“Does the Truce Between ISIS and Suqour al-Sham Mean an End to Syria’s Inter-Rebel War?” By Daniel Abdallah

Does the Truce Between ISIS and Suqour al-Sham Mean an End to Syria’s Inter-Rebel War?
By Daniel Abdallah – twitter:
@Daniel_Abdullah
for Syria Comemnt, February 7, 2014

Has the newly brokered truce between rebel militias in Syria ended the fighting that began in earnest on 3 January 2014? The reasons that Syria’s militias attacked the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were many. ISIS had arrested members of many militias; it had torture many of those and killed quite a few. The immediate result of the initial onslaught against ISIS was the expulsion of ISIS from most of Idlib province as well as from the city of Aleppo and its rural areas. ISIS positions in ar-Raqqa were also seriously weakened. To the untrained eye, ISIS appeared to be on the verge of total collapse in Syria. Some militias demanded that it leave the country altogether[1].  ISIS promised retaliation.[2]

Although the Islamic Front (IF) – the largest armed rebel coalition in Syria – had numerous grievances with ISIS, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) led the attack on ISIS.  To be more correct, the remnants of the FSA led the attack. The FSA proper had ceased to exist when two of its largest constituents joined the IF in November and its putative leadership, the Supreme Military Command, was driven from Syria only weeks later. Those FSA militias that did not find a new home in the Islamic Front formed the Syrian Revolutionaries Front[3] (SRF) and a few other groups, which spearheaded the attack on ISIS. The fight appears to have been well planned, as both Saudi Arabia and Qatar sent money and weapons ahead of the January 3 conflagration. Some claim it was earmarked for the battle against ISIS. The US limited itself to financial support – amounting to $2 million a month.[4]

The Islamic Front, Jabhat an-Nusra, and ISIS disagree on details about the future state in Syria, but all agree basic principles: that ia theocratic state in should take the place of the Assad regime; and Sharia law should be its guiding if not sole source of legislation. The ideological kinship that binds together the Islamist militias along with their professed horror at fitna, or civil discord among Muslims, caused the Islamic Front to hessitate in its response to the fight against ISIS. A local contact informed me that in Tal Abiadh (a town on the border with Turkey), soldiers of Ahrar ash-Sham, a constituent of the IF, handed their weapons over to Turkish authorities and fled into Turkey rather than fight ISIS. The same was taking place in ar-Raqqa; Ahrar soldiers declared their neutrality refusing to fight ISIS. They professed their desire to leave for the East in what amounted to surrender.  ISIS soldiers initially agreed to give them safe passage, but ended up executing them to the man.[5]

The IF’s reticence and not only ISIS’ military superiority helped ISIS win the struggle in Raqqa.  ISIS was able to reconquer all of Raqqa, Jarablus, al-Bab and Manbij (i.e. most of Eastern rural Aleppo). It also solidified its positions in Deir az-Zour by establishing new alliances with local tribes.[6] Whereas before the ISIS had to share power in all of these locales, it now emerged as sole ‘governor’ ruling by Sharia law and on its own.

Many Jihadi theorists were deeply troubled by this fitna, and they tried their best to bring an end to it. Most famous of such initiatives was one by Saudi theologian, rebel fighter in Syria and Phd Abdullah al-Muhaysini that came to be known as al-Umma Initiative.[7] It called for the cessation of violence and the establishment of a common, neutral Islamic court to arbitrate all disputes according to Sharia law. It was unconditionally embraced by Jabhat an-Nusra, the SRF, the IF, the Mujahideen Army and many Jihadi ideologues.[8] The ISIS, however, predicated its acceptance on two conditions: that all parties involved publicly declare their position regarding democracy and secularism (refused en bloc by the ISIS, the IF and Jabhat an-Nusra) – intended for the SRF and the other remnants of the FSA who accept them half-heartedly – and, second, that all parties clarify their positions regarding current Arab regimes and Turkey – creating a hurdle for factions who are supported by these very countries.[9] The various IF constituents’ position vis-à-vis the ISIS remained a mixture of verbal denouncements and an acceptance of Muhaysini’s initiative, all the while trying to avoid the fight where possible. Hassan Abboud – leader of Ahrar ash-Sham – publicly stated that they were going to ‘avoid any battle [with the ISIS] that can be avoided’.[10] As previously mentioned Suqour ash-Sham’s Abu Issa ash-Shaikh had a much stronger stance against the ISIS – promising to cleanse them from the Levant. A milder version, at least verbally, was put forward by Zahran Alloush – leader of the Islam Army (also an IF constituent and largely based in the South away from the centre of the infighting) – saying the fight with the ISIS was no fitna and that there was no more room for middle-of-the-road positions.[11] Abdul Azeez Salama – head of Liwa at-Tawheed (IF) – reiterated the ‘majority’ position by saying ‘I would be honoured to be judged by Allah’s Sharia’.[12] The nature of the overall conflict in Syria, it is worth mentioning, is resistant to the implementation of centralised strategies. More often, decisions are taken based on local conditions even if they go against orders the particular group had received from its leaders. While the characterisation offered here of the IF publicly distancing itself from the fight with ISIS is perfectly true, it is also true that a number of their sub-factions entered the fray against ISIS with full force.

