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Jabhat al-Nusra's Abu Abdullah al-Shami on Petraeus' Strategy
by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi • Sep 8, 2015 at 11:29 am
Recently a good deal of controversy has arisen over David Petraeus' apparent suggestion to co-opt more non-ideological components of the ranks of Syria's al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to take on the Islamic State. The notion is partly based on Petraeus' own experiences in Iraq of co-opting members of Sunni insurgent factions to form the Awakening Movement (Sahwa) in 2007 onwards. These fighters came from groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq, who had been partly alienated by the Islamic State's predecessor's conduct (the Islamic State of Iraq) and partly perceived that they were losing the war. The problem here is that the circumstances of Syria's civil war are different those of Iraq. The groups from which Sahwa fighters came were Islamist but had a clear nationalist agenda, not being affiliated with al-Qa'ida, as Kirk Sowell notes. Further, Jabhat al-Nusra is now largely absent from the main Syrian rebel frontline against the Islamic State: that is, in the north Aleppo countryside, as most Jabhat al-Nusra fighters pulled out towards the group's main hub in Idlib amid U.S.-Turkish plans to establish a safe zone in the area, with only a small number of local fighters remaining primarily to defend their homes.
Co-optation of Jabhat al-Nusra affiliates is not wholly unknown: the best example is Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa that became affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra to protect itself from what was then ISIS in late 2013, but was never properly disintegrated. Amid confusion in operations against ISIS, Liwa Thuwar Raqqa split off from Jabhat al-Nusra in January 2014 (though this was only formally announced months later) and retreated to find refuge with the Kurdish YPG in Kobani. In Deraa and Quneitra provinces, where Jabhat al-Nusra is comparatively weaker than in the north and leadership disputes have come to light, some defections have occurred: a notable recent case being Jund al-Malahem, which left Jabhat al-Nusra and joined the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham at the end of June 2015 (H/T: @scm_syria). However, neither Deraa nor Quneitra has any official Islamic State presence: it is true there are pro-Islamic State groups in Deraa and Quneitra, but they are isolated from the wider Islamic State presence in Syria.
In short, Petraeus' proposal does not seem viable. Below are the comments of Abu Abdullah al-Shami, a member of Jabhat al-Nusra's Shari'a Committee. Abu Abdullah al-Shami notably downplays the suggestion of internal divisions in the group, though there can be no denying that two strands of the group's image exist: one the more traditional conception of a vital faction willing to work with others in the insurgency, the other imposing proto-emirate governance embodied in institutions like its judiciary Dar al-Qada.
"There came upon us days ago David Petraeus' statement in which he recommends his administration to rely on those he called "the moderates from Jabhat al-Nusra" in the war on Jamaat al-Dawla ['The Group of the State'- derogatory for Islamic State].
We record here some notes:
And I said when I read it: 'This is also of tribulation.' For we take consolation in our just precedent the Companions of the Messenger of God (SAWS).
This suggestion from Petraeus is evidence of the failure, bankruptcy and stumbling of the American administration in its old-new alliance.
The technical term "moderates" in the American dictionary is a technical term equivalent to traitors to their religion and Ummah in our dictionary.
So we will strike any project America develops, so how in that does it want some of our soldiers to undertake that?
Indeed the attempt of America and others besides them like some of the media to portray the Jabha as a group of movements in conflict with each other is a new method in the war on Jabhat al-Nusra among some, among others an erroneous analysis divorced from truth and reality. For there are no movements inside Jabhat al-Nusra but one group.
This is so despite the issuing of some tweets on the part of some that do not represent the group and its approach, since they only represent their speaker.
Our enmity with the jamaat al-dawla is in view of its embrace of the bid'a (innovation) of the khawarij [extremists] and many other reasons, This does not mean we will align with America against them, but nothing more than reflecting on that question.
For our hostility to America is the hostility of faith against disbelief. As regards the khawarij, it is hostility to whoever goes outside of Islam to bid'a, while remaining within the general fold of Islam.
We disavow the khawarij group according to bara'a sughra while we disavow America according to bara'a kubra in totality.
Then indeed America is an enemy, not only in religion, but also an enemy bringing enmity upon us at dawn and dusk in al-Sham and elsewhere.
Despite the fact that Jamaat al-Dawla (the khawarij) is an enemy to us, and America is hostile to them as well, we reject use of the technical term for the state organization- 'shared enemy'- between Jabhat al-Nusra and America.
For there is a difference between sharing by fate in this enmity in what we have no control, and the manner in which this hostility is portrayed in the media suggesting the possibility of coming together against this shared enemy. And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds."
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