Friday, September 20, 2013

A Battle in Azaz

A town called Azaz in northern Syria has been the site of clashes between fighters associated with al-Qaeda and other anti-regime forces:
The latest clashes were sparked, rebels say, because ISIS, which sees Syria as a battleground for a Sunni holy war and views other Muslim sects as heretics and Westerners as miscreants, kicked up a fuss about a German doctor working in a local hospital who had apparently filmed the treatment of one of their fighters. Fighting broke out between ISIS and Northern Storm, the local rebel brigade which was guarding the hospital. Northern Storm was ejected from the town, and called in other local groups to help.
Aleppo's most prominent rebel group, the moderate Liwa al-Tawheed, appears to have brokered a ceasefire in Azaz. But similar clashes are breaking out in other areas of the north and east, too, though moderate rebel groups still dominate western and southern Syria. In another murky episode on the same day, ISIS battled rebels in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, near the Iraqi border, reportedly taking scores hostage. On September 13th ISIS declared war on two other groups in Aleppo, in an operation named “Expunging Filth”. Last month, after a series of assassinations, it pushed out Ahfad al-Rasoul, one of the largest moderate groups fighting Mr Assad, from Raqqa, a central city that fell to rebels in March
I wonder how closely this fits the pattern of the Anbar Awakening, in which al-Qaeda-style fighters ultimately wore out their welcome with those whose cause they claimed as their own.  In that Iraqi case, the tribal shaykhs began cooperating with the United States and in practice the Iraqi government to ensure at least some local control over their areas of the country.  In Syria, it may be that the ISIS, including its foreign elements, is also pushing things by trying to create its own power structure, and thus threatening local authority networks that have sprung up or asserted themselves with the collapse of institutions associated with the Assad regime.

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