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Wild Card to War in Syria: Private Donors’ Funds

The same goes for Israel settlements expansion in Palestinian occupied lands: foreign Institutionalized and Private Donors’ Funds

The money flows in via bank transfer or is delivered in bags or pockets bulging with cash.
Working from his sparely furnished sitting room here, Ghanim al-Mteiri gathers the funds and transports them to Syria for the rebels who are supposedly fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
BEN HUBBARD Published this November 12, 2013 on nyt from AL SUBAYHIYAH, Kuwait:
Private Donors’ Funds Add Wild Card to War in Syria

Mr. Mteiri — one of dozens of Kuwaitis who openly raise money to arm the opposition — has helped turn this tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf state into a virtual Western Union outlet for Syria’s rebels, with the bulk of the funds he collects going to a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda.

One Kuwait-based effort raised money to equip 12,000 rebel fighters for $2,500 each.

Another campaign, run by a Saudi sheikh based in Syria and close to Al Qaeda, is called “Wage Jihad With Your Money.”

Donors earn “silver status” by giving $175 for 50 sniper bullets, or “gold status” by giving twice as much for 8 mortar rounds.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times. A sign outside Kuwait City directing donors to a house used by Sheikh Shafi al-Ajmi to raise funds for Islamist rebels in Syria.

“Once upon a time we cooperated with the Americans in Iraq,” said Mr. Mteiri, a former soldier in the Kuwaiti Army, recalling the American role in pushing Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. “Now we want to get Bashar out of Syria, so why not cooperate with Al Qaeda?”

Outside support for the warring parties in Syria has helped sustain the conflict and transformed it into a proxy battle by regional powers, with Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah helping the government and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing the main financial support for the rebels (and purchasing weapons for the rebels).

But the flow of private funds to rebel groups has added a wild-card factor to the war, analysts say, exacerbating divisions in the opposition and bolstering its most extreme elements. While the West has been hesitant to arm and finance the more secular forces that initially led the turn to armed rebellion, fighters have flocked to Islamist militias and in some cases rebranded themselves as jihadist because that is where the money is.

“It creates a self-sustaining dynamic that is totally independent of all the strategic and diplomatic games that are happening and being led by states,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst in the Middle East with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Most private donors shun the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, undermining a body meant to unify the rebels into a moderate force. And they dismiss the opposition’s political leadership as well as calls by the United States and other powers for peace talks.

With funds estimated to be at least in the tens of millions of dollars, they have contributed to the effective partition of Syria, building up independent Islamist militias that control territory while espousing radical ideology, including the creation of an Islamic state.

Rebel fund-raisers have relied heavily on social media. Some have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, where they spread posts calling for donations, announcing drop-off points and listing phone numbers where operators are standing by.

Prominent fund-raisers often boast of attacks by their preferred groups, which thank them with videos showing their new weapons.

The campaigners say they are merely helping the oppressed.

Sheikh Mohammed Haif al-Mteiri, a former member of Parliament who is not related to the former Kuwaiti soldier and leads a committee that funds mainline rebel groups, said private funding would not exist if countries like the United States had intervened to protect Syrian civilians.

Kuwait lacks a tough police state like those that have cracked down on such activity in other gulf states, and a range of Islamists participate in its relatively open political system.

A number of former members of Parliament actively raise funds, and some have traveled to Syria to meet their rebel allies. Kuwait’s turning a blind eye to the fund-raising has upset Washington.

The nation’s location and banking system also make it easy for donors from more restrictive countries to wire money in or drive it across the border for drop-off.

Some fund-raisers and donors have amplified the conflict’s sectarian overtones, calling for revenge against Shiites and Alawites, the sect of Mr. Assad.

“Among the beautiful things inside Syria is that the mujahedeen have realized that they need to deeply hit the Alawites, in the same way they kill our wives and children,” Sheikh Shafi al-Ajmi, a prominent Kuwaiti fund-raiser, told an interviewer this year.

The sheikh declined to comment. But in an interview, his brother, Mohammed al-Ajmi, said that their group funded operations rooms for military campaigns and that the Nusra Front, a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, was free to work with them. He denied that fighters funded by his group had killed civilians.

“We believe that in the end, God will ask you, ‘What did you do?’ and you will need to have an answer,” Mr. Ajmi said.

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Washington, and Karam Shoumali from Istanbul.

A version of this article appears in print on November 13, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Donors’ Funds Add Wild Card to War in Syria.

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