By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
This week saw a change in the security situation with a significant decrease in the recent persistent levels of violence that have plagued the country. We have seen a reduced number of high impact attacks taking place, as much of the Sunni insurgency focus would appear to have shifted in support of resupply and fighting alongside the Syrian rebel factions.
Of significance this week was the situation of Syria and the transnational influences that have come to plague Iraq’s western border regions. Syrian Rebels clashed with a rebel opposition unit linked to al Qaeda’s Iraq wing (ISI) in northern Syria in a deadly battle that signals growing divisions among rebel groups and rising tensions between locals and more radical Islamist factions. This is a situation that will undoubtedly delight Iraq’s Shia dominated government and members of the more secular Sunni community who have been battling to dampen and delegitimize the ISI’s campaign in Iraq.
The rebel infighting comes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have made gains on the battlefield and drawn comfort from the downfall this week of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which under ousted President Mohamed Mursi had thrown its weight behind the Syrian opposition.The ISI Iraq leader has been quickly working to cement power in rebel-held territories of northern Syria in recent months. ISI units have begun to impose stricter interpretations of Islamic law and have filmed themselves executing members of rival rebel groups whom they accuse of corruption, and beheading those they say are loyal to Assad.
As fighting drags on and resources grow scarce, infighting has increased both among opposition groups and militias loyal to Assad, leaving civilians trapped in increasingly volatile and fragmented areas.
The latest internecine clashes happened in the town of al-Dana, near the Turkish border, on Friday, local activists said. The opposition group known as the Free Youths of Idlib said dozens of fighters were killed, wounded or imprisoned. A report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-monitoring group, said that the bodies of a commander and his brother, from the local Islam Battalion, were found beheaded.
The exact reason for the clashes have been hard to pin down, but many rebel groups have been chafing at ISI’s rise in power. It has subsumed the once dominant Nusra Front, a more localized group of al Qaeda-linked fighters that had resisted calls by foreign radicals to expand its scope beyond the Syrian revolt to a more regional Islamist mission.