Tensions among various Syrian Islamist rebel factions are rising yet again, amid reports that earlier this month al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front hosted a meeting of major factions trying to convince them to all merge under their banner to create a “stronger rival to ISIS.”
The meeting ended without an agreement, and Nusra is said to be blaming Ahrar al-Sham, likely the largest other faction attending the meeting, for the failure. Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership also pledges loyalty to al-Qaeda, but the group is also heavily backed by Saudi Arabia.
Which likely is part of the reason such a merger was so unrealistic. Though the Saudis appear willing to cheerfully subsidize avowed al-Qaeda allies, it would be a bit harder for them to justify continuing to pour money into the coffers of the group if it was a formal affiliate.
The merger would also complicate the UN peace talks, as the Saudis and other nations have sold Ahrar al-Sham and others as “moderates,” while the UN has already ruled out inviting al-Qaeda itself.
Nusra already is the head of a more informal coalition of Islamist factions that dominates Idlib Province, but warns that the failure of getting a merger threatens to fuel “all out conflict” among those various factions involved.