Iraq exports Islamist militants to Syria?

The main Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo on Nov. 19 rejected the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, saying they want an Islamic state. “We, the fighting squads of Aleppo city and province, unanimously reject the conspiratorial project called the National Coalition and announce our consensus to establish an Islamic state” in Syria, a spokesman announced in an Internet video. “We reject any external coalitions or councils imposed on us at home from any party whatsoever.” The unidentified speaker, sitting at the head of a long table with some 30 other men and a black Islamist flag on the wall, named 14 armed groups as signatories to the statement, including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid. Ahrar al-Sham rejected the proclamation on its official webpage, however, saying that its leadership did not endorse the statement.

In northern Aleppo province, rebels took control of the army’s Base 46 after a weeks-long siege. Six rebels were killed in clashes with Kurdish fighters and the head of the local Kurdish People’s Assembly was shot dead in the town of Ras al-Ain, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The clashes erupted after a Kurdish demonstration demanding that all rebels not from Ras al-Ain leave after they took the town last week. The Kurdish fighters belonged to the People’s Defence Units, armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in turn linked to Turkey’s rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In the mountainous region of Jabal al-Turkman, eight rebels and four soldiers were killed after insurgents attacked an army convoy en route to Kasab. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics, said at least 50 were killed nationwide on Nov. 19—25 rebels, 16 civilians and nine soldiers. This puts the death toll in more than 20 months of conflict at more than 39,000. (AFP, AP, Nov. 19)

The Arabic-language Buratha news agency reported late last month that 15 accused al-Qaeda members who fled a prison in Tikrit, Iraq, in September are now leading insurgent groups in Syria. Thre 15 were among the 150 prisoners awaiting execution at the facility, but they managed to escape following a car bomb explosion. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed at least 15 Iraqi security personnel and led to the escape of dozens of prisoners. (Fars News Agency, Oct. 27)

  1. Al-Qaeda in Syria
    Well, it’s in the New York Times now, that makes it official. This Dec. 8 account desacribes the Nusra Front as a “a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Baghdad security officials are quoted stating that the two groups still closely cooperate. So make damn sure US aid doesn’t reach these guys, right? Well…

    But blacklisting the Nusra Front could backfire. It would pit the United States against some of the best fighters in the insurgency that it aims to support. While some Syrian rebels fear the group’s growing power, others work closely with it and admire it — or, at least, its military achievements — and are loath to end their cooperation.

    Enough cognitive dissonance for you? We can never support terrorists… except sometimes. They are evil personified in Iraq… but once they step across the border into Syria… well, maybe they aren’t so bad after all. 

    Unfortunately, this doublethink infects the anti-war left as well. We were supposed to root for al-Qaeda in Iraq, but once those same militants step across the border… presto-chango! They are evil CIA-supported terrorists!

    Note that the US apparently wiped out a high-ranking al-Qaeda dude in a drone strike in Pakistan today. Does this make any difference to what is going on in Syria? Obviously not. The Nusra Front is an autonomous offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which in turn is an autonomous franchise of the “original” al-Qaeda. For the past several years, al-Qaeda has been a leaderless movement based on autonomous cells. This should not be viewed as a defeat for the organization so much as an adaptation to changing conditions. But it does speak to the degree to which both the popular and conspiranoid conceptions of al-Qaeda as a disciplined, centralized, hierarchical organization that can be controlled either by a cadre of fugitivies in the mountains of Pakistan or a coterie of technocrats in Langely, Virginia… is pure fantasy.