By Aron Lund for Syria Comment
Sept. 24, 2013
Abdelaziz Salame, the highest political leader of the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo, has issued a statement online where he claims to speak for 13 different rebel factions. You can see the video or read it in Arabic here. The statement is titled “communiqué number one” – making it slightly ominous right off the bat – and what it purports to do is to gut Western strategy on Syria and put an end to the exiled opposition.
The statements has four points, some of them a little rambling. My summary:
– All military and civilian forces should unify their ranks in an “Islamic framwork” which is based on “the rule of sharia and making it the sole source of legislation”.
– The undersigned feel that they can only be represented by those who lived and sacrificed for the revolution.
– Therefore, they say, they are not represented by the exile groups. They go on to specify that this applies to the National Coalition and the planned exile government of Ahmed Touma, stressing that these groups “do not represent them” and they “do not recognize them”.
– In closing, the undersigned call on everyone to unite and avoid conflict, and so on, and so on.
The following groups are listed as signatories to the statement.
1. Jabhat al-Nosra
2. Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement
3. Tawhid Brigade
4. Islam BrigadeIslamic Dawn Movement
5. Suqour al-Sham Brigades
6. Islamic Dawn Movement
7. Islamic Light Movement
8. Noureddin al-Zengi Battalions
9. Haqq Brigade – Homs
10. Furqan Brigade – Quneitra
11. Fa-staqim Kama Ummirat Gathering – Aleppo
12. 19th Division
13. Ansar Brigade
Who are these people?
The alleged signatories make up a major part of the northern rebel force, plus big chunks also of the Homs and Damascus rebel scene, as well as a bit of it elsewhere. Some of them are among the biggest armed groups in the country, and I’m thinking now mostly of numbers one through five. All together, they control at least a few tens of thousand fighters, and if you trust their own estimates (don’t) it must be way above 50,000 fighters.
Most of the major insurgent alliances are included. Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham are in both the Western- and Gulf-backed Supreme Military Council (SMC a.k.a. FSA) and the SILF, sort-of-moderate Islamists. Ahrar al-Sham and Haqq are in the SIF, very hardline Islamists. Jabhat al-Nosra, of course, is an al-Qaida faction. Noureddin al-Zengi are in the Asala wa-Tanmiya alliance (which is led by quietist salafis, more or less) as well as in the SMC. And so on. More groups may join, but already at this stage, it looks – on paper, at least – like the most powerful insurgent alliance in Syria.
Read more at Syria Comment
3 thoughts on “New Islamist Bloc Declares Opposition to National Coalition and US Strategy”
This is a very big news story that doesn’t seem to be getting much attention in the media. The simmering tensions between the radical Islamist groups in the Syrian opposition and the more moderate majority of the Free Syrian Army have finally produced a major schism in the opposition. This rift could clarify alliances in a significant way, because the presence of extremists in the Syrian opposition has been the principal impediment to arming of the opposition by the western powers. The consequences are potentially game-changing.
I heard about this onthe BBC last night. Although they included the entire FSA in the mix.
While reporting it this way, the BBC host also questioned the authenticity of the story. They actually said they didn’t know whether to believe it or not.
This article clears some of the uncertainty up. Great read!
The split is more ideological than structural, because there has never been much actual coordination between the opposition fighters on the ground and the Syrian exile government, which is dominated by moderates.
And, as you also know, Syria has been under secular authoritarian rule for decades. Assad has support among Syrian Christians, Kurds, and even many Sunnis. His wife’s parents were Sunnis. Syria’s culturally and religiously diverse peoples have been living together for literally thousands of years. This is hardly the recipe of sectarianism.
But now we have a radical fringe element of the opposition, many of whom are foreign jihadists and not Syrians at all, who envision the creation of a “new caliphate.” They are radical Islamists who have no tolerance for Christians or Kurds, much less Shiites. Their beliefs do not reflect the majority view of the Syrian people and are in direct conflict with the democratic principles enumerated by the Syrian National Coalition. So, this split was inevitable and has been growing as the extremists have grown more successful on the ground against the Assad regime.