Assessment of new Islamic Front alliance

An assessment of the formation of the new “Islamic Front” by six major
Islamist militias in Syria by Scott Lucas, who appears very
well-informed and worth listening to. Basically, the new front is an
amalgamation of much of the old Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF),
the more mainstream/soft Islamists, and the more hard-line, but
non-Al-Qaida, Syrian Islamic Front (SIF).

It appears to be directed both against the regime, given its recent
victories have been partly blamed on rebel disunity (see for example,
the statement by FSA head in Aleppo region, Colonel Abdul Jabbar
al-Okaidi, who resigned and blamed a recent Assad victory in the region
on not only the refusal of western powers to supply anything other than
inedible “ready-meals”, but also on rebel disunity; and against ISIS,
the most reactionary and violent (and larger) wing of Al-Qaida, which
has been both attacking the Syrian anti-Assad forces in the back for
months, and when it does pretend to engage the regime, engages in
precisely the kind of bloody sectarian violence that Assad loves to
present the whole struggle as being about.

What does this mean for the mainstream secular FSA? It does not appear
directed against the FSA at all, rather is just the abolition of unnecessary

divisions between relatively like-minded Islamist groups. It
doesn’t incorporate the secular FSA because of ideological differences,
but clearly sees them as allies. For example, reports in the last few
days show strong cooperation between one of the components of the new
group, Jaish al-Islam (the new “Islamic Army” in the south) and the FSA
in the working-class greater-Damascus periphery in the big battles with
the regime down there; likewise, the main Aleppo-based group in the new
front, Liwa al-Tawhid (whose highly respected commander was last week
killed by a regime missile), has a very strong record of cooperation
with the local FSA up there, as well as a very good reputation for
defending local Christians from the threat of jihadist sectarians

Both these groups, as well as another major component (Suquor al-Sham in
Idlib), are the major components of the mainstream-Islamist SILF,
whereas the other large group among the six, Ahrar al-Sham, is the major
component of the national-jihadist SIF. While arguably the influence of
the latter is negative, it is notable that the top three positions of
the new Front have been filled entirely by leaders of the three large
SILF groups (see first short article below); in any case, even Ahrar al-Sham has
tended to focus on the regime rather than sectarian attacks Al-Qaida
style. While it has opportunistically collaborated with the global
jihadists at times (eg, in Raqqa), it may have learnt its lesson from
the recent beheading of one of its militants by ISIS.

All in all therefore, I tend to agree with Scott Lucas’ conclusion that
the formation of the Front “is pretty good news for the Syrian
insurgency”, as well as seeing the rest of his analysis below as quite

The two articles below, which this introduction refers to, are from the excellent EA World View:

Leading Insurgent Factions Form “Islamic Front”
In a major re-alignment of the insurgency in Syria, leading factions
have formed the Islamic Front.

Factions involved include the Ansar al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqoor
al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam – itself a merger of more than 40 groups in
Damascus Province – Liwa al-Tawhid, the Islamic Kurdish Front, and Liwa

Ahmed Abu Issa of Suqoor al-Sham and the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front
has been named commander, with Abu Omar Hureitan of Liwa al-Tawhid as
second-in-command and Zahran Alloush of Jaish al-Islam as head of
military operations.

The official announcement:

Syria Analysis: Why and How Insurgent Formation of an Islamic Front
Changes the Conflict

A source close to Syria evaluates Friday’s news of the formation of the
Islamic Front by leading insurgent factions:

This is quite the middle spectrum of Islamic groups and forces in Syria.
All of these are brigades actually fighting the regime, rather than
being overly engaged in other activities like seeking funds or
in-fighting. They fight side-by-side -or hand-in-hand – with smaller and
not-so-prominent units formed by Christans, Druze, Kurds, and even

Since Syria is an Islamic country, one shouldn’t overplay the adjective
“Islamic”. Westerners should also note that the Syrian people have
learned to rely on, first, God and, second, themselves – since the world
has abandoned them.

Of course this is both a military and a political joint venture. At the
moment, the military aspect counts most, because the new central command
will solve a lot of issues from which insurgents suffered in most
battles of the past.

Politically, the Islamic Front could in theory try to represent the
biggest piece of the cake in the Syrian National Coalition – if they
bother with an entity which is not exactly relevant and without a
presence on the ground at all. More importantly, there is a major
political player inside Syria now, laying the foundation for assembly of
many groups and local committees – most probably soon acting alongside
the Local Coordination Committees and others within the country. Sooner
or later, they will be a partner in talks with outsiders, too.

As for the outsiders, they may try to stick with the Syrian National
Coalition and the Supreme Military Council. That will be totally
irrelevant, since the SMC is dried-out anyway. The Coalition and its
interim government lacks support in Syria, and only addresses the very
tiny percentage of Syrians who actually know such a body exists
somewhere in Syria’s outer space. Even the humanitarian aid routed
through Coalition entities is not seen as coming from them, because it
gets distributed by local volunteers and is not labelled “Made in USA”
or “With love from Britain via the Syrian Coalition”.

Does the lack of Western support have any impact on the Islamic Front?
Not at all. Frankly, not having to sail around silly demands expressed
by clueless Western powers who are not even trying to understand the
situation on the ground and waiting for those so-called friends to
fulfil their empty promises – which never happens but might, perhaps,
maybe, hopefully, some day in the future, inshallah – makes things way
easier. All the forces which built the Islamic Front exist and do more
or less quite well without Western support now. Together they’ll be even

Whether or not Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree Qatar might step in
with increased support remains to be seen. The clear signal of the
founding message is “No Extremists” – but de facto Jabhat al-Nusra is in
(as a brother on the battlefield but not on the members list), while the
Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham is out. That establishes a platform
Gulf States can openly support, without worrying about American

As for the Supreme Military Council’s Free Syrian Army, they are not
dead. The founding of the Islamic Front will not change reality, like
cooperation on the battlefields, and if General Idriss’ followers can
establish a sort-of-central command structure some day, military
alliances will work even better.

The unification will have another effect. Now small brigades can and
must chose between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, or get
eaten one by one by the greedy ISIS Pac-Men. I guess most small/local
brigades will join one of the bigger forces/alliances soon, leaving lots
of plain criminal gangs as ISIS prey.

When you look closely at ISIS participation in battles with the regime,
you will notice that they usually operate outside the command structure.
Too often they have joined battles with rather small units, just to
claim victory afterwards. Now they mourn their casualties and blame the
major brigades for not telling them of tactical movements. With their
escapades they have managed to move themselves into the role of cannon
fodder. Sadly, that will lead to them having more time and resources to
oppress the liberated hinterlands, and it will be a major effort to
remove them if Assad is overthrown. But one problem at a time, say the
pragmatic leaders of the major Islamic forces.

So the bottom line is that the Islamic Front is pretty good news for the
Syrian insurgency, and very bad news for those who do not care about
Syria, as well as for its enemies.

One thought on “Assessment of new Islamic Front alliance

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