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article imageOp-Ed: Syria's good Al Qaeda, bad Al Qaeda, and really bad Al Qaeda

By Ken Hanly     Jan 18, 2014 in Politics
Damascus - Supposedly, Al-Qaeda-linked groups are to be all classified as terrorists and enemies of the U.S. and other western powers. However, historically the CIA helped fund similar jihadist groups to overthrow the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.
In Syria there are two main jihadist groups already linked to Al Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS the more radical of the two groups is actually no longer recognized by Al Qaeda as an affiliate after openly defying the order of the terrorist network’s commander, Ayman al Zawahiri, to stop its incursion into Syria. Yet this group could be characterized from the view of both most western commentators and also the new broad Islamist grouping, the Islamic Front, as the really bad al-Qaeda. It is the group that took territory from other rebel groups and has fought many bloody battles with other groups lately.
Jabhat al Nusra has also in a few local areas fought with ISIS but on the whole has tried to keep working relationships with all rebel groups including ISIS. It has even tried to play a mediating role to try and stop the fights between rebel groups. The real opposition to ISIS comes from the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army(FSA) and the very conservative Islamic Front that rejects the authority of the western-promoted Syrian National Council and the FSA. It wants Syria to be an Islamist state governed according to Sharia law. Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Doha Center of the Brookings Institution said: “Nusra has consistently played its cards right in Syria – it’s been remarkably smart in managing its public relations, It has maintained healthy relations with rebel groups of all ideological kinds, and its military might and demonstrated capacity to positively influence battles has made it a highly influential group.” If you watch the appended video from Al Jazeera, it would appear that the group's leader has a completely unreal idea about how the battle is going in Syria.
The basic problems that the FSA and Islamic Front have with ISIS is not so much their ideology but their imperious attitude within the conflict. They refuse to share power and have gained much of the territory they control from rebels rather than Assad forces. In recent attacks by other rebel forces much of this territory has been taken back. Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma claims that rebel supporters are now trying to portray al-Nusra as "good Al Qaida" which is cooperating and mediating with rival factions and has no ambitions to attack the U.S. or any of its allies. Perhaps the U.S. will conclude that at most Nusra is a bad but nevertheless useful Al-Qaeda-linked group.
The situation is even more complicated however, as the new Islamist Front that the US and other western countries are wanting to talk with and perhaps even invite to the Geneva II conference have themselves an important leader who pledges allegiance to Al Qaeda. Abu Khaled al Suri is a top leader in the rebel group Ahrar al Sham. In an Internet posting Suri complained that ISIS was not doing the work of Al Qaeda in Syria and that he considered himself a member of Al Qaeda. He is said to be close to the leader of the Islamic Front Hassan Abboud.
In spite of the fact that the Islamic Front has within it those who identify with Al Qaeda the White House acknowledges that it is making overtures to Abboud and his groups and is considering restarting aid to areas the group controls. Obviously there are good Al Qaeda such as Suri, bad but perhaps useful Al Qaeda such as Jabhat al Nusra, and the really bad Al Qaeda, ISIS.
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 DigitalJournal.com
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