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This site is the inspiration of a former reporter/photographer for one of New England's largest daily newspapers and for various magazines. The intent is to direct readers to interesting political articles, and we urge you to visit the source sites. Any comments may be noted on site or directed to KarisChaf at gmail.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Shifting dynamics of rebel infighting in Syria -- By Bill Roggio and Lisa Lundquist, The Long War Journal

Over the past few weeks, the news has been rife with reports of infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, an al Qaeda affiliate, and other Islamist groups in Syria, including al Qaeda's other Syrian affiliate, the Al Nusrah Front. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist observer group, claimed yesterday that 1,069 people have been killed in clashes between rival Islamist groups from Jan. 3 to Jan. 15 in northern and eastern Syria. That figure includes some 130 civilians, as well as 312 ISIS fighters and 608 combatants from what the SOHR calls "the Islamist and non-Islamist rebel battalions."

During this same time period, the forces of President Bashar al Assad have been able to capitalize on the disarray and make gains, particularly around Aleppo, after the ISIS withdrew from certain areas. The rebel infighting is a boon to regime forces and clearly detrimental to the overall strength of the Syrian opposition.

The dynamism of this conflict within a conflict has made it difficult to follow, as reports of shifting allegiances among the ranks of rebel fighters complicate the picture. In its broad outlines, the fighting among the Islamist groups in Syria appears to constitute a general reaction against the brutal excesses of the ISIS. The apparent triggering event for the clashes was ISIS' alleged torture and murder of a Syrian doctor affiliated with the Islamist group Ahrar al Sham, which is part of the largest coalition of Islamist fighters in Syria, the Islamic Front, formed in November. Since that incident, ISIS has battled intermittently with various Islamist groups, including the Islamic Front, the Al Nusrah Front, the Ahrar al Sham, and others, such as the newly-formed Muhajideen Army.

The Al Nusrah Front's dispute with the ISIS epitomizes the complexity of the disagreements within the jihadist factions. While the emirs of the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIS have been at odds since last year when the ISIS attempted to put Nusrah under its banner, their rivalry has not led to open warfare. But the ISIS' heavy-handed tactics and refusal to submit to combined sharia, or Islamic law, councils, have brought the two groups to blows in some areas. Most recently, Al Nusrah lambasted the ISIS for executing Nusrah's emir for Raqqah. But even while berating the ISIS, Al Nusrah has offered an olive branch, calling for the group to submit to sharia councils with other Islamist units.

Yet at the same time, ISIS seems to be cooperating and even collaborating with the Islamist groups in various theaters across the country. As Islamist fighters, they share the same goals and a common enemy in the Assad regime.

Given the mix of infighting and cooperation between the Islamists, as well as attempts by the Al Nusrah Front to mediate the conflict and a hesitancy by the Islamic Front to openly declare war on the ISIS, at the moment the current internecine warfare does not appear to be directed from the top leadership echelons. Although this could certainly change, such a development would result in all-out warfare that is sure to sap the strength of all groups involved.

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