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Al Qaeda in Syria and why they are not going away!

Interesting Article: "Congressman: Iraq War's end gives al-Qaeda opening in Syria" by Jim Michaels / Washington D.C published Wednesday, February 24th, 2012

An interesting article mentioned that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee stated that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq has hurt the United States' ability to blunt efforts by al-Qaeda militants to extend their reach into neighboring Syria. The U.S. government has said there are signs that al-Qaeda may be behind some of the growing violence in Syria, where rebels are attempting to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Bombings in Allepo this month and earlier attacks in Damascus bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda operations, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified recently. Would you like to know more?

As the fighting in Syria continues, it threatens to further regionalize the conflict and heighten sectarian tensions, defense policy analysts say. "You can easily see the Syrian civil war sucking in regional powers," said Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you want to talk about the resiliency of a terrorist organization al-Qaeda in Iraq is probably going to win the contest," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer now at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. "It is diminished, but far from a spent force."

Syria presents al-Qaeda with a chance to breathe new life into its operations in the region by casting itself as a leader in a battle against an autocratic Arab regime, security analysts say. Al-Qaeda is also able to capitalize on the fact that Assad is a Shiite ruling over a majority Sunni country. Al-Qaeda is a mostly Sunni group that has capitalized on Sunni mistrust of Shiites.

Al-Qaeda would probably leverage the chaos in Syria to establish a foothold there, security analysts say. "Al-Qaeda thrives on chaos," Riedel said. The presence of al-Qaeda in Syria would likely complicate any efforts to support opposition forces battling Assad's government. The Obama administration has not provided aid to the opposition, but has called for Assad to step down.

According to Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, al Qaeda in Iraq was created out of the infrastructure developed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian who developed a group called al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which means “monotheism in jihad.” In the late 1990s he moved to Afghanistan where he established a jihadi training camp for a large range of [insurgents], including Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians — folks from the Levant. That was a population that Al Qaeda writ large had not had a lot of success recruiting. Many of Zarqawi’s first recruits were Syrian; some were from Saudi Arabia. But as time wore on, there was a lot of attrition. Frankly, a lot of these people got killed. And so Zarqawi and his successor, by the 2006-2008 time period, they were recruiting fighters from all over the world.

They still have the ability to operate through Syria. That’s important because those logistics lines can be reversed and, if they need to, they will be able to move into Syria just as they have been able to move people from Syria into Iraq. What is interesting is that one of Al Qaeda’s most important talking points is the legacy of the [Sykes-Picot agreement] between the British and the French in 1916 that created this border between what we today call Syria and Iraq. From Al Qaeda’s perspective, that border is a legacy of Western imperialism.

The biggest thing to think about any Al Qaeda franchise is that they are opportunistic. Al Qaeda has the ability to serve as a leech, to step into these conflicts in order to advance their own agenda, which is creating what they would call Islamic states in the Middle East that are run according to their understanding of Sharia. They want to use their participation in these violent rebellions to develop propaganda, to demonstrate their strength elsewhere and to create these power vacuums that they can fill later on.

In Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, Al Qaeda didn’t have a lot of game on the ground; they didn’t have major networks where they could exploit their own authority and influence in those rebellions. In Syria they do have those networks. They do have the logistical line they’ve built up over the past eight years, almost nine years now, through Syria and into Iraq. They have the capability to get into a sectarian fight against [someone] they would refer to as one of the apostate leaders in the Middle East, which is the ultimate point of Al Qaeda.

The bottom line is that al Qaeda is attempting to play a role in the Syrian rebellion and has and is likely to conduct occasional attacks against the Syrian regime and Alawite targets inside Syria. There’s going to be a threat from Al Qaeda in Syria. Bill does not think al Qaeda is going to dominate the rebellion there. But he does think they are going to build a base of operations and likely a small fringe constituency that adopts their sectarian outlook and form of violence against the Alawite population at large as well as the regime.

A small group like that can have a very destabilizing effect. If you are an Alawite citizen in Damascus, maybe you’re not tied to the regime but you’ve certainly benefited to an extent based on who you are. You know there’s a rebellion against a repressive government, but you also know there’s an element within that rebellion that wants to kill you based on what you believe, not based on the government that you’ve lived under. That makes you a lot less likely to want to cut a deal. That makes you afraid. That makes you want to sign up and fight.



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