The true face of Jabhat al-Nusra has been revealed after it failed to conceal its true motives. This was due to pressure on the ground, which has put its existence at stake following a major loss in Syria’s eastern region.
The movement has made considerable efforts to compensate for the loss, even if the price was to drop its mask and show its real face — a face that is similar, to a large extent, to its archenemy the Islamic State (IS).
Reports suggest that Jabhat al-Nusra’s new policy of fighting other factions under the pretext that they are mufsideen [evildoers] is similar to the general approach of al-Qaeda International. This has been applied in many countries depending on the developments on the field.
In the framework of a policy of confrontation, Jabhat al-Nusra continues its fight against other factions in the countryside of Idlib. In this context, yesterday [July 22] the group seized control of the city of Haram on the border with Turkey. The city serves as an important strategic location and as a border crossing to smuggle oil, among other products, following short and mild clashes with factions affiliated with the Syria Revolutionaries Front, which led to their withdrawal.
Jabhat al-Nusra also controls the towns of Salqin and Azmarin and had previously seized the areas of Hafsarjah and al-Zanbaqa, among other regions, in the western countryside.
Two weeks ago, the group started what it called a "campaign to cleanse the north of bandits and thieves"’ referring to the Free Army factions and those close to the National Coalition, which the movement sees as a collaborator with the United States.
However, the actual goal behind the campaign in the north is to fulfill Jabhat al-Nusra's search for funding to compensate for the loss of the oil fields in Deir ez-Zor.
Mosul has never been as empty of the country’s original Christian inhabitants as it is today. Everything related to Christianity is at risk of being ruined and looted by the members of the Islamic caliphate who have used the second-largest Iraqi city as their headquarters. This city is considered one of the oldest residences of Iraqi Christians.
Thousands of Christians fled the city in the past few days, in the wake of the Islamic State (IS) warning. According to witnesses, messages were communicated to Christians through loudspeakers in mosques last Friday [July 18], demanding that they leave the city by Saturday noon and reminding them of the IS statement confirming that whoever does not leave will be killed. The Christian families left Mosul before the end of the time limit, leaving behind their properties and houses. They headed to safer Christian villages in Ninevah under the control of the peshmerga, and to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
According to photos published by activists from Mosul, no trace of Christians was left there. Crosses were replaced with IS banners, and all churches were either closed or burned down.
Mosul Archbishop Botros Moushi, who is in Qaraqosh close to Kurdistan, said that Mosul’s city center is almost completely empty. He told As-Safir that IS militants sent for them to discuss the matter before their departure, “but we did not go because we lost faith in everyone. They fooled us and told us at first that they don’t have a problem with us, then they accused us of apostasy.”
The picture seemed bleak from the very beginning. The announcement of the Islamic State (IS) and Iraqi Kurdistan’s accelerated pace towards secession forewarned of dark days ahead for the region, known for its large oil reserves. The relationship between geopolitical developments and energy is correlated, for whenever the political and security situations worsen, oil prices rise as a result of real or perceived fears about supply disruptions.
But, the oil market has remained relatively stable since the world’s rude awakening early last month to teh Islamic State’s takeover of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul; the organization’s subsequent advance on the ground; and its announcement of the establishment of the caliphate. As a result, the price of crude oil increased by 5% per barrel, compared with the 22% rise during the Libyan revolution.
Consequently, the oil market did not witness the price swings that occurred following pivotal events in the region, such as the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which led to the first oil shock, when the price per barrel quadrupled, or the second such shock, following the Iranian Revolution, when the price per barrel surpassed the $40 mark for the first time in history. This prompted everyone to be less concerned with the actual price than with securing supplies, particularly considering that Iran, at the time, was the second-largest OPEC producer of oil and in the absence of alternative supply sources, such as Alaska, the North Sea and other producers.
The Islamic State (IS) has extended its control westward toward the province of Homs, in what may be the most dangerous development yet. The group has expanded in the opposite direction from the line of advance it has maintained for the past few months and has altered the conflict’s calculus for the foreseeable future. This will be especially problematic if the Syrian military proves to be unable to push IS back to front lines in the desert and into the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, in the depths of northeastern Syria.
The present threat emanates from the proximity of IS forces to the cities of Homs and Hama, especially from the group’s ability to cut off Syria’s energy supply — specifically petroleum and electrical energy — as it has gained control over the lion’s share of the country’s energy resources.
