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Op-Ed: 7 major Islamist rebel groups form Islamic Front in Syria

By Ken Hanly     Nov 22, 2013 in World
Aleppo - Seven different Islamist rebel groups have merged creating what they call an "Islamic Front". The group pledges to build an Islamic State after Assad is overthrown.
The new merger is claimed to be the largest yet and represents a "full fusion" not just a coordination body. In a statement the groups said: "The Islamic Front is an independent military and social force that is aimed at bringing down Assad's regime in Syria and at replacing it with a just Islamic state," According to Al Jazeera the following have joined the merger: The factions joining the merger are Aleppo's biggest fighting force Liwa al-Tawhid, the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham, the Idlib-based Soqour al-Sham, the Homs-based al-Haq Brigades, Ansar al-Sham, and the Damascus-based Army of Islam. The Kurdish Islamic Front also joined the front.
Earlier on in September, leading rebels had announced a coalition of 13 rebel units that rejected the authority of the Supreme Military Council the western-backed group that in theory is supposed to command Syrian rebel forces. This grouping included the radical al Nusra Front that is one of two main groups associated with al Qaeda the other being the Islamic State in Sham or ISIS. The new grouping may replace the earlier grouping since the Tawhid Brigade which was a member of the September coalition joined the new group. A spokesperson for the Tawhid Brigade, Abu Firas said that the move was "the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria." The leader of the Tawhid brigade, Abdul Al-Saleh,recently died of wounds after a government air strike.
The new grouping leaves out the two al-Qaeda linked groups. While this may seem to weaken their importance it is not clear how they will relate to the new grouping. The new grouping will actually make it more difficult for the western-backed Syrian National Coalition, since the group aims at an Islamic State not the inclusive, less Islamist-oriented government, that the US and other western countries espouse. Many experts have noted that there is an increasing domination of Islamist groups in the on-the-ground battle against the Assad regime. While the union of these rebel groups may strengthen the rebel forces through greater unity, it also reflects the stronger role of Islamists in the opposition.
Charles Lister an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre located in London UK said the formation of the Islamic Front was a landmark and could result in a surge of rebel activity. However, at the moment Assad forces appear to be on the offensive. During October several towns around the capital Damascus and the second city of Aleppo have been recaptured by Assad forces helped by members of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards, according to activists.
Yezid Sayigh, an expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut said: "The main losers are likely to be the currently recognized leaders of the opposition -- the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the allied Higher Military Council of the Free Syrian Army". He sees the new front as being promoted by Saudi Arabia. Sayigh sees the western-backed groups as having little credibility on the ground. Saudi Arabia will no doubt supply the Islamic Front with money and weapons with the hope of turning the tide of battle in favor of the rebels. Saudi Arabia is very unhappy with the policy of the US and some other western countries in Syria.
The new development will make a Geneva 2 conference even less likely in the near future as the moderate western-backed political groups have less and less relevance to what is happening on the ground.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about islamic front, Rebel divisions in Syria, Al Nusra front, Syrian National Council
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