Nice article from the Independent, saying that the Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra, wanted to create her own Islamic State in Syria. That means she was competing with ISIS, because ISIS wanted to create a unified Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The article was written in May 2016, and things have changed with the Russian-Turkish agreement. There was also the “purchase” or “renting” of al-Nusra by Qatar.
The problem during the previous years was that the Assad and the Russians wanted a unified Islamic State in the Sunni parts of Syria and Iraq, which would attack the Americans in Iraq and which would respect Assad in Syria.
The Turks and the Qataris wanted an Islamic State in Iraq which would attack the Americans, so that all of them could work together, but another Islamic state in Syria which would attack Assad.
Map 1 The Assad-Putin Plan
Map The Turkey-Qatar Plan
Actually the Qataris and the Turks were not talking about an Islamic State. The Islamic State was the idea of Assad and Putin, which was brought forward by the ex-people of Saddam Hussein, who have as front men some charismatic Muslim clerics.
For the Iranians ISIS was not good because they were enemies of the ex-people of Saddam Hussein, but the Assad-Putin plan was much better than the Turkish-Qatari one.
In Iraq the Iranians had to fight both ISIS and the Americans, and sometimes the Iranians and the Americans were fighting ISIS together, while in Syria the Iranians with Assad were fighting the Americans. The Qataris, together with ISIS, were fighting the Americans in Iraq, but in Syria the Qataris were fighting Assad with the Americans.
That’s the story, plus the Saudi-Turkish war, because the Turks wanted the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian opposition while the Saudis did not, and they were fighting each other too. That is until May 2015 when the new King accepted a part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
Now there is this agreement between Turkey and Russia, and we have to wait and see how it will affect the relationship with the other players i.e. Qatar, Iran, ISIS, al-Nusra, Assad.
Map Syria and Iraq
Al-Nusra wants her own Islamic State in Syria (not with ISIS)
“Al-Qaeda could be preparing to launch own ‘Islamic State’ in Syria after exploiting world’s focus on Isis”, May 2016
The leader of Al-Qaeda central said that the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) can not absorb al-Nusra.
“Qaeda chief annuls Syrian-Iraqi jihad merger”, June 2013
Al-Qaeda’s top leader has ruled against the merger of two jihadi groups based in Syria and Iraq, in an attempt to put an end to increased tensions and infighting among members.
Ayman al-Zawahiri’s ruling came in a letter addressed to the leaders of Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), which is the largest jihadi umbrella group in the country.
Al Jazeera exclusively obtained a copy of the letter on Sunday from reliable sources in Syria (translated here).
The ruling comes two months after the leader of ISI, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a merger with al-Nusra to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying that al-Nusra was “merely an extension However, the unilateral move led to defections, infighting and a breakdown in operations as members disagreed over who commanded the battlefield.
In the letter, Zawahiri said Baghdadi was “wrong” to declare the merger without consulting or even alerting al-Qaeda’s leadership. He added that Syria was the “spatial state” for al-Nusra, headed by Abou Mohammad al-Joulani, while Baghdadi’s rule would be limited to Iraq.
Al-Nusra, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US for its affiliation with al-Qaeda, is considered to be one of the most effective rebel groups in Syria.
But after Baghdadi released a video in April declaring the formation of the ISIL, many of al-Nusra’s fighters, especially non-Syrians, left to join the new umbrella group.
“This was the most dangerous development in the history of global jihad,” an al-Nusra source inside Syria told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
One al-Nusra fighter estimated that 70 percent of the group’s members left for the ISIL in Idlib province, with even higher defection rates in the Syria’s eastern regions.
Aleppo, the bastion of al-Nusra, saw the least defections from its ranks, fighters said. But even then the city suffered from the divisions within the group.
The division made the everyday practices of governance and fighting even more challenging.
Last week, activists reported flour shortage in the northern city because fighters protecting the silos had expressed their allegiance to ISIL and did not recognise the legal committee – headed by Nusra and other Syrian batalions – responsible for distributing flour. Several parties had to intervene to end the crisis.
The divisions and turf battles between commanders prompted both Joulani and Baghdadi to send separate letters to Zawahiri in Afghanistan to arbitrate between the two groups.
“The proponents of Jihad were all dismayed by the dispute that occurred on the media between our beloved brothers in the Islamic state of Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Zawahiri said in the letter.
