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