Some American politicians want the US and NATO to intervene on behalf of the Syrian opposition seeking to defeat dictator Bashar al-Assad, while others fear the assistance will only serve to enable Islamist terror networks that have gained the upper hand in the rebellion. The question may be moot after today, however, as there may not be a cohesive opposition to support any longer. CBS reports this morning that the leader of the Syrian rebel coalition has suddenly quit — to seek “more freedom” in action against the Assad regime:
The SNC supposedly rejected the resignation, but that doesn’t mean too much. The problem goes deeper than al-Khatib’s status, as this Washington Post article explains:
Syria’s opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, leaving a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Bashar al-Assad in tatters.
The resignation of Moaz al-Khatib, a moderate Sunni preacher who heads the Syrian Opposition Coalition, climaxed a bitter internal fight over a range of issues, from the appointment of an interim government to a proposal by Khatib to launch negotiations with the Syrian regime.
His departure plunged the opposition into disarray at a time when the United States and its Western allies are stepping up their support for moderates opposed to Assad’s regime. Khatib’s coalition was expected to play a key role in identifying the recipients and channeling the assistance.
The US needed al-Khatib to front the SNC, in part to justify intervention while assuring people that it would not end up boosting the Nusra Front, a group which the US declared December to be a terrorist network affiliated or connected to al-Qaeda. The problem for al-Khatib and those who want to paint a moderate face on the Syrian uprising is that the Nusra Front has been the real strength of the rebellion. Where the rebellion has succeeded in “liberation,” the Nusra Front has also succeeded in imposing strict shari’a law:
Building on the reputation they have earned in recent months as the rebellion’s most accomplished fighters, Islamist units are seeking to assert their authority over civilian life, imposing Islamic codes and punishments and administering day-to-day matters such as divorce, marriage and vehicle licensing.
Numerous Islamist groups are involved, representing a wide spectrum of views. But, increasingly, the dominant role is falling to Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States for suspected ties to al-Qaeda but is widely respected by many ordinary Syrians for its battlefield prowess and the assistance it has provided to needy civilians.
Across the northeastern provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqah, where the rebels have been making rapid advances in recent weeks, Jabhat al-Nusra has taken the lead both in the fighting and in setting out to replace toppled administrations. It has assumed control of bakeries and the distribution of flour and fuel, and in some instances it has sparked tensions with local fighters by trying to stop people from smoking in the streets.
Here in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, more than half of which has been under rebel control since July, Jabhat al-Nusra is also widely identified as the leading force behind the Hayaa al-Sharia, which loosely translates as the Sharia Authority and is known simply as the Hayaa.
Based out of the city’s former Eye Hospital, which was damaged during the fighting and then occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra as its headquarters, the Hayaa is also backed by other rebel units, including the Tawhid Brigade, the city’s biggest fighting force, and the Ahrar al-Sham, a homegrown Islamist force that has played a relatively minor role in Aleppo but is powerful in several other provinces.
Now even the fig leaf provided by al-Khatib is falling away, and so is the supposedly moderate “coalition.” His resignation followed the attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar to force al-Khatib to accept their puppet as the official representative for the Syrian coalition, a move the US opposed. The overall commander of the rebel forces refused to recognize the appointment as legitimate, and more than a dozen coalition commissioners resigned before al-Khatib walked away.
The question remains: who benefits now from American intervention? It doesn’t seem as though the answer is “the moderates.”