Until the truce under discussion took place, all calls for arbitration had appeared dead for all intents and purposes. Significantly, ISIS went back on their two conditions when the truce was brokered. No public denunciation of democracy, secularism or regional states by Suqour ash-Sham (or the faction within it that accepted the deal) have taken place so far, while the truce is in full effect. The ISIS, then, have accepted, in principal, the establishment of an Islamic court with 50% of its judges coming from their side and 50% from the side of their opponents. Importantly, the court the ISIS agreed to has no retroactive effect. It only applies to potential disputes that might arise in the future, and SS had no qualms about agreeing to this. The ISIS have also accepted to dealing with a group that was once part of the Western-aligned FSA, not an insignificant step for it. One can read this as the ISIS’ content with the status quo – now that they have become the sole power in a large swathe of territory – and as their readiness to dilute their refusals of arbitration for this purpose, with the not insignificant caveat of nullified retroactivity.

For the IF, the truce can have one of two possible effects. It can either help formalise their so far hesitant approach to the ISIS and offer them a way out of internecine struggle with a face-saving mechanism, such as a Sharia court that may turn out to be largely toothless. Or, less likely, the truce may presage a split within the Islamic Front, a group that never functioned as a single unit, but as an alliance of convenience. If the Islamic Front splits up, Suqour ash-Sham would go its own way. The reason this is unlikely is that larger groups are better channels for funding. Small units cannot survive well on their own or bring in big money and thus will not want to break from the larger coalition for purely ideological reasons. Should leaders of the IF denounce the truce, it could mean that the Front will come apart, but this seems to be a small possibility.

Assad may have had mixed feelings toward the fighting between ISIS and the other rebel militias. Had the enemies of ISIS turned out to be victorious, they would have proven their effectiveness as fighters of “terrorism,” thereby stealing Assad’s fire – or at least the fire he is trying to market to Western powers and the Syrian people. ISIS’ counterattack and success in reconquering Syrian territory is doubtlessly satisfying to Assad for it ensures inter-rebel conflict and chaos in the days to come. It also ensures that western powers will continue to fret about Syria becoming a training ground for future Western Jihadists. Those opposition leaders who claim that mainstream Syrian groups can easily defeat al-Qaida and eject jihadists from Syria once Assad is defeated will have a harder time making this argument. If the ISIS-SS truce becomes a starting point for further deals with other groups in the IF, and so universalizes the uneasy truce begun with the SS, Assad will be reassured. He will claim the rebel groups have re-allied themselves with the ISIS and that it cannot be a regime creation as so many opposition members insist. ‘Assad must be waiting for the call from the CIA’, as one of my friends put it.

Although conspiracy theories claiming to expose ISIS as an Assad back flag operation, designed to mar the purity of the revolution and destroy it from within, are ubiquitous, there is evidence to suggest that Assad looks on ISIS as a strategic ally. The Syrian Army has not bombed their well-known headquarters and has spared their men.

To conclude, it is important to stress that all stated potential ramifications of this truce remain speculative. All the evidence we so far have for analysis is the text of the agreement as released by ISIS-sympathetic sources, the video showing a convoy moving through the desert and Rashed Tuggo (SS’ Head of General Staff) claiming that he was authorised to speak on behalf of SS’ Shura Council. More time and evidence is needed to determine whether the truce will be of any significance to the Syrian Civil War.

 


[1] http://all4syria.info/Archive/122779

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwPTVj5lyzQ

[3] http://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/syria/2013/12/10/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%83%D9%84-%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%85-%D8%AC%D8%A8%D9%87%D8%A9-%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-.html

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10588308/US-secretly-backs-rebels-to-fight-al-Qaeda-in-Syria.html

[5] https://twitter.com/HassanAbboud_Ah/statuses/422770031412654080

[6] See: http://t.co/6N635C1r6x, for example.

