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Are there moderate Syrian rebels?

By Ayub Nuri 23/2/2015

The United States and Turkey have agreed to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels, but is there such thing as moderate rebels in Syria? The US has had doubts about working with any rebel groups, but Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar insist that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a moderate force that represents the ambitions of the Syrian people.

This is an illusion. The FSA is not moderate and it does not claim to be. Most of its leaders and commanders have a strong jihadist tendency and they call their war against Damascus a holy war. FSA units and brigades carry Islamic names. Their black headbands are adorned with Koranic verses. They also launch their attacks and fire rockets to the cry of Allahu Akbar.

Did the world forget that before ISIS came to the scene FSA was the one that committed many horrific crimes? One of their commanders ripped out the heart of a Syrian soldier and ate it in front of a camera. He later told the BBC, “I didn't bite into it. I just held it for show.”

In 2013 Carla Del Ponte, a UN human rights investigator, said that the FSA and other rebels had used sarin nerve agent against soldiers and civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, in one attack in 2013 Syrian rebels killed 190 unarmed civilians from an Alawite tribe in Latakia.

The FSA shares the same region with many unknown radical groups. They hang out together and regularly switch sides. In December Rudaw interviewed Rami Al-Dalati, the highest FSA military commander, who said: “The al-Nusrah Front has a different story. All members of this front are Syrians. They are to some extent popular. They have an impact and we have some coordination. We see the al-Nusrah as a Syrian front against the regime. We do not see it as a radical group.”

Two years ago, the Ahrar al-Shimal, an entire FSA brigade and 65 members of another brigade joined the Nusrah Front. Reports speak of deep infiltration of Nusrah, al-Qaeda and ISIS in FSA. They manage to get some of the funding, arms and information that FSA receives from abroad.

Apart from their war crimes, many people fallen into ISIS hands were in fact abducted in FSA-controlled areas. Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who was killed in Raqqa earlier this month, was abducted in Aleppo and some reports say that the FSA sold her to ISIS. Theo Padnos, an American journalist who was abducted in Syria in 2012 and held for almost two years managed to escape twice, but both times the FSA caught him and handed him back to his Nusrah captors.

I believe the only difference between FSA, ISIS and the Nusrah Front is their focus. ISIS wants an Islamic caliphate. The Nusrah Front wants an Islamic state in Syria only and the FSA wants an Islamic regime in Damascus.

The FSA and other rebel groups are not fighting Bashar al-Assad because he is a dictator. They fight him because he is an Alawite Shiite. I have watched hundreds of FSA and rebel videos, and I have never heard them say they fight for democracy, human rights and freedom. They only speak of revenge against the “Alawite dogs.”

The FSA is moderate only in its influence inside Syria, the size of its territory and the number of people it has killed. ISIS beheads its victims; FSA executes them by firing squad.

Countries that want to train and arm Syrian rebels should also keep in mind the fate of Syria’s more than four million Alawites. They are Syrians too and they have as much claim to the land as anyone else. You can’t arm a rebel group that is seething with hate and revenge against them.

I do not mention the Kurds, who are the most modern and secular group in Syria -- and have protected Arabs, Christians, Shiites and Sunnis alike -- because the focus here is rebels who want to topple Assad. But I think that if Europe and the US are looking for a moderate force in Syria, they should work with Assad himself. He is more moderate and secular than any rebel group. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are wrong: Removing Assad is not the solution but the beginning of more war and atrocities.

It is more hopeful to bring democracy to Syria through Assad than through the rebels.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw. 


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CS | 23/2/2015
The author is right. The real moderate Syrians have all left or been killed, with the sole exception of the Kurds of Rojava, and Turkey is trying its best to get them to go along with FSA and fight Assad. Maybe Kurds should unite the Rojava cantons and declare neutrality?
Siliva | 23/2/2015
A straightforward analysis of the situation in Syria, with many valid points. It is a fact that jihadists have hijacked the "Arab spring in Syria" against the will of majority of the population. It is not so that moderate (secular or not) Arabs do not exist in Syria; rather, it is almost in the nature of moderation to be non-violent and therefore, in a situation of war, in the background, silent/silenced. The armed and loud few, many of them outsider jihadists, do not represent nor speak for the man on the street. It is therefore vital for the International Community to step in and speak for the moderates, if they are ever going to have a chance to survive and flourish. However, what does it mean to "work with Assad"? I wish the author would elaborate on that. Is Assad the legitimate president of Syria? Are we to help the Assad army to suppress the, ehm, revolution? Or does it mean that International Community puts pressure on both sides to speak and agree on a transition to democracy, ie to a federal Syria, in which Sunni Arabs, Nusayris (Alawites), Druze and Kurds rule themselves freely and securely in their own respective territories? (This map gives an idea about respective territories. Consider the upper half of "state of Aleppo" as Kurdistan It is quite obvious that these groups need to establish a system of governance that secures rights and freedoms of each group, without giving any one the upper hand to violate the other's rights and freedoms, including those of the Christian minorities. For that to happen, the FSA, that now has been compromised and heavily infiltrated by the jihadists, must be disbanded (ie declared void) and a new force assembled for the fight against ISIS. And since Assadists and the moderate opposition would now be on talking terms in agreement for a transition to democracy (federalism), the joint force would focus on the concrete task of fighting and defeating ISIS and other jihadist groups. In this fight, Jordan and other Arab states could have a decisive role to play militarily, turning the tides in the moderates' favour against the jihadists. My point is: those who hate each other and cannot live together in a single political system obviously cannot solve the problems and come to a resolution peacefully and constructively on their own. It is therefore the International Community must step in to lead and, if necessary, to force. It is so the wishes of the peoples will be realized, as opposed to those of the few violent extremists.
Looking Closer Into The Former Syria | 23/2/2015
The assertion that the FSA is not a moderate group is absolutely true,for it is an extremist Sunni fighting force against Assad not because he is a dictator but because he is Alawite-Shia.However it might sound controversial,the assertion that the most moderate and secular force in Syria is the Assad regime itself deserves a closer examination.The assertion is likewise true if we consider only the Arab groups,as the Kurds by far the most secular,democratic and staunchly pro-western force,albeit they are not Arabs. Astonishingly the USA don't help the Kurds for the only reason because they are Kurds and not Arabs.How confused and how misled are the ignorants policymakers in Washington ?.
Syrian | 23/2/2015
Well said, if Assad had half a brain he would strike a permanent deal with the Kurds in Syria on autonomy and start reforms in the rest of the country. He should reduce Irans influence, the Iranians have their own agenda and will always keep Syria weak and dependent on them, just like they did to Iraq. Assad can replace the Iranian support for Kurdish support, the Syrian army and Kurdish forces could do the job of taking out the trash, the Kurds in the entire northern region and the Syrian army in the rest.
Zak | 23/2/2015
After killing thousand of innocent Syrians Removing Assad is not problem because he is a secular..90 percent of the civilian casualties is caused by regime bombings and shelling including 15000 children's and women's which regime committed such crimes in the Militant fighting for the regime have committed shameless crime by kidnapping innocent Syrians and raping the women's..recently a news published by UN about burning of dead Syrians including some of them alive...I am still surprise this writer is about to praising the regime which have used barrel bombs and surface to air missiles to kill its own people..
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