Thursday, October 11, 2012

'Dangerous Bedfellows'

"...Khatab said he would rather make the dangerous trek to Idlib than approach his local opposition military council for a handout. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in coordination with Turkish intelligence operatives, began covertly providing light weapons to the FSA. These weapons tend to bypass the nominal leaders of the FSA -- Colonel Riad al-Asaad (not to be confused with the Syrian president) and General Mustafa al-Sheikh,....  But the handouts are considered meager and insufficient, and the method of distribution has been plagued by accusations of favoritism and double-dealing since its inception. “The problem is that the supporters aren’t giving goods to the right people,” Khatab said of the Saudi-Qatari effort. His Abu Omara brigade had not received any of the free weapons, he said, but would not have accepted them even if they had been offered because they came with a condition that he and his men were not prepared to meet. “If you don’t pledge your loyalty to the military council, you get nothing from it, and with all due respect, we started this revolution so that we wouldn’t have to make pledges of loyalty like this to anyone.”
Units that receive the Saudi-Qatari weapons must also find other suppliers to fill out their inventory. Whereas Khatab’s unit relies solely on purchasing matériel, other Syrian rebel groups are resorting to more homespun methods. Abu Hussein, who heads the Martyr Mazin rocket brigade in the northern Syrian city of Jabal al-Zawiya, also refuses to pledge allegiance to anyone except his men. He buys some of the weaponry he needs on the black market, but his unit also manufactures its own rockets.
“We’ve made about 150 of these,” Abu Hussein said as he propped up his product, the Freedom 1, in the courtyard outside his home. Its design takes cues from the Qassam rocket that Hamas has engineered....
Abu Hussein coordinates with groups in Hama that are also manufacturing homemade rockets, comparing notes and making adjustments, but he has not reached out to the military councils. “I haven’t asked for help, because I won’t give them allegiance,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood approached me, I also refused.” Although the Syrian rebels lack the direct foreign military assistance that Assad’s regime receives -- mainly from Russia -- they have managed to tap into a variety of sources for procuring arms and money. Senior defectors such as Asaad and Sheikh are not involved in the Saudi-Qatari effort, but they have their own means of funding (largely provided by Syrians in the diaspora and from wealthy Arabs in the Gulf) and are setting up individual patronage networks, distributing money to select groups of FSA units. 
 'Should Assad fall, however, those guns could be turned against each other.'
The problem for Asaad and Sheikh, who remain rivals despite the fact that they formed a joint military council in March, is that they have to confront the growing authority of the military councils, which look derisively at the deal-making, tea-sipping officers who are ensconced in the safety of Turkish and Jordanian territories. They already face the wrath of men such as Colonel Afif Suleiman, the head of the Idlib Military Council, which consists of some 16 units from across the province. Asaad and Sheikh’s leadership “became a question of, ‘Will you follow me so that I extend you support?’” Suleiman explained. “They took money that was given to the free army and distributed it like this. This is our conflict with them.”
Suleiman’s complaints underscore the deep internal divisions of the Syrian opposition. From the earliest days of the revolt, attempts to bring unity to the rebel factions have foundered. A recent effort by a Jordan-based general, Mohamed al-Haj Ali, to unite the disparate rebel brigades under his leadership and a new name -- the Syrian National Army -- seems to have fizzled. Moreover, the loose band of secular and Islamist rebels operating under the FSA banner is not the only armed player in Syria. There are also separate Islamist groups, including the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham, which reportedly receives the bulk of its support from Kuwait.
“Those sitting in Turkey and elsewhere are just watching and thinking about what position they will occupy after the revolution,” Khatab said. “Some people came to us, our brigade, and talked to us about how they want our support after the fall of the regime,” he added. “They want it secured now.
Despite distrust and disorder, the rebels’ guns are still more or less pointed in the same direction. Should Assad fall, however, and that common target disappear, those guns could very well be turned against each other. It seems increasingly likely that the battle for Syria will continue long after Assad has left the scene. ..."

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