Following violent clashes with Syrian military forces and National Defense paramilitary units near the Sha’ir gas field and the city of Palmyra in Homs, IS has succeeded in adding another massacre to its records. Nearly 100 Syrian soldiers were killed in what appeared to be field executions, while the fate of 250 surviving soldiers and workers remains unknown. IS sources report that the survivors were taken as prisoners, but the group has not published any photographs confirming the validity of the claim. Meanwhile, IS has published photographs of regime casualties, in addition to a number of tanks, artillery pieces, military vehicles, weapons and crates of ammunition that the group has captured.
Who is controlling the Syrian border crossings?
The UN Security Council’s resolution to allow the entry of aid to Syria without the government’s permission raises many questions regarding the feasibility of its implementation, given that a number of border crossings are not under the Syrian state’s authority. Many are controlled by different factions, according to their region of control and ability to face the other armed militias in the region. There are many non-regime crossings which are considered as dangerous to cross as the other dangers in the conflict of this country.
A tour of the border crossings reveals the state of these areas and the parties controlling them.
In the south, Nasib crossing is considered the official main crossing to Jordan and is still under the Syrian state’s control. Jabhat al-Nusra tightened its grip on the Gumruk crossing, pushing Jordan to close it down and ask the members of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] in the Daraa countryside not to move toward Nasib crossing so that Jabhat al-Nusra does not take it over.
There are non-regime crossings in west Daraa [southern Syria], the main two being at Tell Chehab and Badiya in Suweida. The latter faces the Jordanian city of Ruwayshid, where the members of the Jordanian intelligence and armed groups are deployed to make it easier for refugees to pass, for weapons to enter and for the leaders of the FSA to move around. However, the Jordanian authorities have closed these crossings many times.
The border crossings with Lebanon seem to be in relatively better condition. The Jdaidet Yabws, Arida, al-Dabousiya and Jousiya points are under the control of the Syrian government and therefore under tight security measures. Jdaidet Yabws-Masnaa crossing is considered the most busy due to daily commuters to Lebanon and those traveling through to Beirut International Airport. The unofficial crossings stretch from Zabadani [northwest of Damascus, near the Lebanese border town of Anjar] and Madaya in Wadi Barda through Assal al-Ward in Qalamoun [near the northeast Lebanese border], Yabrud and Qarah and reach Arsal and Toufeil in the Lebanese territories, in addition to the crossings in the southern suburbs of Homs in Qusair, mainly Tell Kalakh.
The "emirates war" has flared up between "declared" and "undeclared" [Islamist] emirates in Syrian territory, at a time when control on the ground is changing. Judging by the developments of this conflict, the bloodiest chapters will be seen in the next phase.
The Syrian events are moving toward a new stage, especially in relation to the fighting between jihadist factions.
The developments are oriented toward the formation of separate emirates in various areas, in a way that each faction or group of factions assumes the rule of its own emirate. The bordering emirates either agree, disagree or fight with each other, which will bring the Syrian crisis to a new level and escalate its complexity. This is particularly the case in light of regional and international military, logistic or commercial support that some emirates enjoy. International backers are assisting to further their policy of hostility toward the Syrian regime and to implement the policy of partition that is still threatening the map of Syria.
Regardless of whether Jabhat al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, has announced or has the intention of announcing the establishment of his Islamist emirate — there was a conflicting interpretation of the audio message that was intentionally leaked — the policy of Jabhat al-Nusra undoubtedly indicates it is trying to exert its control over a piece of land where it will have the final word.
Clashes have been taking place between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army brigades for a week now in the countryside around Idlib, close the Turkish border, and are nothing more than evidence of this attempt to gain control. Even though it has tried to mask its real intention under the pretext of chasing thieves, which was also used by the Islamic Front when it declared war on Liwa al-Tawhid in Marea in the countryside of Aleppo.
The emirate of Jabhat al-Nusra will not be the only one declared de facto. The Kurds have established an autonomous administration in the Kurdish areas of Hasakah and Qamishli, where they have direct bloody contact with the Islamic State (previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS). The two sides have engaged in fierce battles for several months now.
