Syrian al-Qaeda Factions Nearing Conflict With One Another

Jabhat al-Nusra Backs Locals Against al-Qaeda in Iraq

Further complicating the “war within a war” in northwestern Syria, the nation’s two official al-Qaeda factions are publicly criticizing one another and may be headed toward open warfare of their own.

Jabhat al-Nusra split in half about a year ago, with one faction “merging” with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the other faction retaining the Nusra name and aiming to make it Syria’s official al-Qaeda affiliate, as opposed to just a wing of the Iraqi one. Both have enjoyed support from al-Qaeda’s parent organization in statements.

With AQI now in the midst of a growing war with other Syrian rebel factions, Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader came out conspicuously critical of AQI today, bashing their “incorrect” policies and suggesting that they agree to the establishment of a religious court system to get them back on track.

AQI controls a lot of territory in northwest Syria, but has been facing growing protests among the locals, who see their rule as particularly heavy-handed, even by al-Qaeda standards, and other rebel blocs have tried to use that as a chance to reclaim some land in the region.

Ironically this has set up Nusra as the comparative voice of reason among the rebels, arguing that the infighting threatens to derail the “revolution.” In the end, it seems more likely this will drag Nusra into the fight as well, though the real question is which side they’ll end up on.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.