However, he called on both sides to cooperate and, whenever they could, support each other with money, weaponry and fighters.
Zawahiri also called on members of both outfits to refrain from infighting and named Abou Khaled al-Soury, local Syrian commander, as a personal emissary “to oversee the implementation” of the accord.
When Baghdadi released the merger statement two months ago, Joulani issued an audio recording saying he had not been consulted on the formation of the ISIL and insisted his fighters would continue to operate under the al-Nusra banner.
But that message did not deter Baghdadi from travelling from Iraq to the suburbs of Aleppo and trying to open offices there.
It is unclear whether Baghdadi will accept the al-Qaeda leader’s ruling, and what effect it will have on the ground.
The fighters who left al-Nusra to join the ISIL might not want to rejoin the group, according to those close to Baghdadi.
“Ninety percent of the Arab and foreign fighters [battling in Syria] joined ISIL,” said Abu Osama al-Iraqi, an activist affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq.
“It will be hard for them to take a step backward.”
and part of the Islamic State of Iraq”.
The Captain of ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) said he will not take orders from al-Qaeda
“Iraqi al-Qaeda chief rejects Zawahiri orders”, June 2013
Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq has rejected orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group’s global chief, to break up his group’s claimed union with the Jabhat al-Nusra, an armed Islamist group in Syria, according to a new audio message.
The purported remarks by head of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the message posted on jihadist forums on Saturday indicate tensions between ISI and al-Qaeda’s central command.
In April, Baghdadi announced that ISI had merged with Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front.
Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani acknowledged a relationship between the two groups, but he denied there had been a merger and publicly pledged his allegiance to Zawahiri.
In Saturday’s message, the man identified as Baghdadi said “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant will remain, as long as we have a vein pumping or an eye blinking. It remains and we will not compromise nor give it up”.
“It remains, and we will not compromise; we will not give up […] until we die.”
Earlier this month, Zawahiri ruled that the ISI and al-Nusra should operate as separate entities, according to a letter released to Al Jazeera.
Baghdadi had “made a mistake” by announcing a merger “without consulting us”, he said.
The merger plan has been “damaging to all jihadists”, Zawahiri said, adding that “Al-Nusra Front is an independent branch of Al-Qaeda”.
But the message on Saturday said: “When it comes to the letter of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri – may God protect him – we have many legal and methodological reservations.”
After consulting with the consultative council of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant […] I chose the order of God over the orders that contravenes Allah in the letter.
The audio message could not immediately be independently verified.
Al-Nusra Front, created in January 2012, joined al-Qaeda last December on a US list of foreign terrorist organisations.
An al-Nusra front member in Syria, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that following the release of Zawahiri’s letter, many members of ISI rejoined al-Nusra, particularly in the province of Deir Ezzor.
He said this new audio recording causes further division and confusion among those fighting on the ground.
“Defying the orders of Zawahiri is a black dot on Baghdadi’s career”, he said.
Among elements fighting to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, al-Nusra is one of the best armed and most successful on the battlefield. It has carried out some of the deadliest attacks in the uprising, claiming responsibility for several suicide bombings.
Fighting between al-Nusra and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)
“Factbox: Syria’s rebel groups”, January 2014
Syria‘s rebel movement has been a constantly shifting array of groups and alliances since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began nearly three years ago.
Assad’s security crackdown transformed Syria’s largely peaceful protest movement in March 2011 into an armed insurgency in the first year of the revolt, and since then opposition formations have been increasingly overtaken by Islamist groups.
As new leaders have emerged within the opposition, infighting intensified and reached a new level this month, with several rebel factions declaring war against the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Below is a description of some of Syria’s main rebel groups:
An amalgam of six major Islamist groups, this alliance is believed to be the biggest rebel army working in Syria. Its formation last November gutted the Western-backed Syrian Military Council, depriving it of some of its main members, such as the Tawheed Brigade, and further distanced it from powerful Islamist groups like the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades.
The Islamic Front’s members are hardline Sunni Islamists who want Syria to become an Islamic state, but they have been more tolerant of other groups than the radical al Qaeda branch, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Analysts say the number of fighters brought together by the Front is between 40,000 to 50,000. It is still not clear, however, whether it will be more successful in coordinating and leading Syria’s notoriously fractious rebel groups compared to the failed moderate opposition alliances.