Arab politicians, mainly Sunnis and followed by other Islamic sects, whether in power or in the opposition, as well as Christians in general, have woken up to the Islamic State phenomenon (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS). They used to describe ISIS as “armed gangs,” but now IS has declared statehood in Iraq and Syria and named its leader the caliph of Islam.
That declaration upended the entire Levant, especially since IS quickly took over Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, whose population is close to 3 million if the suburbs are included. This filled the large “vacuum” from Raqqa in eastern Syria to Tikrit in northeastern Iraq.
The Kurds directly benefited from the breakdown of the central authority in Baghdad. They immediately grabbed Kirkuk province and started intimating that they would declare independence in their own “state,” an old Kurdish dream.
Disputes erupted inside the central authority in Baghdad, politically and religiously. Iran, Turkey, the United States and Russia awoke to a new danger that threatens to shred the region’s map. The Gulf states were shaken, and Saudi Arabia saw the new threat creeping from the north.
There was renewed talk about new maps for the region in light of the new threat: an Islamic state that would erase the border between “the states spawned by colonial countries.”
Advanced countries have long resolved the debate over the state and its system: The republics are republics, kingdoms are kingdoms, and change, when it happens, targets the rule, not the state or the system itself. But in the Arab countries, the nature of the “state” is still a matter of contention.
The status quo remains within the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The Qatari-Saudi settlement spared both factions of the coalition fierce phantom battles, as supporters of the Saudi wing and Ahmad Jarba obtained the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) presidency, in return for the Qatari-sponsored Mustafa al-Sabbagh’s faction receiving all other posts, comprising the external broader framework of the Syrian political opposition.
Nasr al-Hariri was elected secretary-general, while the first vice president's post went to Abdulhakim Bashar, to placate the Kurdish National Council and provide the coalition with a Kurdish quorum, as Noura al-Amir was elected second vice president, and Mohammad Qaddah third vice president. The latter two, as well as Hariri, are considered to be closely associated with Sabbagh and Qatar.
Hadi al-Bahra received 62 votes, and led his closest rival, Mowafaq Nayrabiyeh by 20 votes, while the third candidate, Walid al-Omari, only managed to secure three votes cast in his name in the coalition’s ballot box.
Michel Kilo came out the biggest loser in this competition after backing Nayrabiyeh for the leadership of the coalition. His Democratic Bloc, which he formed last year, suffered great divisions, with the Saudis deciding to marginalize him. This came following their decision to back the reorganization of the coalition and their attempt to take the control thereof from the Qataris a year ago, by forming an alliance that brought Kilo together with Jarba.
In Deir ez-Zor, the displacement, collective punishment and threats of ethnic cleansing are accompanying the emir of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria's Kurdish north.
In Shahil, Khisham and the countryside around Deir ez-Zor, 150,000 civilians have fled their homes, in what was a reconciliation and repentance agreement that IS turned into a collective punishment in the villages, which Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Mujahedeen Shura Council had turned into fortified strongholds for the soldiers fighting Baghdadi.
Thousands of displaced [peope] have left for the camps in the desert around the Euphrates. IS forced the population to surrender its weapons, repent for fighting and pledge allegiance to the caliph, Baghdadi. It then added an article to the agreement stipulating that the population leave the towns and villages, to make sure that they were free of any fighters or ambushes. So far, no one has returned from Khisham, although the 10-day time frame given to those who have been forced to leave their houses has ended. The same fate awaits the 83,000 tribal people living in al-Shuaitat. The tribes that renewed their allegiance to Joulani still refuse to leave the villages that Baghdadi warned their population to evacuate.
In Raqqa, thousands of IS fighters are deployed around the Kurdish self-administration region in Ain Arab ("Kobani" in Kurdish). The battle in Kobani is not only about seizing the center of the Kurdish region, and the canton linking the east of the Kurdish region in Amouda, Derbassiyeh, Qamishli and Hasakah to its west in Afrin — the battles fought by Baghdadi’s forces have managed to cleanse the Kurdish villages of their populations, which were estimated at 700,000 in Kobani and its countryside. [Within a] few hours, thousands of Kurds left their homes in the eastern and western countryside of Kobani, of which parts have turned into battlefields. This was while the Baghdadi soldiers executed 16 civilians to force the others to flee. Over the [next] few hours, an alliance consisting of 500 fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Jabhat al-Akrad (the Kurdish Front Brigade) managed to contain the attack by IS fighters.