Dramatic Turn of Events - Syrian Opposition Groups Throw in Their Lot with Al Qaeda
Dmitry MININ | 30.09.2013 | WORLD

Dramatic Turn of Events - Syrian Opposition Groups Throw in Their Lot with Al Qaeda

September 25 is the date of dramatic turn of events in Syria. The consequences may affect the way the situation unfolds further on. The plans to stage a provocation and get the West involved in the conflict had failed, so the opposition threw away the democratic veil and showed its real face. Thirteen most combat capable groups severed ties with the National Syrian Coalition and the Free Syrian Army to form an Islamic alliance of their own. Jabhat-al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliated group, is the core element of the new coalition. Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqur Al-Sham and a number of smaller groups joined the new alliance. They all get military assistance from the United States. In a two-minute video statement called «Communiqué No. 1», they stated that the National Coalition «does not represent us nor do we recognize it». The group called «on all military and civilian groups to unite in a clear Islamic context that is based on Sharia (Islamic) law, making it the sole source of legislation». It further said the rebels would not give recognition to any future government formed outside Syria, insisting that forces fighting inside the country should be represented by «those who suffered and took part in the sacrifices». 

According to the Washington Post, the Islamic alliance collectively represents 75 % of all opposition fighters (neither 15%, as John Kerry said, nor 50% according to Jane’s Intelligence), while «American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded».

In a few days before the formation of new alliance, activists and military sources had told Al Jazeera that the 11th Division - one of the biggest Free Syrian Army brigades - had switched allegiance to the al-Nusra Front in Raqqah province, a border province with Turkey. There was a military parade held on the occasion, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christian churches were desecrated, their icons and belongings burnt as the Al Qaeda flag was hoisted. The news spread around the city. The dwellers, Christians, though few in numbers, as well as Muslims, took to the streets together to protest the act of sacrilege only to be beaten up and compelled to flee by militants. 

Actually all Free Syria Army units located in the vicinity of the two largest cities – Damascus and Aleppo – have joined the Islamist ranks. No anti-Assad heavy weights remain outside the new alliance except the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, the Al Nusra’s rival in the struggle for becoming the leading force among the «jihad warriors» ranks. According to reports, on September 26 ISIS set a two-day deadline for the Free Syrian Army to surrender amid escalating infighting among the militants in Syria. It also spread a manifest accusing the Free Syrian Army of being under the command of Blackwater mercenaries with experience of going through active military service in the Israeli armed forces. 

This way the Free Syrian Army becomes an irrelevant no thing, a zilch with military leaders highly paid at the expense of Western taxpayers, with no support on spot. Upon getting the news, General Salim Idris, who commands the coalition's military wing known as the Free Syrian Army, cut short a visit to France and went back to Syria. Idris heads the structures the Western aid goes through, so the new alliance stressed that it was not abandoning Idris’s Council, but only the exiled political opposition coalition. It means actually that Idris is offered the position of military adviser for the Islamist groups. Ahmad Jarba, the head of the key Syrian opposition organization – the National Coalition, has denounced extremists he said were trying to «steal our revolution», and blamed the regime for supporting them.

He made the comments with visible anguish in an address in New York to representatives from the Friends of Syria - international backers of the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

«The Syrian people support peace and moderation, tolerance and coexistence», Jarba said. «The phenomenon of extremism appeared with the support and planning of the regime, which has gambled on the transformation of a revolution for freedom into a civil and sectarian war,» he added. Sounds strange! Never leaving Western capitals, he appears to see himself as someone who poses more threat for Bashar Assad than those who fight him on the battlefield. Hardly so! 

There are two sides to the coin, the same way the impetuous transformation may be an event of duel nature for Damascus. Outside it may facilitate its dialogue with the responsible part of international community, capable of sound judgement. There is no other way to preserve any influence for secular opposition but to reach a reasonable compromise with Bashar Assad within the framework of Geneva peace process. But it may make exacerbate the situation by provoking even more fierce fighting inside the country. One should give Al Qaeda its due; it is hard to fight against it in Syria. For instance, it uses vehicle drivers as suicide-bombers and not just for the purpose of intimidation. This is a standard procedure frequently used in combat to achieve the mission set. Normally these tactics are used for getting a munition to the desired object. As a rule, it’s a checking point before the entrance to a populated area or some other target. After the explosion militants rush in and start a slaughter. That’s how Christian town of Maaloula was seized. 

According to IHS Jane's Intelligence, the formation of this alliance significantly undermines the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and reduces hopes of a negotiated end to the conflict given the capability and intent of jihadists to fight for an Islamic state. Actually Damascus has no one to talk to in Geneva. It’s a matter of «make it or break it» for the Assad government, a loss implies the destruction of all cultural pillars the Syrian state is based on. Under the circumstances Washington has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

The alleged US allies have openly switched to jihad, so it’s not clear who should represent the opposition at the Geneva- 2 conference. That’s the rub. The Islamic coalition has already announced it has no whatsoever interest to take part. 

Surprisingly just a day before the formation of powerful Al Qaeda – led alliance was announced, President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly session, publicly stating that «al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe». Is it egregious incompetence or an example of some «subtle calculations» that Washington itself got confused by? The US diplomacy is a puzzle. Upon getting the news about the changes in the Syria opposition ranks, no one on the part of United States government has made any announcement about terminating military supplies to Syria. The official Washington’s duplicity is shocking because the United States lists Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. Strictly speaking, the participants of the «transactions» described above are subject to criminal investigation according to the US laws for providing assistance to someone who is officially declared as an enemy. Unlike the ever-memorable «Iran-contras» operation in the days of Ronald Reagan’s tenure, this time no one even bothers about covering anything up, at least with a fig leaf. Is it a state that stands for the rule of law? Perhaps Richard Spencer of the Daily Telegraph has a clue to understanding this strange stance. He says that in the UK people are told that the seasoned jihadists will come home from Syria (Somalia) to deliver strikes. But the UK is not the target it used to be. The forces are back from Iraq, the operation in Afghanistan is about to wind up. The jihadists are constantly told they should concentrate on creating havoc in the Muslim parts of Russian Caucasus: Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. 

From now on, whatever Washington says about the democratic values to be protected in Syria, the continuation of support for the Syrian opposition forces will mean only one thing – an ominous alliance with Al Qaeda which exercises control over 90 percent of Syrian militants. Never in its history has this group had such a huge field army. Dozens of thousands fighters fill its ranks. How will it use this power? Is Richard Spencer right saying that the irrational hatred of Russia makes certain circles in Washington incite the Al Qaeda gangs to turn against Russia? It’s not that I want to believe it, but facts are something one can hardly turn a blind eye on…

Tags: Al Qaeda  Middle East  Syria  US 

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