Bashar al-Assad counts his blessings… Public appearances by the Syrian President have been rare over the past few months. The last time was at the end of December, a meeting with Lebanese clergy. It showed a semblance of continuity, even as bloodshed and destruction go on in Syria.
Rebels are now fighting increasingly among themselves, which plays to the advantage of the Assad regime in the civil war. The complexities since the conflict’s beginning in 2011 have not stopped multiplying. Before, disparate anti-Assad forces were at least united against him. But now these movements are targeting a new enemy.
This new enemy is the insurgent group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – shorthand ISIS or ISIL or in Arabic Dā‘ish. It was set up early in the Iraq War, backed by al-Qaeda. Its aim was to spread dominance in the Sunni regions of Iraq, then Syria – led by Abou Bakr al-baghdadi, among the most-feared of the world’s terrorists.
Political analyst Tarek Abud said: “While the Syrian army has stood up to them, they even get on badly with the people living in their area. They wear suicide belts when walking in the open street. They can’t win support from frightened residents. They just intimidate people with violence.”
There have been public protests against the ISIL/Dā‘ish, accused of abductions, torture and murders. This has given rise to new alliances whose aim is to drive them out of Syria or destroy them there.
The Jaish al-Mujahideen (or Mujahideen Army), a Sunni resistance group in Iraq, speaking for numerous brigades (the Nour al-Din al-Zinki, al-Ansar brigade, Amjad al-Islam Fastaqim kama Umirt group, The Islamic Nour movement, The Islamic Hurriyah brigade, Jund al-Haramein brigade, Ansar al-Khilafa brigade and other divisions) complains that Dā‘ish has hijacked their revolution.
Early on in Syria, it was the revolution of the so-called Free Syrian Army, the original rebels whom Western powers hoped would remove Assad. Today, it is weak.
Anti-terrorism expert Saad Al-Muttalibi suggested that the West’s encouragement, such as it was, was misplaced: “Unfortunately, the West took the wrong political decisions in regard to Syria, strengthening Dā‘ish so that it could become a global threat.”
Dā‘ish has said it carried out an attack in Iraq a few days ago, keeping up its anti-government offensive there, and building up its strength.
Meanwhile the erosion continues of the Free Syrian Army’s ability to convince westerners to supply it with military means.