
the group’s fighters as they withdrew, according to activists and videos 
of the site posted online.

Neither of the two sides in the rebel fighting presents a particularly 
attractive face to Western policy makers. The rebel brigades have become 
profoundly Islamist as the war has dragged on, and many mainline rebel 
leaders now consider the advancement of Sunni Islam and the foundation 
of an Islamic state goals of equal importance to the ousting of Mr. Assad.

Besides its affiliation with Al Qaeda and its espousal of a violent form 
of Islam, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seeks to erase the border 
between Syria and Iraq and build an Islamic state that will serve as a 
base for international jihad. The group is the main destination for the 
foreign fighters who have flocked to Syria to join the war.

Further complicating the rebel landscape is the Nusra Front, one of 
Syria’s most powerful rebel groups, which has also declared allegiance 
to Al Qaeda but whose fighters have remained closer to Syria’s other 
rebel organizations. The Nusra Front has fought alongside other rebel 
groups against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in recent days.

The difference between the two Qaeda affiliates has more to do with 
their approach than with their way of thinking, analysts say. “Their 
ideologies are very much the same, but Nusra is really embedding itself 
in the Islamic landscape, working with other groups and trying to 
compromise, while ISIS has been doing the opposite, which is why they 
have no more friends,” said Aron Lund, a researcher who edits a website 
on the Syria conflict for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

On Tuesday, in an audio recording released online, the Nusra Front’s 
leader called for a cease-fire and the creation of an Islamic court to 
mediate disputes. In a second recording released Tuesday and attributed 
to a spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the group 
threatened to “crush” its enemies.

Rebel anger had been building for months, but most hesitated to 
challenge the group.

“The rebels avoided confronting ISIS in the beginning because they 
didn’t want to be distracted from fighting the regime,” the activist 
Abdul-Rahman Ismael said by Skype from Aleppo. “They hoped that ISIS 
would help topple the regime but found otherwise, so it became necessary 
to fight ISIS before fighting the regime.”

The recent infighting here is attributed by many to the death of a rebel 
doctor, Hussein Suleiman, who was detained by the group and returned to 
his colleagues last week with bullet holes in his shoulder and the top 
of his head missing. Photos and videos of the dead doctor spread on 
social media, fueling the outrage.

Subsequent episodes further outraged the rebels: One of their leaders, 
detained by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was found dead on the 
side of a road, and fighters from the group seized a former Syrian Army 
base that rebels had been using since last year. The fighting has 
produced grim scenes reminiscent of government killings of opposition 
activists earlier in the war.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that at least 385 
people had been killed in five days of rebel infighting, including 56 
civilians. The group, which tracks the conflict from Britain through a 
network of contacts in Syria, also said rebels had killed more than 40 
fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Idlib Province.

Opposition activists who have compared the group’s heavy-handed tactics 
to those of Mr. Assad’s government were glad to see it pushed from 
Aleppo. One of them, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Fatih, said 
the group’s fighters accused him and his colleagues of being heretics, 
evicted them from their office and barred them from smoking in the street.

“Now my neighborhood has been liberated twice,” he said. “Once from the 
regime and the second time from ISIS.”

Hwaida Saad and Mohammad Ghannam contributed reporting from Beirut, and 
Karam Shoumali from Istanbul.

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