Thursday’s video showing Syrian rebels summarily executed bound prisoners has not only added to the concern internationally about war crimes on both sides of the conflict, but is putting a fine point on just how fragmented Syria’s rebel movement actually is.
Calls by the rebel Syrian National Council (SNC) to hold the killers accountable have fallen on deaf ears, while efforts to press the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) own leadership council reveals that many nominally FSA units aren’t really under the group’s control in any serious way, and while many of the ramshackle militias under the FSA banner may claim allegiance, allowing the group’s military defectors to enforce any sort of rules of engagement is a non-starter.
Early reports pinned the execution on FSA-linked fighters sieging Saraqeb, though since then the leadership has tried to blame various unaffiliated Islamists for the attack. At the same time, Islamist fighters are expressing concern that this sort of behavior is muddying the war, with one adding “we have to show we are different from the regime.”
But just as the FSA is not one monolithic group, the Islamists are in several camps as well, with a group of Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups fighting in the rebellion, and groups of al-Qaeda-backed foreign Islamists taking part as well.
The various groups have clashed over the question of leadership as well as weapon distribution, with many warning that the al-Qaeda-style fighters seem to be getting the best weapons and that the war can’t be won without them.
This myriad of loosely-affiliated rebels is perhaps the inevitable result of a war getting backing from several different nations with their own agendas and preferred end-games. The Obama Administration is even claiming the right to hand-pick the rebellion’s leadership, having condemned the SNC and promised new selections in the coming week. Ultimately this has made it difficult to tell what the rebellion’s uniting ideal is, if there is one at all.