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Are Islamist Rebels Creating Dilemma on US Syria Policy?

In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries and head a court that applies Islamic law.

Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce.

A bakery outside Aleppo, where the Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front is running the power plant and even distributing flour. These factions are the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Sunni sect, and ready to demolish shrines of all kinds of religious sects…

Syria offshore is floating on gas and oil, and the superpower States wanted to devastate this independent and self-sufficient Syria in order to sign lucrative oil exploration deals with unstable and weak Syria.

So far, this country of barely 22 million has witnessed internal refugee condition of about 4.5 million displaced, and over 3 million who took refuge in the adjacent States such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. All these massive refugees are living precariously and plagued by all kinds of diseases, particularly the babies and children

So far, 115,000 have been killed and triple that number seriously injured in this two years “uprising”.

This revolt has lasted that long because the extremist foreign militias called the Nusra Front is the main fighting force in Syria. These mercenaries converged from Chechnya, Tunisia, Libya, Afghanistan, France, England, Saudi Arabia…

The Nusra Front is the main obstacle for any political deal: They turned out to be the faction the hardest to control after they were let loose by the superpowers to spread havoc in Syria.

Until the Nusra Front is badly weakened and its members displaced outside Syria, the Geneva 2 conference on Syria is not about to be satisfactory.

BEN HUBBARD published this April 27, 2013 on NYT
Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government.

Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

This is the landscape President Obama confronts as he considers how to respond to growing evidence that Syrian officials have used chemical weapons, crossing a “red line” he had set.

More than two years of violence have radicalized the armed opposition fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, leaving few groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward.

Among the most extreme groups is the notorious Al Nusra Front, the Qaeda-aligned force declared a terrorist organization by the United States, but other groups share aspects of its Islamist ideology in varying degrees.

“Some of the more extremist opposition is very scary from an American perspective, and that presents us with all sorts of problems,” said Ari Ratner, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former Middle East adviser in the Obama State Department. “We have no illusions about the prospect of engaging with the Assad regime — it must still go — but we are also very reticent to support the more hard-line rebels.”

Syrian officials recognize that the United States is worried that it has few natural allies in the armed opposition and have tried to exploit that with a public campaign to convince, or frighten, Washington into staying out of the fight. At every turn they promote the notion that the alternative to Mr. Assad is an extremist Islamic state.

The Islamist character of the opposition reflects the main constituency of the rebellion, which has been led since its start by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, mostly in conservative, marginalized areas.

The descent into brutal civil war has hardened sectarian differences, and the failure of more mainstream rebel groups to secure regular arms supplies has allowed Islamists to fill the void and win supporters.

The religious agenda of the combatants sets them apart from many civilian activists, protesters and aid workers who had hoped the uprising would create a civil, democratic Syria.

When the armed rebellion began, defectors from the government’s staunchly secular army formed the vanguard. The rebel movement has since grown to include fighters with a wide range of views, including Qaeda-aligned jihadis seeking to establish an Islamic emirate, political Islamists inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and others who want an Islamic-influenced legal code like that found in many Arab states.

“My sense is that there are no seculars,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, of the Institute for the Study of War, who has made numerous trips to Syria in recent months to interview rebel commanders.

Of most concern to the United States is the Nusra Front, whose leader recently confirmed that the group cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and pledged fealty to Al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy. Nusra has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings and is the group of choice for the foreign jihadis pouring into Syria.

Another prominent group, Ahrar al-Sham, shares much of Nusra’s extremist ideology but is made up mostly of Syrians.

The two groups are most active in the north and east and are widely respected by other rebels for their fighting abilities and their ample arsenal, much of it given by sympathetic donors in the gulf. And both helped lead campaigns to seize military bases, dams on the Euphrates River and the provincial capital of Raqqa Province in March, the only regional capital entirely held by rebel forces.

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Aleppo, Syria.

Note: Videos in the last two days have shown the Nusra Front executing civilians in many towns and cities: They shoot them from behind with a revolver and shout “Allah wa Akbar” and takbeer




March 2021

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