Syrian Moderate Coalition Fractures — Is al Nusra the Next MEK?

The US grand strategy of arming moderate groups within Syria’s opposition in the ongoing civil war (remember, we only arm folks so moderate that they eat enemies’ hearts) took a huge blow yesterday, as several groups previously aligned with the moderates threw their support into a group including the Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra, which has affiliations with al Qaeda. With the moderate coalition in disarray, it occurred to me to wonder whether al Nusra will now undergo a reputation-scrubbing and a lobbying campaign similar to that applied to MEK, which has been removed from the official list of terrorist organizations and continues to support US politicians who are willing to sell their services to any group with enough funding. There is hope for the future, though, as a UN treaty that would take significant steps toward stemming the flow of conventional weapons is gathering steam and has now been signed by more than half of the members of the UN.

The Washington Post brings us the news of the fractured moderate coalition:

American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The defecting groups are blaming the US for failing to come through with promised arms and for not bombing Assad after the August 21 chemical weapons attack:

Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, echoed those sentiments, citing rebel disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to go ahead with threatened airstrikes to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus last month, as well as its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution.

“Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations,” he said. “So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests.”

Toward the end of the New York Times story on this development, we see the al Nusra group being described as less radical than the new kid on the block, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):

Further complicating the picture is the rise of the new Qaeda franchise, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — or ISIS, which has established footholds across northern and eastern Syria with the intention to lay the foundations of an Islamic state.

In recent months, it has supplanted Al Nusra Front as the primary destination for foreign jihadis streaming into Syria, according to rebels and activists who have had contact with the group.

Its fighters, who hail from across the Arab world, Chechnya, Europe and elsewhere, have a reputation for being well armed and strong in battle. Its suicide bombers are often sent to strike the first blow against government bases.

But its application of strict Islamic law has isolated rebels and civilians. Its members have executed and beheaded captives in town squares and imposed strict codes, forcing residents to wear modest dress and banning smoking in entire villages.

Because there already have been clashes between ISIS and al Nusra, I would not be at all surprised by an effort being organized to claim that those al Nusra groups don’t really mean their sworn allegiance to al Qaeda, especially since so many of the groups within that alliance previously were already described as our own moderates. Will al Nusra become the next MEK?

Remember that MEK was on the list of terrorist organizations even when we were training their operatives in the Nevada desert. Despite the fact that they were described in a Rand report in 2009 that “establishes its cultic practices and its deceptive recruitment and public relations strategies”, MEK was able to whitewash itself by injecting large amounts of cash into the proper hands. Those public relations strategies paid off last year after the MEK finally bought off enough politicians to get the State Department to officially drop the terrorist designation.

Despite Iran electing a moderate President and making significant moves toward negotiating a peaceful end to the controversy over their enrichment of uranium, the MEK has not given up on its dreams of a violent overthrow of the Iranian government. They staged a “protest” Tuesday during which they attempted to paint Rouhani as violently repressive and even trotted out a number of their paid-for politicians, including Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Michael Steele.

While the finger-pointing over who was responsible for the August 21 chemical weapons attack continues, the carnage in Syria shows little prospect of abating. With over 100,000 dead to date, conventional weapons have killed many more people than chemical weapons. Outside groups funding and arming various factions within Syria or sending in mercenaries fuel the killing. Fortunately, the UN is taking a significant step toward ending at least some aspects of this barbaric practice. From the New York Times:

A pioneering United Nations treaty aimed at regulating the global trade in conventional weapons surpassed a symbolically important threshold on Wednesday when 18 countries, most notably the United States, officially signed the document, pushing the total number to more than half of the organization’s member states.

/snip/

The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, is considered by rights advocates to be a landmark document that would for the first time impose moral standards on the enormous cross-border trade in conventional arms that fuel conflicts around the world, most notably in Africa. It is devised to thwart sales to users who would break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, engage in terrorism, or kill women and children.

John Kerry signed the treaty for the US yesterday. What could possibly stand in the way of Senate ratification?

The National Rifle Association and other American gun-rights advocacy groups still object to the treaty, contending it infringes on the Second Amendment. They have vowed that it would never be ratified by the Senate, even though language in the final draft specifies that nothing in the treaty could infringe on any nation’s constitutional rights.

Keep it classy, NRA. Don’t let a little genocide bother your patriotic dedication to gun rights.

