Islamist Infighting in Syria is a Reminder Why Intervention is a Bad Idea

With Islamist rebels among Assad's opposition, non-intervention remains the best policy


The Geneva II Syria peace conference is due to begin next week, but it won't yield anything substantial. At the time of writing the U.S. and Russia cannot agree over whether Iran, one of the Assad regime's strongest allies, should participate, and the U.S. and the U.K. are so desperate to have the Syrian National Coalition rebel group attend that they have threatened to withhold aid if it does not. The Syrian National Council, a key member of the Syrian National Coalition, said earlier this month that it will not attend the talks, but will vote on whether to attend the peace conference on Friday.

One rebel group that is not attending is the relatively new Islamic Front, which is estimated to have up to 60,000 fighters and has recently been fighting the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat al-Nusra, another Al Qaeda-linked group, in northern Syria.

Unsurprisingly, the Assad regime has capitalized on some of the fighting between the Islamic Front, Jabhat al-Nusra, moderate rebels, and ISIL, and is now in control of territory surrounding the northern city of Aleppo.  

As their name implies, ISIL aren't just interested in the Levant (which includes Syria). Earlier this month, ISIL declared that an Islamic state had been established in Fallujah, the Iraqi city in the Sunni-majority Anbar province, less than 50 miles west of Baghdad. ISIL also captured large parts of Ramadi which, like Fallujah, is in Anbar province.

Although the Islamic Front has been fighting ISIL alongside the FSA, they are hardly secular moderates. According to The Long War Journal, the Islamic Front characterizes itself as  "a comprehensive Islamic, social, political, and military formation that aims to completely bring down the Assad regime in Syria, to build an Islamic State wherein God's law [Shar' Allah], the Glorious and the Almighty, alone is sovereign …."

Foreign Policy reported last month on the U.S. considering talking with the Islamic Front. In that article, Foreign Policy quoted Zahran Alloush, the Islamic Front's military chief, who said, "The jihadists will wash the filth of the rafida [a slur used to describe Shia] from Greater Syria, they will wash it forever, if Allah wills it." Alloush said on Twitter that the Islamic Front will blacklist those who attend Geneva II. 

According to The Daily Beast's Jamie Dettmer, the Islamic Front has close ties to Jabhat al-Nusra which, like ISIL, is an Al Qaeda-linked group that has carried out beheadings and summary executions.

It is not as if the U.S. is unaware of the Islamic Front's worrying ideology; the U.S. and the U.K. both suspended non-lethal aid to rebels in northern Syria after the Islamic Front took over bases belonging to the FSA.

However, it was recently reported that the U.S. is considering resuming sending non-lethal aid to rebels in Syria, despite the fact that, as a senior Obama administration official told The New York Times, "There's no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front."

The Times went on the report that the U.S. had made an attempt to talk with the Islamic Front, but were rejected when mid-level State Department officials were sent instead of the U.S ambassador to Syria.

The unfortunate reality is that the Islamic Front, now the largest rebel group in Syria, is almost certainly going to play a significant role in the rest of the Syrian civil war. That the Islamic Front will not be participating in the Geneva II conference means that the conference will not result in any agreement that can be successfully implemented.

The rise of the Islamic Front and its fighting with ISIL should serve as a reminder to the Obama administration that non-intervention is the best policy when it comes to Syria. Assad, whose regime is currently taking advantage of the recent infighting, heads an odious government that has inflicted awful and unforgivable brutality on Syrians. Nevertheless, unpleasant Islamists make up a significant portion of the rebels in Syria, and it is far from obvious that their victory would lessen the degree of human suffering in Syria more than an Assad regime victory.

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  1. All islamic males should wear burkas and be led around by the females via a leash.

    The world puts up with this insanity called “islam” at its peril.

  2. I’m encouraged by Islam’s war on itself. Can we arm both sides at a profit?

    1. I misspoke. Can we arm ALL sides at a profit?

  3. It’s troubling to Feeney when rebel elements calling themselves “Al Qaeda” are gaining the upper hand among the insurgents.

    It’s troubling when the non-Al Qaeda rebels aren’t sufficiently fighting against the “Al Qaeda” elements, too.

    Apparently, it’s also troubling when the non-Al Qaeda rebels are fighting against the “Al Qaeda” elements of the insurgency.

    In other words, our involvement in Syria is troubling to Feeney–and what the rebels are doing or aren’t doing in regards to “Al Qaeda” has nothing to do with it.

    We get it, already.

    1. Intervention is bad, I think that is a point that can’t be stressed enough, you should not take offense. Think of all the conservatives that stumble across this site and may just have their minds changed through reason and obvious history, both recent and since the beginning of time.

      As far as the Muslims go, fuck em, they’re about as anti everything that we stand for as you can get, let them fight each other, we should have no skin in the game until they attack us or our allies, and at that point, simply level their government and military and see if they can rebuild their society properly next time.

      1. “Intervention is bad, I think that is a point that can’t be stressed enough, you should not take offense.”

        No one took offense. I wasn’t quibbling about being against “intervention” (if that’s what you want to call not invading but helping the rebels); it was a question about why predicating opposition to “intervention” on the basis of what the rebels are doing with “Al Qaeda”, when you’re going to oppose helping the rebels no matter what they’re doing with “Al Qaeda” anyway.

        “As far as the Muslims go, fuck em, they’re about as anti everything that we stand for as you can get.”

        That’s about as pathetic an argument as you can get.

        I would never accuse Feeney of believing such a thing–unless he came right out and said it like you just did. …and I seriously doubt any thinking, educated person would say such a thing.

        Incidentally, what I stand for and what you stand for? Apparently aren’t the same thing at all–so what do you mean “we”?

        You should go see that Lone Survivor movie. Then come back and tell us what Muslims “stand for”.

  4. Sometimes man, you jsut have to roll with it.

  5. Any word on where the Judean People’s Front stand in all of this?

    1. I don’t know I’m the Popular Front.

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  7. I agree with PaulW,

    “As far as the Muslims go, fuck em, they’re about as anti everything that we stand for as you can get, let them fight each other, we should have no skin in the game until they attack us or our allies.”

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