[7] https://twitter.com/mobadratalomah and http://mobadrah.mhesne.com/. For analysis see: http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54320

[8] https://twitter.com/mobadratalomah

[9] https://twitter.com/Daniel_Abdullah/statuses/427854070842281985

[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYa7MnqeqsI&feature=youtu.be. For a summary in English and commentary see http://danielabdullah.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/on-hassan-abbouds-latest-speech/

[11] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Upaj2Krtg6g

[12] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wspbiB8sY50&sns=tw

Comments (67)


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51. ghufran said:

A piece of good news from Homs:
أعلنت الأمم المتحدة اتفاق الحكومة السورية والمعارضة المسلحة على تمديد وقف إطلاق النار في مدينة حمص لثلاثة أيام أخرى.
وتمكن عمال الإغاثة الاثنين من إجلاء نحو 300 مواطن من المدينة المحاصرة منذ حوالي 18 شهرا، بحسب ما ذكره الهلال الأحمر السوري.
cease fire is extended for 3 more days and another 300 civilians were evacuated.
There is a palpable unease among some government supporters who are unhappy that the “families of rebels” were allowed out while hundred of civilians who support the regime are still under siege in areas like Nubul and alzahraa

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February 10th, 2014, 7:30 pm

 

52. Alan said:

Desperation on the cusp of madness, folks; desperation on the cusp of madness!

The US government cannot make anything negative stick, so they are pulling allegations from thin air.

US Inexplicably Accuses Iran of Backing al-Qaeda in Syria
http://news.antiwar.com/2014/02/09/us-inexplicably-accuses-iran-of-backing-al-qaeda-in-syria/
The allegation seems to center around a single “facilitator” who purportedly lives along the Iran-Afghan border and has provided passports to al-Qaeda recruits, with the assumption that they’re being used to flock to Syria, and with the added assumption that Iran is letting them do so.

That the Assad government is literally Iran’s closest ally on the planet and that al-Qaeda is openly hostile to Iran’s Shi’ite government are both unchanged, and of course that means Iran backing al-Qaeda against Syria is literally the last thing they’d do. The Treasury Department didn’t reconcile that fact with anything, but rather just stated the allegation, like so many others, as a matter of course………………………..

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February 11th, 2014, 1:48 am

 

53. Alan said:

Has ANYONE in this US administration contemplated the reality that if they go to war against Syria, it will most probably mean war with Russia

While the United States is busy diving in the mud China increase to buy more gold.
China Gold Buying Surges 41% To 1,176 Tonnes In 2013

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February 11th, 2014, 1:59 am

 

54. SANDRO LOEWE said:

ALAN,

Rusia is simply nothing in terms of international legitimacy. Sooner or later the world will be forced to face and confront Rusia, had the corrupt system not made the job by itself before.

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February 11th, 2014, 4:04 am

 

55. Alan said:

SANDRO
Corruption nestled in the Western system of capitalist decadent and rotting where all forbidden becomes permissible to achieve control and profit and interests! Now clearly we see around us repercussions of chronic disease of capitalism! Do not bury your head in the sand! The crisis in own house of Western societies. American mentality, inherited from the last century and based on the basis of outdated become catastrophic and suicide sometimes in this rapidly changing world, and can be push towards the end of the American empire generally! US will pay all its bills! Will!
The wars will become a curse and disaster on its actors!
http://rinf.com/alt-news/latest-news/war-process-peace-process-us-military-aid-israel/

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February 11th, 2014, 7:27 am

 

56. Sami said:

Here is another crazy idea, how about Assadists stop barrel bombing Aleppo into smithereens and instead use those very same helicopters to lift the siege on Zahra and Nabul?

One would think an “army” with helicopters would know how to bust a siege real easily, unless of course they want those areas to suffer for propaganda purposes!

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February 11th, 2014, 8:11 am

 

57. Sami said:

Alan,

Something to keep in mind when you scrape the bottom of the barrel for “news”, those “news” sources are laden with bigotry and inaccuracies that even if a small part of their “reporting” is factual the rest of the vomit they spew will taint any factuality with the stench of regurgitation.

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February 11th, 2014, 8:17 am

 
 

59. Alan said:

The Criminal Record of the Head of the Syrian National Coalition
http://journal-neo.org/2014/02/09/ahmad-al-jarba-the-public-enemy-and-his-friends/
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs
In an attempt to “settle” the Syrian crisis Washington and Riyadh has put forward a negotiator – the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Ahmad Jarba. But it seems that today there’s a few people who do remember the story of Ahmad’s rise to “prominence”. A former felon, he was detained for drugs smuggling in Saudi Arabia and later transferred to Syria under convoy. In Syria Ahmad Jabra started running disorderly houses, and later on he was hired for the assassination of the runaway Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, but instead of killing his target he charged ex-Minister for “alarming him”.

