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article imageOp-Ed: US talks with Islamic Front as Islamists dominate rebel forces

By Ken Hanly     Dec 14, 2013 in Politics
Damascus - The moderates in the Free Syrian Army are losing influence and control of the rebel activity against the Assad forces. The US now seems willing to back any group that is not directly associated with Al-Qaeda.
The UK raised the possibility last week of including the Islamic Front in hopes of aligning themselves with the west and reportedly has held meetings with Islamist leaders. The White House now also says that it is open to the idea of giving support to the Islamic Front, even though the group fought alongside Al Qaeda-linked groups who recently were involved in executions and kidnapping in outlying parts of Damascus.
The west is now more concerned about the influence of radical Islamists associated with Al Qaeda than they are about Assad. Astonishingly, General Salim Idris the head of the western-backed Free Syrian Army suggested just a while ago that rebels should join Assad forces to deal with Al Qaeda-linked Islamists: The bombshell that Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)'s Supreme Military Command dropped last week, that he would be willing to join forces with the regime against al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, came without too much scrutiny, especially when he subsequently tried to backtrack and sugarcoat his statement. The Independent even spoke of a second civil war after Idris made his statement.
No doubt Idris was reflecting the continued concern of the west with the influence of radical Islamists among the rebel groups including Jabahat a-Nusra, and ISIS ( the Islamic State in Sham). However, it may also show the increasing irrelevance of the FSA and moderates within that group that the west supports. The Islamic Front broke away from the FSA and the political Syrian National Council. The group is far from what the western backers of the FSA wish to see in Syria: It openly calls for Islamic Sharia rule instead of secular democracy, and was even implicated in sectarian war crimes like the Latakia province incidents documented by Human Rights Watch. The Islamic Front is strongly backed by the Saudis and includes groups espousing the strict Salafist version of Islam very much like that of the prevailing type of Islam in Saudi Arabia. By accepting this group the US is in effect giving more influence to the Saudis who are angry that the US has not been a stronger supporter of the rebellion and who have no interest in promoting western style liberalism and secularism. The US has already met with some from the group: US envoy, Robert Ford and a member of Islamic Front held a meeting last month in Turkey. Their negotiations were uncertain, states the same official who spoke anonymously about that. However, it became clear that the Front wants to be present at Geneva and take part in the peace talks, said this week the SMC commander, general Salim Idriss.
The Islamic Front recently seized the headquarters and warehouses of the FSA and Supreme Military Council and General Idris fled the country. He is now supposedly in Turkey. Turkey closed off a border crossing in the area after it was taken over by the Front. The US has cut off aid. The US has asked the Islamic Front to return US vehicles, and other equipment in the warehouses.
There are numerous versions of what happened with the Islamic Front takeover, most of them detailed here. Some versions claim that the Front is just guarding the warehouses and headquarters from attacks by radical Al-Qaeda rebels. However, if that is so, one wonders why Turkey closed the border point, the US is asking for its material back, and Idris fled the country. No doubt the Saudis are happy.
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, Free Syrian Army, supreme military council, Syrian civil war
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