By Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
While the major powers behind the proxy civil war in Syria go through the motions of working out a diplomatic solution, rebel forces have begun fighting each other, rather than the Assad regime.
The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants from Iraq and Libya have been fighting the Free Syrian Army in northern and eastern Syria.
According to RT, the Islamists are winning. The split became headline news last week when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) lost Azaz, a city on the Turkish border, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The latter is sometimes referred to as Al-Nusra, the name for the Syrian branch of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Levant (ISIL). Levant is a historic name applied to the Eastern Mediterranean region comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Amman before it was divided up by the Europeans.
The Daily Mail reports that officers from the FSA are defecting to join ISIS because they are better resourced and “more effective.” Until recently, the ISIS mainly received funding and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However the Washington Post reveals they also receive “private donations” from “sympathetic Muslims.” According to the Post, the sums donated far exceed what the US and NATO supply the FSA.
With more than a dozen competing factions fighting the Assad regime, I find it an enormous challenge to keep all the names straight. Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor, the Economist and the Long War Journal, I have cobbled together the following scorecard to help make sense of the latest reports:
- Supreme Military Command – armed wing of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and supported by the US and NATO. The SNC grew out of an exile group originally based in Turkey, though its headquarters moved to Qatar in 2012 when the US and NATO intervened to try to reduce infighting among member groups. The Free Syrian Army (a group of defected Syrian military officers) fights under the SMC umbrella.
- Syrian Islamic Front – “moderate” Syrian Islamic fighters consisting of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist (Sunni) groups. Cooperates with SMC (at least most of the time).
- Syrian Liberation Front – coalition of Islamic fighting groups, with Saqour al Sham the largest. Fights independently of SMC but sometimes cooperates with them.
- Democratic Union Party – Syrian offshoot of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Its mainly pro-Assad militias control Kurdish areas in north-east Syria and support Kurdish autonomy. In July, a Kurdish guerrilla group with links to the al-Assad regime and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party ( PKK) forcefully expelled Al-Nusra from the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ayn.
- Anti-Assad free speech Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) led by Bassam al Youssef. A a political group with no organized military wing.
- Al Qaeda linked groups:
- Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian branch of the al Qaeda linked ISIS (ISIL). Controls Aleppo and has established Sharia law there.
- Ahrar al Sham – a Syrian Islamic group sympathetic to al Qaeda groups, which the Economist has mistakenly labled as sympathetic to the FMC.
- Ahfad al Rasoud Brigade.
- The Islamic Kurdish Front
Dr. Bramhall is a retired American child and adolescent psychiatrist, activist and political refugee in New Zealand.
Her first book The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led her to leave the US in 2002. She has also published two young adult novels about political activism: The Battle for Tomorrow: A Fable
She is involved in the national leadership of the New Zealand Green Party and has a political blog at StuartJeanneBramhall.com