The impending rise of Ahmad-al-Jarba to national leadership is disturbing but not unexpected. It is part of a distinct pattern. The same Western powers which are still engaged in a “war on terror” are perfectly happy to use terrorists for their own ends, and promote them to power as respected statesmen, when it suits them. Then their crimes are soon forgotten. Their victims, however, who rightly expected Western help against the terrorists, are then abandoned and told to move with the tide which rapidly washes them away…………

The question remains, if Ahmad Jarba is the best Washington and Riyadh were able to put forward, can you imagine the rest of the the so-called “National Coalition”? Do felons make good peace negotiators?

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February 11th, 2014, 2:49 pm

 

60. Alan said:

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February 11th, 2014, 2:54 pm

 

61. ghufran said:

It looks like Geneva 3 will be even less productive than Geneva 2, I can only hope that the two sides can agree on prisoners exchange and an easing of the blockade of some Syrian towns.
Louai Safi insisted that all of those who died in Ma’aan were shabeehas and were killed in battle.
For that, Mr. Safi deserves my Tozz for today.

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February 11th, 2014, 5:15 pm

 

62. Uzair8 said:

The defeatist attitude on Iran Military Forum has reached new depths leaving me with no choice but to share.

On the following one page (see bottom) almost every post is of doom and gloom.

One example from a prominent updater of military happenings:

‘It gets worse SAA is defending its last positions on Qunteira Golan heights. Nawa is also lost, The whole Deraa province is now in danger. The rats are well armed led by army professionals from USA. French legion is also on the ground taking down our officers. Also Jordanian special forces are leading the main attacks on SAA positions.Its not looking good brothers.’

http://www.iranmilitaryforum.net/military-conflicts/updates-on-military-action-in-syria/msg232734/?topicseen#msg232734

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February 11th, 2014, 6:05 pm

 
 

64. Syrialover said:

New from the Syrian Opposition:

MEMO | ISIS & the Assad Regime: From Marriage of Convenience to Partnership

http://syriageneva2.org/?p=242&lang=en

(This is well researched with a good index of sources).

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February 11th, 2014, 6:21 pm

 

65. Syrialover said:

ALAN #58

To prove SAMI’s point about using rubbish media sources you instantly posted that over-sensationalist (and non-news) item about the west going to be destroyed by the fact there it is going to have too many old people.

If you’d looked at the information you would have seen that advances in health – people staying active and living longer – are the reason for the changing demographics in developed countries. There is also a strong trend for people to stay in the workforce longer, with many governments now edging towards making the official retirement age past 70.

IN CONTRAST

We have had the shocking situation in modern Russia of a falling life expectancy (particularly for men). This plus a plummeting birth rate has led to a fast shrinking Russian population.

The average Russian man dies many years earlier than men in other countries (including 14 years younger than Chinese!).

One of the main reasons given is epidemic alcoholism. But the root cause is Russia’s dysfunctional, alienated and developmentally stalled society.

Excerpts from the latest study released only a couple of weeks ago (note it’s from Russia’s main news agency):

MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) – A new report detailing the devastating toll of vodka on male life expectancy in Russia has been published…

The study published Friday in British medical journal The Lancet has found that 25 percent of Russian men die before the age of 55, compared with only 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom.

The study, which is the work of a team of Russian and British researchers, reveals that Russian male smokers who drink three or more half-liter bottles of vodka weekly double the risk of dying …

Heavy drinkers mainly die from alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence, suicide, cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, pancreatitis, liver disease and heart diseases, the study said.

Russia’s government has launched a crusade against alcohol abuse, describing it as a “national disaster” and aiming to halve consumption by 2020 and root out illegal production and sales.

http://en.ria.ru/russia/20140131/187079194.html

So ALAN, you shouldn’t be worrying about western populations while your beloved Putinland is such a serious cause for concern.

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February 11th, 2014, 7:30 pm

 

66. Syrialover said:

The point of my comment in #65 is that Russia has NOTHING to offer the rest of the world while it has nothing to offer its own fast dying population.

The place is a mess and a nightmare to live in – the incredibly high death rate statistics tell us a very high percentage of Russians see little point in living.

So please Putin, if you want to keep having a country, stay out of international affairs and instead busy yourself clearing up the vodka bottles, tackling crime and corruption, allowing political and media freedoms and rescuing Russia’s broken down economy.

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February 11th, 2014, 7:52 pm

 

67. Observer said:

Just finished watching Frontline

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/syrias-second-front/

absolutely essential to view it.

The country is completely finished. Also the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique had an excellent article in the February edition titled the Arab Spring is not over yet. An absolute must read for those that can access it. I hope Dr. Landis can post it I did send him the link.

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February 11th, 2014, 10:33 pm

 

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