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article imageAl-Qaeda in Iraq jihadists clash with other rebel groups in Syria

By Ken Hanly     Jan 4, 2014 in World
Aleppo - The different factions of Syrian rebels opposed to the Assad regime continue to fight against each other as well as Assad. Open fighting again erupted in northwest Syria between Al Qaeda in Iraq and other more moderate rebel groups.
There were protests in some areas against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI or ISIS, or ISIL) . The western-backed umbrella military group the Free Syrian Army claims that the AQI is secretly allied with the Assad government. This seems a far-fetched view. No doubt it is based upon the idea that Assad classifies all the armed opposition as terrorists so the growth of radical groups such as AL Qaeda in Iraq or Jabhat al-Nusra would confirm Assad's viewpoint. What is more likely is that the moderate opposition groups might ally with Assad in a deal to fight against the radicals a position that might be acceptable in the west. However, the western-backed Syrian National Council has said it would not attend the scheduled peace talks later this month so that scenario is not likely either.
The newly-formed Islamic Front a powerful Islamist bloc not associated with the FSA also criticized the AQI and demanded that they withdraw from a district of Aleppo that the Islamic Front believes to belong to them. More and more there seem to be disputes about the control of territory among different rebel factions. The AQI has also clashed with Kurds in Kurdish controlled areas.
Much of the south of Syria is controlled by Assad forces and parts of the northeast are ruled by Kurdish militias. Assad more or less left the Kurds to their own devices while he concentrated on attacking other rebel groups. The northwest remains under rebel control but with different factions vying over who will control what territory.
The clashes between the opposition and the AQI or ISIS are happening just as the same group has taken over parts of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq and are battling police and some local tribesmen. ISIS or AQI is the same group that held power in Anbar before the US funded the Awakening Movement funding local sheiks and militias to fight the Al Qaeda-linked group. However, worsening relations with the Shiite dominated al-Maliki government have led to growing strength for the movement.
A senior Sheikh on the outskirts of Ramadi said: "Never will we allow them to return to our towns. We don't trust the Shia regime of Maliki and we don't trust al-Qaida. We will fight for our futures. No one else has our benefit at heart."
Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki recently received weapons, and surveillance drones as well as technical help in combating AQI although so far the US has not launched any drone strikes either in Iraq or Syria.
There now seems to be a concerted attempt to confront AQI both in Iraq and in Syria. Opposition groups near Aleppo have attacked militants from AQI near Aleppo in the al-Atareb and Andana areas that have been strongholds of the fundamentalist group. In Aleppo itself battles also broke out whereas earlier the AQI had coexisted with other groups. The group operates freely between Syria and Iraq. The leader of Ahrar al-Sham an Islamic group itself said : "We have surrounded them in Andana, We have told their foreigners that they must come and join us, within 24 hours, or face being killed."
In the al-Atareb area several dozen fighters are believed killed in clashes. AQI is believed to have around 10,000 in northern Syria alone, many of them foreign recruits including up to a thousand Europeans. AQI has kidnapped more than 30 foreign aid-workers and journalists in the north along with scores of Syrians. On Thursday Medecins Sans Frontieres claimed five of its members were taken from a house in northern Syria.
More about AQI, Isis, Free Syrian Army, islamic front
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