A second war is brewing in war-ravaged Syria – this one between the two opposition factions fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad, and between the Kurdish factions in the north and the Islamist extremists as well.
A senior figure in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the A-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper this week the Al Qaeda terrorist organization is set to announce an independent Islamic state in northern Syria.
It’s a development that has been in the works for some time.
The 13-member Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, which split off from the Syrian National Council opposition force, declared the northern commercial hub city of Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state already months ago.
But the formal announcement, reportedly to be made on the first day of Eid – the end of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan – will set new targets for the jihadist organization behind the plan.
The FSA source (who asked for anonymity) told the newspaper that implementation of the plan began last week with the killing of a commander and his brother in Dana village, followed by the killing of a senior member of the Supreme Command Council. Other assassinations of officers in the FSA are expected, he said.
Prior to the murders, “The Islamic state had threatened to kill all of the other members of the Supreme Military Council, another sign of the escalating struggle within the armed uprising,” the BBC quoted the FSA as warning reporters on Tuesday.
“The Bab El-Hawa and Harem border points are the main targets, the first to control arms and ammunition supplies, and the second to raise funds by smuggling crude oil,” he explained.
The FSA, for its part, are deploying forces in the targeted town “to stop them from becoming prey to the Islamic state.”
The source added that FSA officials will try to “sit down and talk to the Islamic state if we find someone who listens, in order to avoid bloodbaths and clashes which would reflect negatively on the fight against government forces.”
He added, however, that “whatever we do, there will definitely be war between us.”
It is for this reason that Western nations have been reluctant for the start to send arms to rebel forces, not knowing exactly to whom they will end up. Up to this point, the FSA forces had often joined hands with the Islamists when the two groups were faced with a common military objective to conquer in fighting Syrian government troops. Such military operations sometimes left FSA arms in Al Qaeda-linked hands.
There have been subsequent claims by FSA forces, however, that "not one American weapon" has ever reached a rebel brigade, even though basic military support and heavy arms were finally promised a month ago to the fighters by the Obama administration. Such weapons were supplied, however, by Saudi Arabia.
Syrian Kurds have also been threatened by the Islamist extremists, who long ago split off from the mainstream opposition forces and organized themselves into the 13-faction Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria.
The Syrian Islamist rebel group, led by the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Nusra Front) terrorist organization then merged with the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda to become ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
According to a jihad expert quoted by the Al-Monitor website, Middle East Forum Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow Aymenn Jawad al Tamimi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is reportedly planning to set up Islamic emirates in the areas controlled by its armed terrorist groups.
“In towns such as Jarabulus, where ISIS... has control, ISIS has declared an ‘emirate of Jarabulus,’ for instance,” Tamami wrote in an email to Al-Monitor. “ISIS has an emir of northern operations: Abu Omar.... who leads Jaish al-Muhajireen and was appointed... in May.”
Possibly to counter these moves, the Kurdish militants are reportedly planning to form a transitional Kurdish administration in the areas they control as well, to be followed by elections for an autonomous Syrian Kurdish government within six months.