The Islamic Front has not formally declared war on ISIL and its attitude towards the group is still ambiguous, but many of its leading factions are participating in the attack on ISIL.
* Syrian Revolutionaries Front:
This alliance of largely non-ideological rebel units was formed in December and helped launch a growing campaign against hardline ISIL fighters.
The backbone of the group is the Syrian Martyrs Brigade, a once powerful group from the northern province of Idlib led by Jamal Maarouf. Maarouf and his fighters were largely discredited in Idlib by rival Islamist groups who accused them of diverting funds meant for the front lines into their own pockets.
Unlike most other rebel formations, the group does not appear to have strong ideological leanings, though its units are mostly moderate Islamists.
The SRF is believed to receive funding from large Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, given that Riyadh was said to be Maarouf’s main financier. It has poor relations with the Islamic Front but has expressed support for the Western and Gulf-backed Supreme Military Command (SMC), the foundering successor to the leadership of the failed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The FSA was the original umbrella group for the rebels but was never able to form a coherent organizational structure or leadership and the SMC has faced similar challenges.
Some analysts suggest that the SRF may be another attempt at reviving the main components of the FSA, but it still lacks the regional scope to try that, as most of its member units hail from the north.
* Mujahideen Army:
This recent formation of eight Syrian militant groups was announced early in January and almost immediately launched a campaign against ISIL, leading many observers to believe it may have been formed by Gulf Arab backers for the purpose of challenging ISIL.
The group, which claims to have 5,000 members, is seen as moderately Islamist. Most of the factions that joined the Mujahideen Army are relatively minor and little is known about the group so far.
However, this new group, along with the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, spearheaded the campaign against ISIL that has broken out in many opposition-held parts of northern and eastern Syria.
* Nusra Front
This powerful rebel group is comprised of both Syrians and foreign militants and has been formally recognized by the central leadership of al Qaeda as its franchise in Syria.
The group was one of the first to use techniques such as suicide attacks and car bombings in urban areas. Despite this, it is seen as more tolerant and less heavy handed in its dealings with civilians and other rebel groups in comparison with its rival al Qaeda affiliate, ISIL.
Nusra Front, estimated at around 7,000 to 8,000 members, has worked with most rebel factions fighting in Syria but follows an austere version of Islam and calls for the creation of an Islamic state.
It is not formally a part of the Islamic Front but it works closely with many member groups. Some of its units have joined in recent rebel-on-rebel battles against ISIL but it has not officially declared war on the group.
The Nusra Front’s leader, known as Abu Mohammed al-Golani, has called for a ceasefire between ISIL and other rebel groups but the move has done little to slow the fighting.
* Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant:
ISIL was formed by breakaway elements from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, who joined with al Qaeda’s Iraq branch.
The group is headed by the Iraq branch’s leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He has ignored calls from al Qaeda central to stay out of Syria and focus on Iraq.
ISIL is seen as the most hardline of all the Islamist forces in Syria and has made enemies of several rebel groups since it seized control of many towns and checkpoints in opposition areas.
The group was largely accepted by Syrian civilians at first due to its strict policies against looting and its attempts to provide social services. It lost favor as its members began kidnapping and killing critics and rival groups.
ISIL is now fighting on several fronts. In Syria, many rebel factions are trying to retake territory and force the group out of their areas. At the same time, Iraqi military forces have launched a heavy campaign in Anbar province, where ISIL fighters took control of some towns.
While its numbers may be smaller, perhaps around 6,000 to 7,000, the ISIL’s hardline fighting force is very committed and capable of surviving as the two countries in which it operates face chaotic sectarian conflict.
The group has vowed to use assassinations and other strategies to retaliate against attacks. In a January 7 statement, it vowed to crush the Syrian rebels and made no gestures toward reconciliation despite Nusra calls for a truce.
* Supreme Military Command
The SMC is a moderate, non-ideological group. It enjoys backing from Western powers such as the United States, as well as Turkey and Gulf Arab countries, and has never been able to shake the impression among local rebel groups that it was a leadership coming from abroad.
Many of its commanders spent much of their time outside the country. They were also unable to secure consistent supplies of arms or funding from foreign donors.
While still functioning nominally, the SMC was dealt a heavy blow by the formation of the Islamic Front in November 2013, which deprived it of some of its largest members and allies and further damaged the SMC’s legitimacy.