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13 replies
  1. par4 says:

    The treaty has no enforcement power.It’s a fig leaf. That’s why the US signed it. This government will keep arming every Fascist group it wants to same as always. The Times says it will embarrass and shame violators. That’s not possible because you can’t shame or embarrass psychopaths.

  2. C says:

    Interesting so the people we needed to “keep credibility” with by bombing Assad were not the other rulers in the middle east or “the world” but Islamists within the “Moderates” in Syria. Who apparently feel that they were promised strikes on Assad. I wonder what else they feel they were promised and by whom?

  3. seedeevee says:

    “John Kerry signed the treaty for the US yesterday.”

    “This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom,” Mr. Kerry said”. John Kerry said, so it must be true.

  4. mike volze says:

    It’s a little difficult to compare al-Nusra to the MEK. I mean one is currently fighting a war, and is complicit in attacks against civilians, whereas the MEK has been disarmed for a decade now, and hasn’t attacked anyone in that time frame.

    I mean you have terrorists, and then you have people who have changed their ways, probably should make sure to recognize the difference.

  5. DWD says:

    I’m not saying there aren’t some similarities between the circumstances, but it’s hard to imagine the US government rehabilitating al-Nusrah the way we have with MEK. MEK isn’t fundamentalist, they’re leftist (which admittedly is usually bad enough as far as the US is concerned, just not in this case), and they certainly aren’t affiliated with al-Qaeda. You’d never get those politicians who took MEK’s money to say similar things about an acknowledged al-Qaeda affiliate like al-Nusrah.

    Lanny Davis, maybe.

  6. Jim White says:

    @mike volze: Oh really? I guess I completely missed that “changed their ways” part. Especially when we had our JSOC training their operatives in the Nevada desert. If they truly had changed, they wouldn’t still need to be paying prostitutes like Giuliani and Bolton to shill for them. Or bus people in from all over the country to make their “protest” look large.

  7. Javier Garcia says:

    “They staged a “protest” Tuesday during which they attempted to paint Rouhani as violently repressive…”

    Um, there’s no “painting” here. The guy oversees public executions, house arrests of political dissidents, widespread freedom of speech restrictions, killings over religion, and on and on and on. It’s not hard to paint someone as evil when their actions completely back it up. Nice journalism…

  8. Javier Garcia says:

    @JimWhite So you prefer the radical murderers of Rouhani and Khamenei to be in charge? At least MEK has joined a more democratic and peaceful organization, NCRI that respects human rights, women’s rights, free speech and more.

  9. mike volze says:

    @Jim White: Have you ever looked up their support in the U.S.? It’s surprisingly sizable, something like 30+ states have pro MEK groups that went to that rally. And since they don’t really care for the psycho in power right now, I kinda want to root for them.

  10. mike volze says:

    @DWD: Good point. The MEK is more of a movement now than a rebel organization I’d say. They’ve disarmed, they’ve made attempts to leave the region, I mean they’re trying to work in a peaceful manner. Which is way more than Iran’s been doing.

  11. Jim White says:

    @Javier Garcia: @mike volze: Uhm, the “two” of you might want to read this comment from Monday by our resident counsel:

    @Yeah A Real Big Shocker: @newz4all:

    Just so that everybody here knows that you fraudulently post under multiple sock puppet names, I am addressing this comment to both of you (I could dredge out some of your previous names, but it is not worth the effort).

    First off, this blog does not need constant link dropping from you. Secondly, and you have been warned about this before, sock puppetry is not permitted here. The next violation and spamming of our threads will be your last.

    This would be a first warning for you.

    Link: https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/09/23/say-hello-to-our-new-friends-at-just-security/#comment-630768

  12. cregan says:

    The entire Syria policy is collapsing. Essentially, it doesn’t matter who the rebels are; they’re finished, Putin saw to that. By the time the chemical weapon sitch gets sorted out, it will all be over.

    Obama got handed his rear end again at the UN. The Iranians know of the man’s ego and played it like a violin. Hinting they might engage at the UN. True to form, Obama’s aides leak the “big breakthrough” to everyone in the media. “First time in…” building it up for the big accomplishment and master stroke–putting themselves further and further out on the limb.

    Then, the Iranians, with perfect timing (while CNN and others breathlessly waited for the handshake live), chopped the branch off.

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