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The Syrian Civil War: The Free Syrian Army vs. Islamists

Updated on May 30, 2013

It's a bad dream getting worse- a real Syrian civil war. Syria has fallen apart and even if the war ended, there are too many proxy interests and control over vast areas of Syria to allow one government to control it.

Currently, only the Raqqa region is in full control of the multiple rebel forces. Aleppo, Haska , Deir el-Zour and Derra are up for grabs. Latakia, Tartus and Damascus regions are mostly in Syrian control.

It is in the Raqqa region, Syria's breadbasket, that the future can be viewed today. This region quickly fell from Syrian control in March in just a few weeks. It fell to both the Free Syrian Army that Senator McCain visited recently and Islamist fighters of the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. At first, everyone was joyous, freedom was yelled but as time moved on and Syrian forces left it to them, locals became worried and suspicious about who really controlled the region. It was the Islamic group, al-Nusra. Now, they control and feed the locals with the largest bakery while another Islamic group operates the local transportation buses and yet another Islamic group controls the Syrian Central Bank there.

Besides the Free Syrian Army (FSA), there are ethnic Kurds. Both groups have now fought against each other and joined to fight the al-Nusra and other Islamic groups. It is a mini-war in this region only between moderate real freedom fighters and the extreme Islamics.

In the Raqqa region, there are three groups: Al Nusra, numbering 10,000 Syrian and non-Syrians, al-Sham, a Syrian extreme group wanting an Islamic state, al- Farouk or the FSA, with 20,000 total in Syria.

Raqqa City, the regions largest urban area, now has a totally Islamist government in an underground bunker. The city is controlled by masked al-Nusra members riding around in pickup trucks armed with machine guns. Locals indicate that they arrest ordinary people for the most obscure or stupid reasons and are not seen again. Al-Nusra states they are protecting the locals from criminals. So far, the Islamists are trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals by providing food and transportation and there have been no executions or extreme law akin to the Taliban etc.

However, the FSA and Al-Nusra have fought one another several times. Some towns are in the FSA hands. When the attack began in March to capture the city, the FSA was not part of it but deliberately omitted from it. There is no FSA in the city, only in towns around it. But the FSA's last large of imported weapons came in October 2012. That is when it received 15,000 AK-47s and 10,000 rounds along with 12,000 RPG rounds. Today, the FSA has a $600,000 debt to arms dealers as they try to obtain weapons while waiting on aid from the West. On the other hand, al-Nusra is getting arms and ammo from al-Qaeda funding.

Al-Nusra also seized the Central bank with $62 million in it. One can guess what the money will be used for, but the FSA is being starved because nothing has arrived from the West and many of their loyal fighters are jumping to al-Nusra because of its strength.

The al-Nusra flag now flies over the Raqqa landscape. Assad controls most of Syria's largest urban areas: Damascus, Qusayr, Homs, Hama. Aleppo is still contested. The FSA is still an important player having twice the men that Nusra has, yet, they are weaker because of a lack of arms to fight the Syrians and Nusra. The FSA and Nusra are only partners of convenience because both want Assad gone.

Should he vanish, both will fight each other more violently to the end because the FSA seem to want freedom and Nusra wants an Islamic terrorist state.


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