The Middle East Channel

Islamist Rebel Groups Seize ISIL Aleppo Headquarters

Islamist rebel groups have reportedly overtaken the Aleppo headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamist brigades captured the base, a former children’s hospital, in the Qadi Askar area, but it is unclear what happened to the hundreds of fighters that had ...

Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Islamist rebel groups have reportedly overtaken the Aleppo headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamist brigades captured the base, a former children’s hospital, in the Qadi Askar area, but it is unclear what happened to the hundreds of fighters that had been there. On Tuesday the ISIL issued a message calling for its fighters to "crush" rival rebel groups. The leader of al Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front, which has participated in the recent clashes against ISIL in northern Syria, has called for a cease-fire between opposition factions. Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said, "The [Muslim] nation was shocked to hear of the internal infighting between jihadist factions in the past number of days," though he said the infighting resulted from the "incorrect policies" of ISIL. Jolani proposed establishing an Islamic court to settle disputes among rebels, and called for fighters to unite against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, Syria has transferred its first batch of chemical weapons materials to a Danish ship in the northern Syrian port of Latakia. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), "It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port" which will then be moved out for destruction.

Headlines  

  • The trial of Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi has been adjourned to February 1 after fog prevented his transport to court, however Morsi’s lawyer said the decision was political ahead of the constitution referendum.
  • Militia groups calling for eastern Libyan autonomy have invited foreign companies to buy oil from ports they have seized from the government and have vowed to protect tankers threatened by the defense ministry.
  • The Turkish government is seeking tighter control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors in the latest move to counter a graft probe Erdogan has called an attempted "judicial coup."
  • Iraqi government forces have made gains against militants in the Anbar city of Ramadi, but have encountered challenges in Fallujah where many residents have greater sympathy for al Qaeda.
  • Fighting has continued for a third day in north Yemen after Shiite Houthi rebels attacked two Hashid tribe strongholds in retaliation for the tribe’s support for Salafists in Dammaj. 

Arguments and Analysis

Syria’s Assad: Still the Wrong Choice‘ (Nabeel Khoury, Los Angeles Times)

"The recommendation to rehabilitate Assad is based on false premises. Crocker and Landis argue that Assad in power, even if only in a part of Syria, potentially offers the West the prospect of stability in a volatile region. They suggest that Assad might be an ally in the war on terrorism. If Assad does not prevail, they say, jihadi Sunni extremists embedded among the Syrian opposition will take over.

The truth they ignore is this: No matter how many battles he wins, Assad can no longer rule Syria as his family has for more than 40 years. There has been too much blood, destruction and displacement for the Syrians to grant him legitimacy once more.

Further, there are too many Sunni fighters now in Syria for Assad to pacify the country, even with the assistance of his Hezbollah allies backed by Iran. A resurgent Assad could manipulate Shiite as well as Sunni extremists to exact revenge on regimes in the area that supported the rebels.

Finally, for the U.S. to deal with Assad now, after insisting that he should step down, after erecting one red line after another in Syria and after threatening — and then withdrawing — the use of force, would set a dangerous example for the region and the world.

Leaving in power a man who is clearly guilty of crimes against humanity and discreetly arranging to collaborate with him on regional security would not only be the height of hypocrisy, it would also send a clear message to all the secular and liberal forces in the region that they are not deemed worthy of assistance and that they have to fend for themselves. It would mean the U.S. had taken a step back into the darkest days of the Cold War, when it was in bed with dictators around the globe in the name of stability."

The Culture of Rebellion in Syria‘ (Faysal Itani, Atlantic Council)

"The underlying theme and real significance of the anti-ISIS backlash is that Syrian society — civilian and military — has been mobilized on a level unimaginable in pre-revolutionary Syria. It is encouraging that despite the ongoing challenge of fighting the regime, rebel groups recognize the importance of confronting ISIS lest it completely hijack and distort their revolution. This indicates newfound unity of purpose and strategic thinking by the rebels. More importantly however it highlights the depth to which political activism and its military forms have taken root in Syria.

A substantial body of research on civil war suggests rebel victories are much more likely to lead to less repressive politics than regime victories. A likely explanation is that many rebel movements draw both their legitimacy and war-fighting capabilities from their population. Once established, the political and social culture of opposition is difficult to uproot, and shapes both popular expectations and rulers’ behavior in the aftermath of war. By contrast, a victorious Syrian regime will feel vindicated in its violence, and will have little appetite for or interest in political reform. The Syrian population’s mobilization bodes well for the future of the country, provided the regime does not crush it.

The principle that people have a say in how they are governed — most dramatically embodied in the bravery and conscientiousness of civilian protests against ISIS — is what ultimately lends justice to the rebel cause, however much it has been tainted by sectarianism and factionalism. That this principle has survived both the regime and ISIS means it may well outlast whatever other hardships the war inflicts on the Syrian people. Amid the seemingly endless stream of horrific news from the country, this alone is cause for hope for a Syria free from tyranny in all its forms, religious or secular."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola