"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

Lübnan Marunîleri / Yasin Atlıoğlu


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Black flags over Idlib: The jihadi power grab in northwestern Syria (Aron Lund-IRIN)

Life in northwestern Syria’s war-torn and impoverished Idlib Province is already bad. And with the jihadi group Tahrir al-Sham now firmly holding dominion, it’s about to get a whole lot worse for the two million people in the country’s largest rebel-held region.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have so far proved incapable of reclaiming Idlib and the surrounding opposition-dominated areas, and in the meantime Tahrir al-Sham has purged its main Islamist rival. In response, the opposition’s traditional foreign patrons are taking a step back, cutting military support and reevaluating even the civilian aid they’ve been sending into the province for the past six years.
International politics aside, the world now needs to find an answer to the question of how northwestern Syria’s civilians can be kept afloat if Western and Arab donors write Idlib off as an extremist haven, as they are likely to do—especially if Tahrir al-Sham tries to control aid flows. No less important is the question of what will become of these civilians, many of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria or fled al-Assad’s notorious secret police, if the Syrian army one day manages to retake the area.

How Tahrir al-Sham took charge

Ever since the Syrian army was run out of Idlib's eponymous provincial capital in March 2015, two groups have dominated the fractious Sunni insurgency there: the Nusra Front, which recently rebranded itself as Tahrir al-Sham, and its Islamist partner-cum-rival, Ahrar al-Sham.
The two groups started out as close allies, but they had subtle ideological differences and contradictory international alignments, and a tortuous power struggle followed.
An ideologically complicated creature, Ahrar al-Sham has received most of its support from Turkey, Qatar, and private Islamist funders, while keeping a wary distance from the United States and other Western nations. However, the group isn’t terrorist-listed and it has repeatedly been invited to participate in UN-backed Syrian peace talks.
By contrast, the Nusra Front/Tahrir al-Sham is on various international terrorist lists and its leaders under sanction for its ties to the al-Qaeda movement; it has also been a target of US airstrikes. Successive name changes and a 2016 disavowal of al-Qaeda’s tutelage have been roundly dismissed by the international community, including the United States. “The core of [Tahrir al-Sham] is al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria,” a State Department spokesperson told IRIN, adding that Washington’s 2012 terrorism designation of that group will apply “regardless of what name it uses or what groups merge with it.”