“As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into one of the biggest terrorist threats in the world today,” ANNE BARNARD and ERIC SCHMITT write for the New York Times:
Many of the militants are part of the Nusra Front (left), an extremist group whose fighters have gained a reputation over the past several months as some of the most effective in the opposition. ….But others are assembling under a new, even more extreme umbrella group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that is merging some Syrians with fighters from around the world…. The concern is that a new affiliate of Al Qaeda could be emerging from those groups.
Even Congressional supporters of the C.I.A.’s covert program to arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition fear the delivery of weapons, set to begin this month, will be too little, too late.
Assad’s argument that he was combatting violent jihadists “began as a fiction during the period of peaceful, unarmed protests but is now a reality” because of the regime’s promotion of sectarianism as well as the extremists’ success, Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, recently wrote in The National.
Sectarian divisions have also emerged within the Syrian diaspora, the Guardian reports:
That polarization does not surprise University of Oklahoma professor and Syria expert Joshua Landis, who says it merely reflects the sectarian divide in Syria. The Syrian civil war is widely read as a conflict between the majority Sunni Muslim community and a patchwork of religious minorities – among them Alawite Muslims, Christians and Druze Muslims.
“Sectarian identity is a large part of Syrians, and it gets imported to America,” he said. “Anti-Assad is just a code word for Sunni, for people who don’t like to speak about it.”
Syria’s democratic opposition this week published a Transition Roadmap, which will be officially unveiled on August 14 at a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, and leaders of the Syrian Expert House will give an overview of Syria’s imminent transition at the conference.
But the authors may not be in a position to implement the road map if the opposition’s moderate, secular and pro-democratic factions continue to be marginalized. They are frustrated that “promised weapons from the West have yet to materialize, despite staunch assurances from opposition military leaders that they would not find their way to Al-Qaeda,” analysts suggest.
“There’s an awful lot of pragmatism on the ground,” said Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “There’s a realization that without extensive coordination on the ground this could go on for years and years or the opposition could be defeated, so no matter what the long-term objective, it might be still worth it in the medium term to coordinate across groups,” he tells the Times:
After [a recent] battle, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the United States-backed opposition’s Aleppo military council, appeared in a video alongside Abu Jandal, a leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. …Okaidi offered thanks to “our brothers al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and others,” adding: “We’re here to kiss every hand pressed on the trigger.” He then ceded the floor to Abu Jandal and a mix of jihadist and Free Syrian Army leaders, who stood together, each praising his men, like members of a victorious basketball team.
But that same pragmatism, Mr. Ibish said, suggests there is hope that many of the Syrians fighting alongside extremists are not ideologically committed to those groups’ goal of an Islamic state, and could peel away from it if offered an alternative.
The extremist ideology “runs counter to most traditional culture and lived realities of modern Syria, which is a heterogeneous and typically tolerant society.”
At Samantha Power’s recent confirmation hearing for the U.S. ambassadorship to the United Nations, Senator John McCain asked if she concurred with the view of former State Department policy planner Anne-Marie Slaughter that Article 52 of the UN Charter could serve as a legal basis for international military action against Syria. The article posits, Slaughter wrote, that “regional organizations must notify the Security Council of their actions but not necessarily seek approval.”
Power replied: “In terms of the legal rationales, that’s something I don’t feel equipped to weigh in on.”
“Of course, the correct “legal” answer would have been a simple ‘no’,” says Reza Nasri, an international lawyer from Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, specializing in Charter law.
“Article 24 of the UN Charter clearly forbids the use of force in international relations,” he writes in the National Interest:
It allows only two exceptions to this prohibition: Self-defense, as provided in Article 51, and military measures authorized by the Security Council. Nothing in the Charter even remotely suggests that countries may bypass these exceptions and use force at whim if they regrouped in regional military organizations.