The Century Foundation: “Syria’s Former al-Qaeda Affiliate Is Leading Rebels on a Suicide Mission”

New from me for The Century Foundation:

Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate and a set of hardline allies have taken over the country’s rebel-held northwest, the last bastion of determined opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. They’re apparently convinced they can reverse the rebellion’s downward trajectory and kneecap “defeatists” within the opposition who might settle for anything less than toppling the regime. And they think they can rebalance the opposition’s lopsided relationships with its foreign backers, forcing countries like Turkey and the United States to engage them on their terms.

They’re wrong. And by hijacking Syria’s armed opposition and placing its core under unambiguous jihadist control, they’ve likely sealed its fate.

“Syria’s Former al-Qaeda Affiliate Is Leading Rebels on a Suicide Mission”

 

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الجمهورية: “دفاعاً عن العمل الصحفي في سوريا الأسد”

ترجمة لمقاتلي بموقع “الجمهورية” عن ضرورة نقل الواقع من مناطق النظام السوري رغم القيود على عمل الصحفيين والمحللين:

“دفاعاً عن العمل الصحفي في سوريا الأسد”

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Al-Jumhuriya: “The Case for Reporting from Assad’s Syria”

In a new piece for al-Jumhuriya, I argue – contra some opponents of “normalization” – that we need more journalists and analysts reporting from inside Assad’s Syria. The reality inside Damascus and other areas under regime control is an increasingly relevant part of the Syrian story, and something about which we know disconcertingly little.

Better visibility on conditions under Assad and original reporting on the human experience of Syrians in these areas is in everyone’s interest. That includes supporters of the opposition, who need to rely on independent reporting, not polemic, if they’re going to stay relevant in a shifting Syria debate.

“The Case for Reporting from Assad’s Syria”

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The Century Foundation: “Aleppo’s Bitter Lessons”

New from me for The Century Foundation:

When opposition-held east Aleppo fell, it fell hard. Now Syria’s rebels and their backers have to piece together what happened and decide how to move forward.

Aleppo’s rebels were hobbled by their own factionalism and dysfunction, and jihadist hardliners have since keyed into these internal reasons for Aleppo’s fall. Yet the main reason rebels lost seems to have been that they were simply outmatched – facing down an assault from the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran that was unstoppable.

“I don’t think it’s really [rebels’] fault, primarily,” a diplomat told me. “They lost Aleppo. They were outgunned, and they didn’t get help. That’s a reality.”

“If they had done things perfectly, would they have held Aleppo?” the diplomat asked. “No. Would they have held it another month, maybe.”

After Aleppo, rebels have to reckon with that basic asymmetry. And as the regime and its allies train their fire elsewhere, rebels have to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice in a losing battle.

“Aleppo’s Bitter Lessons”

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Ahmad Abazeid: “This is a jungle.”

Below I’ve translated a set of tweets from Syrian revolutionary writer-analyst Ahmad Abazeid, newly out of besieged east Aleppo and now in the Idlib-centric rebel-held north.

Abazeid’s tweets provide another glimpse of how Idlib is, by all accounts, a rough place.

It was rebel-held eastern Aleppo and its surrounding countryside that had been the locus of revolutionary civil society and non-jihadist “Free Syrian Army” rebels in Syria’s north. Now, with the conclusion of the Aleppo siege and the evacuation of many of east Aleppo’s rebels and civilians, the east Aleppo residents bussed out of the city have been dropped into “greater Idlib,” where they have to either navigate between or nestle under Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, people mysteriously turn up dead in rivers, and unaccountable, masked men have the run of the countryside.

Abazeid’s tweets:

“In only ten days, there have been kidnappings, robberies, assaults, and murders committed against the revolutionary factions (especially those that left Aleppo) that, if they had happened over a period of months, would have been a ‘breakdown of security.’ This is a jungle.

“The factions that have been attacked over the previous days: al-Jabhah al-Shamiyyah, al-Sultan Mourad, Tajammu’ Fastaqim, Jeish Idlib al-Hurr, Jeish al-Mujahideen, Feilaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham.

“In the jungle of the ‘liberated’ Syrian north, you find the slogans ‘shari’ah’ and ‘teaching aqidah (creed)’ on every wall, as if our people are the infidels of Qureish. Meanwhile, on the ground, it’s the shari’ah of force that rules everyone.

“These fatwas from men of unknown provenance and the sea of filth from unknown users on Twitter are inseparable from the crimes of those with unknown faces [i.e., masked men] on the ground. We aren’t absolving the regime, but we won’t hide from our reality to accuse it exclusively.

“Before we left [Aleppo], I spent nearly a year in which I didn’t sleep a single night outside Aleppo. Truthfully, we only felt safe in the most dangerous city on earth, where bombing and battles were daily weather.

“Aleppo taught us – with the harshest lesson possible – the meaning of the verse, ‘And fear a trial that afflicts not only those among you who have done wrong’ [8:29]. When we don’t deter the unjust and fools control our fate, the ship will sink.

“Whoever doesn’t protect his weapon doesn’t deserve it. These weapons are our dignity, and our pride. Timidly granting criminal gangs the weapons of our revolution, without resistance, is a betrayal of the people that entrusted you with this responsibility.”

Abazeid’s original Arabic tweets follow, below the jump: Continue reading

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The Century Foundation: “Syrian Opposition Politics—with a Lower-Case ‘p’”

New from me for The Century Foundation:

Meet the Nation Building Movement’s Anas Joudeh, whose work likely represents the far, least-tolerated edge of tolerated opposition politics under a resurgent Assad regime.

“Syrian Opposition Politics—with a Lower-Case ‘p’”

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War on the Rocks: “This Won’t Look Like Winning: A Sensible Path for Trump’s Syria Policy”

New from me at War on the Rocks:

Donald Trump’s election promises a substantive break with Barack Obama’s Syria policy, but he’s also challenged the policy community’s collective understanding of the Syrian war – and on some points, he’s been mostly correct.

His election and a possible American reorientation on Syria should prompt a larger rethinking of U.S. assumptions about the war, even as we have to be careful not to fall victim to a new and opposite set of dubious ideas.

“This Won’t Look Like Winning: A Sensible Path for Trump’s Syria Policy”

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