The Jihadists Are Not Running the Rebellion in Syria

(Wall Street Journal) Elizabeth O'Bagy - The pro-democracy opposition in Syria is believed to have transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al-Qaeda. In the past year, I have made numerous trips to Syria, spending hundreds of hours with Syrian opposition groups ranging from Free Syrian Army affiliates to the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade, and saw that moderates and extremists wield separate control over distinct territories. The war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaeda die-hards. The jihadists pouring into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon are not flocking to the front lines. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on establishing and holding their Islamic emirate in the north of the country. Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France. There is no denying that groups like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham have come to dominate local authorities in the north. This is more the result of their having better resources than an indicator of local support. Where they have won over the local population, they have done so through the distribution of humanitarian aid. Syrians have pushed back against the hard-line measures imposed by some of these extremists groups. While I was last in northern Syria in early August, I witnessed nearly daily protests by thousands of citizens against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in areas of Aleppo. Any U.S. action should be part of a larger strategy that has the ultimate goal of destroying Assad's military capability while simultaneously empowering the moderate opposition. The writer is a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

2013-09-03 00:00:00

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