Saturday, October 12, 2013

Syria: Lister on 24/9

Charles Lister on the 24/9 statement (27/9, Syrian Militant Islamists Denounce SNC and Form “Islamic Alliance” ): 
 the key Islamist middle-ground players – Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqor al-Sham – have finally made clear where their allegiances lie, with huge implications for the moderate opposition
ISIS has begun to isolate itself from the insurgent core by way of a series of recent interfactional clashes with moderate and Islamist factions. As such, there has been increasing levels of rumour within Islamist militant circles in Syria this week that moves were under way to isolate ISIS, and this may well represent the outcome of such apparent plans.  With the exception of more extremist front groups in the east, Jabhat al-Nusra has, as an al-Qaida-linked group, largely played its cards right since its emergence in January 2012, and especially since ISIS’s emergence in Syria in April/May 2013. It has poured considerable resources into local-level governance and the provision of social services, and in comparison to ISIS, has adopted a notably measured imposition of sharia. As such, its relations with key Islamist actors across Syria have remained strong, while ISIS has appeared less open to multigroup coordination across the insurgent spectrum.
This is a huge challenge to those currently presenting the view that the majority of the Syrian opposition is liberal and moderate. Such an argument has less to hold it up every week. Certainly, there do remain several key moderate groupings in Syria, but if this development leads to a consolidated Islamic Alliance, the capacity for such moderates to maintain a long-term grip over the future of Syria will be considerably weakened. This can only be interpreted as damaging to U.S. and Western interests in Syria.
UPDATE II: In a series of posts on its official Twitter account late on September 27, Jabhat al-Nusra pulled back from reports it had entered into “a coalition” and insisted that if it had done so, its media wing, Al-Manara al-Bayda, would have announced such a development. In fact, Nusra insisted the statement was aimed solely at condemning the SNC and its foreign-based leadership. As such, Nusra claimed reports of “a coalition” were attempts at instigating divisions between itself and ISIS.
Taken at face value, this statement suggests that Nusra either doesn’t perceive the September 24 statement issued via Liwa al-Tawhid as a particularly significant development, or possibly that the statement itself has stirred up tensions it doesn’t want existing.
Nusra Front militia’s control of Ash Shaddadi, Syria, gives power
In Deir el Zour, to the south, the Free Syrian Army accepted an arrangement under which gas is shipped to the Syrian government, which distributes it throughout the country. The government, in turn, pays the salaries of the employees who keep the plant going. Nusra has no such plans in Ash Shaddadi. “We will not send any gas to the regime. The fighters here will not accept it.”
“I want the whole world to hear us. You, Nusra, you are not elected. You are stealing all that we have,” he said. “We have nothing, no electricity, no running water. And tonight we will demonstrate against you.”

A Nusra officer barked back at him: “We will shoot you.”
Institute for the Study of War  by Valerie Szybala:
It also rejects the Syrian National Coalition and the leadership of Ahmad Tohme – recently elected as the head of the Syrian opposition’s interim government – by name. [..]
The fact that this announcement comes amidst a spike in incidents in which the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has clashed with the Free Syrian Army units and, atypically, Syria’s other al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, raises the possibility that this new coalition is also a move against ISIS by its Syrian nationalist rivals.
23/9 Rebels View Coalition Leadership Outside Syria as Detached From the Suffering By KAREEM FAHIM.  While the main opposition group’s leaders shuttle among fancy hotels, they seem increasingly powerless to affect the course of the war.

A fresh fissure, Maya Gebeily, September 23, 2013
The fissures plaguing the Syrian opposition finally reached jihadi factions on Saturday. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate battling both regime and opposition in Syria, clashed with its sister organization, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), in the city of Shaddadi in the Hasakeh province. According to one witness account, the dispute was over the Jibsa oil field in eastern Syria, and resulted in ISIS members storming the city’s JN headquarters and “seizing weapons and oil equipment.”
Further south in Daraa, JN has the privilege of being the sole al-Qaeda representative. [..]According to [Aymenn al-]Tamimi, although the rank-and-file members of ISIS are Syrian, its elite fighters and commanders are “muhajireen,” or immigrants. JN, on the other hand, boasts a majority-Syrian membership and leadership. These personnel differences have significant consequences on the ground, according to Mohammad al-Attar, a Syrian playwright and activist. [..] Al-Attar pointed to an article he had penned in Raqqa, where the local population had expressed fury toward ISIS for its kidnappings – most recently against Father Paolo. In liberated areas, Attar explained, the population is much more receptive to military formations comprised of local members, not the outsiders of ISIS factions.
Tamimi and al-Attar both highlighted ISIS’s markedly more brutal tactics, often ill-received by the local populace. Whereas ISIS regularly films “public executions of ‘apostates’ (e.g., regime soldiers), one does not see JN activists put out footage and photos like that anymore,” Tamimi [said]. [..] On the battlefield, the two Islamists’ relationships with FSA-aligned groups are becoming increasingly distinct. “Broadly speaking, JN has a better relationship with FSA than ISIS does,” Tamimi said.
[..] Neither JN nor ISIS are seeking to highlight the growing rift, however. “On jihadi social media pages, you won't really find denunciation of either group,” Tamimi [said]. “They cheer on both of them.”
[Charles Lister:] “It’s always been clear that in the long term, there was never going to be room in Syria for two self-declared Al-Qaeda affiliates.”
[..]The Shaddadi clashes may not have been the first time that the two jihadi organizations had reportedly butted heads. Unconfirmed reports from the city of Muhassan described the case of a JN commander who refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS and was subsequently executed alongside his men.
Published 19 Nov 2013


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