Affairs

Defence

Breaking point— Raqqa

Preface

The rebel coalition groups in Syria are no longer a united front. Fighters feel their voices are unheard in the West and are turning to radicalism instead.

Raqqa, Syria, Arms

29 May 2013

In March, the rebels in Syria took over Raqqa city. This was the first provincial capital to fall under their control. And so far it is the only one.

I was there last month. The residents of Raqqa told me they felt liberated when the regime was kicked out. But the problem was: who exactly was in control of the city then? Well, a whole bunch of quite diverse rebel militias control different parts of the city.

There is the Free Syrian Army, the main umbrella rebel group that originally wanted a democratic Syria. But there is also Jabhat al-Nusra, the radical Islamists aligned with al-Qaeda. And, in between, there are several more moderate Islamist militias.

But the thing is: they all are becoming more radical.

“You in the West will carry the responsibility of this radicalism because you didn't help us,” a local Islamist commander told me during my first minutes in Raqqa, his index finger pointing at me.

When they started fighting, the rebels were expecting the West would support them. They kept hoping for this help for a while – but now they are giving up on their hope.

“Why don't you help us? Why doesn’t the West establish a no-fly zone like they did in Lybia?” the local commander and his men asked me.

Disappointed in the West, fighters of the Free Syrian Army are turning into moderate or radical Islamism. Some are joining Jabhat al-Nusra – even though on a few occasions both groups have fought each other.

They join the radicals also because, this way, they expect to get more funds, weapons and other resources from the Gulf states. But things are getting even more complicated.

After Jabhat al-Nusra made public its alliance with al-Qaeda, some of its fighters now respond to a new name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria.

Under this name, they have summarily executed three supposed members of the regime in a public square in Raqqa. They shot them in the head and let people record this on video.

And some days ago they arrested the leader of the local civil council.

Also, in the last weeks two rebel commanders from more moderate militias have been murdered in Raqqa by masked men.

When I talk to them now, the residents of Raqqa say they still feel liberated. But the feeling is not the same as it was last month.

Now they are afraid that, even if the rebels end up winning the war against Assad, it would only be the beginning of a new war: that of rebels against rebels.

Jose Miguel Calatayud is a contributor to Monocle.

Monocle 24

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