RABIAA, Syria– An estimated 140,000 people have died in the since the onset of the Syrian civil war.
Rebel groups have continually attempted to overthrow the Alawite-minority Ba’athist government headed by Bashar Al-Assad. Bashar Al-Assad gained control in 2000, following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the nation since a successful coup against former Ba’athist leader Salah Jadid.
The extreme nature of this civil war is coupled with the increasingly decentralized nature of the Free Syrian Army, which include army deserters and a random collection of local citizens from all ideological viewpoints.
Liberal, conservative, progressive activists and radical Islamists all are in a constant struggle to control the narrative of the opposition. This is creating constant internal unrest and apprehension of whether a government led by the Syrian National Coalition could be maintain stability and what would transpire if they were victorious against the Ba’athist government.
An unrestrained offshoot of the Free Syrian Army is the fundamentally religious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group is attempting to co-opt the Syrian revolution in hopes of instituting an Islamic state in Syria based in Sharia law. ISIS was recently renounced by Al-Qaeda, who broke ties with the group over conflicting beliefs and for allegedly “besmirching the Al-Qaeda name among other militants” according to Al-Qaeda representatives.
The recent break with Al-Qaeda has been categorized by the emerging strength of ISIS and the drastic lessening influence Al-Qaeda has over militant organizations with which it shares its philosophy.
Brooking Institute scholar William McCants argues this event signifies the new standing of ISIS as the most powerful “global Jihadi group on the planet” and ever shrinking power of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri demanded the group “withdraw from Syria” and allow the Al-Qaeda backed affiliate the Nusra Front take control of the situation in Syria. ISIS outright refused the demand.
The group has been described as extremely sadistic and has come into quarrels with cooperative rebel groups, leading to pervasive brutal quarrels that have “left thousands dead in Northern and Eastern Syria.”
ISIS is a public relations nightmare for the Syrian rebel faction. It has become the loudest voice in the revolution, with United States officials arguing their actions only bolster Assad’s Government. An U.S. official stated their actions which have “sown discord within at opposition” are being celebrated “amongst Syrian regime officials.”
In late 2013, ISIS began encroaching upon soft targets. The organization is noted for the abduction of “doctors, reports and media activists.” Aid workers are targeted as well, and the group has closed down various “hospital and media offices.”
In the town of Rabiaa, ISIS gunmen burst into a hospital, arrested a rebel leader protecting the hospital, and captured two wounded rebel soldiers. The consequences of the growing strength and organization of ISIS catapulted the civil war into a more dire situation.
U.S. officials are worried the growing decentralization of terrorism could pose complex concerns for future counter-terrorism activities. ISIS represents the end of a strict structured chain of command and more of a collective ideological point. The end of the Afghanistan war is creating a multifaceted dispute over the legality of force and has created a “debate about the extent of the president’s powers” when engaging in deadly processes when dealing with religious and politically radical terrorist forces.
Regardless of this, the Free Syrian Army is in a dire situation if ISIS continues its policy of not working cooperatively with other opposition groups. A deal is unlikely to be struck, with United Nations officials wary the violence will not end soon. This is a sad situation for a nation that some experts say could continue down the path of civil war for years to come.
– Joseph Abay