ISIS And Al-Qaeda, Together At Last?

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 14 2014 @ 2:57pm

The AP reported yesterday that leaders of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, have agreed to set aside their intra-jihadi feuds and cooperate against their enemies:

According to [a source], two decisions were reached: First, to halt infighting between Nusra and IS and second, for the groups together to open up fronts against Kurdish fighters in a couple of new areas of northern Syria.

Keating reads the cards:

This merger, along with growing signs that Washington is resigning itself to Bashar al-Assad’s long-term presence, could be an indication that the overlapping and intersecting battle lines in Syria are starting to clarify themselves. At the moment, the U.S., the Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, and—whether the Obama administration will admit it or not—the Syrian government are on one side, and ISIS and al-Qaida are on the other. The big loser in all of this is likely to be the U.S.-backed rebels.

In addition to ISIS and Nusra finding common cause, there are reports this week that the White House is considering revamping a Syria strategy many senior officials have come to see as unworkable. That strategy, which involved focusing primarily on rolling back ISIS in Iraq and didn’t involve strikes against Assad, never sat well with the rebels. A new one, which could involve a new diplomatic push for a cease-fire deal whose terms would likely be very disadvantageous to the Syrian opposition, would be even worse.

But Aymenn al-Tamimi recommends taking these reports with a grain of salt:

The rift between JN and IS is too great to heal at this point beyond the highly localized alliance between IS and JN in Qalamoun that reflects an exceptional situation where neither group can hold territory alone and both contingents are geographically isolated from members of their groups elsewhere in Syria, in addition to being preoccupied with constant fighting with regime forces and Hezbollah. At the broader level, IS still believes that JN is guilty of “defection” (‘inshiqāq) from IS in refusing to be subsumed under what was then the Islamic State of Iraq [ISI] to form the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS] back in April 2013. The zero-sum demands of IS have only solidified with the claimed Caliphate status since 29 June demanding the allegiance of all the world’s Muslims. In turn, JN refuses even to recognize IS’ claim to be an actual state, let alone a Caliphate.

In response to this and other recent developments, Gopal Ratnam hints that the Obama administration is “edging closer to establishing a safe zone in northern Syria” for our “moderate” rebel allies:

Setting up such safe zones inside Syria will also address a key demand by Turkey, which sees the Assad regime as a greater threat than the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and has been pushing the United States to set up such areas as a condition for fuller participation in the coalition against the Sunni militant group that is also known as ISIS and ISIL. “If these safe havens are not established in northern Syria, the rebels will be effectively squeezed out by the Assad regime in a short time,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So this is a last call to maintain and preserve rebel presence in northern Syria.”

Meanwhile, rumors that “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been injured or even killed in an airstrike were thrown into doubt with the release of a new audio recording of Baghdadi that refers to recent events:

The timing of the recording was unclear, but it referred to Barack Obama’s recent decision to send a further 1,500 US military advisers to train the Iraqi army and to a pledge of allegiance by Egyptian jihadis to the Islamic State last weekend.

In a triumphant survey of what he described as the group’s growing influence, the speaker also mentioned support from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In Saudi Arabia, singled out in the message as the “head of the snake and stronghold of disease”, people were urged to “draw their swords” to fight and to kill Shia Muslims – referred to in pejorative sectarian terms as “rafidah”. Shia worshippers were indeed attacked in a terrorist shooting in the country’s Eastern Province 10 days ago.