Al-Nusra left Al-Qaeda (she was bought by Qatar)
“It looks like Al Qaeda is ‘laying a trap’ for the US — and giving Russia exactly what it wants”, July 2016
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Al Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, formally severed ties with the global terrorist organization Thursday in an attempt to “unify” as a distinct Islamist brigade with its own revolutionary goals and vision.
In its mission to rebrand itself, al-Nusra — now identifying asJabhat Fateh al-Sham — has clearly indicated that it is not committed to Al Qaeda’s brand of global jihad but to the singular goal of fomenting an Islamic revolution inside Syria.
The break was made easier by the fact that, since its emergence in 2012, Nusra has woven itself into the fabric of Syria’s communities and established military alliances of convenience with many mainstream rebel groups in the name of toppling Syrian president Bashar Assad.
But it also confirms that Nusra has no intention of distancing itself from the revolution’s non-jihadist rebel groups, many of whom are backed by the US and its allies.
For Russia, then — which has consistently used Nusra’s presence among these more moderate rebel groups as an excuse to target and eliminate any and all opposition to its ally, Assad — Nusra’s dissolution of ties with Al Qaeda is a gift. For the US, it’s a headache.
“By dissolving its ties with Al Qaeda, Nusra Front has made certain that it will remain deeply embedded within opposition front lines, particularly in the northern governorates of Aleppo and Idlib,” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who is an expert on Syria’s jihadist insurgency, wrote in Foreign Policy on Friday.
“Any airstrikes by foreign states targeting the group will almost certainly result in the deaths of mainstream opposition fighters and be perceived on the ground as counterrevolutionary. Consequently, a mission defined by Moscow and Washington in counterterrorism terms would in all likelihood steadily broaden the spectrum of those potentially defined as ‘terrorists’ — to the substantial detriment of any future solution to the Syrian crisis.”
The break comes just as the US and Russia are preparing to announce a military cooperation plan, known as the Joint Implementation Group, that was meant to more clearly delineate Nusra’s positions in Syria and deter airstrikes on civilians and the more moderate opposition.
“By disavowing its ties to Al Qaeda — which, incidentally, it did with Al Qaeda’s blessing — Nusra has made it harder to isolate it from more moderate groups, some of whose members may join it now because it’s more powerful than some of the groups they belong to now,” a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Jeff White, a military expert and defense fellow at The Washington Institute, said the development would probably not have any effect on Russia’s military strategy in Syria.
“Russia doesn’t bomb Nusra because it’s a terrorist group,” White told Business Insider. “It bombs Nusra because it is an enemy — an effective one — of the regime. For Russia, as long as Nusra keeps fighting the regime, it will remain a target.”
As for how the break might affect the US’s military strategy in Syria, White said that while the Obama administration would “want to assess what the split means in terms of goals, objectives, and operations, I suspect the counterterrorism community will be loath to take it off the target list.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Nusra’s rebranding would not affect the US’s assessment of the group.
“There continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both the United States and Europe,” Earnest told reporters at the daily White House press briefing.
But the development is bound to further complicate Syria’s rebel landscape, especially as Nusra — under its new name — mainstreams itself and consequently attracts more young men to its cause.
That, Lister noted, is where Nusra’s break from Al Qaeda can be seen less as a conscious separation from the terrorist organization’s global jihadist ideals and more as a way of “laying a trap” for the US and its allies who claim to want to support the goals of Syria’s revolution.
“The most moderate FSA groups will be forced to choose between military and revolutionary unity, or operational isolation and subjugation,” Lister wrote. “In short, Jabhat al-Nusra is taking yet another step toward shaping the orientation of the Syrian opposition in its favor.”
Many experts claimed that the US and Russia sealed Al Qaeda’s fate in Syria after it was revealed that they were going to coordinate their respective air campaigns to target its affiliate, al-Nusra.
Now, by breaking ties with Al Qaeda, Nusra has all but cemented the conditions for its own long-term survival. Those include increased popular support — which will lead to a backlash against the West if the US targets the group — and, potentially, funding from Qatar and Turkey, which may interpret Nusra’s rebranding as a legitimization of its revolutionary goals.
“Placed in this quandary, international military action against Jabhat al-Nusra does seem all but inevitable,” Lister said. “At the same time, however, the consequences for doing so have become even more concerning.”