Syria’s Rebels Feel Hung Out to Dry by U.S.-Russia Deal

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Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images

Syrian rebel leader General Salim Idris, right, and Syria's new opposition chief Ahmad Jarba hold a press conference in Istanbul on Aug. 24, 2013

In the early afternoon of Sept. 14, a stout, square-shouldered man in his mid-60s, wearing a dark suit, gleaming black tie and a thick, neatly trimmed mustache, stepped off the escalator that had just conveyed him to the first floor of the Wyndham Petek, an upscale hotel on the outskirts of Istanbul, and disappeared into a small meeting room amid a tight cordon of bodyguards.

By the time he re-emerged, some 15 minutes later, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov had announced a deal to secure Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Any chance of American air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, at least for the time being, was lost.

The stout, mustachioed man was General Salim Idris, commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), and he had followed Kerry and Lavrov’s televised press conference inside the meeting room. He wasn’t pleased.

To the consternation of some of the politicians around him, he also wasn’t inclined to mince words. “We reject this agreement,” Idris told journalists, speaking in accented English, “and we think that the Russians are playing a game to win time for the criminal regime in Damascus.”

(MORE: Russian Envoy Dismisses U.N. Report on Syrian Chemical Weapons as ‘Biased’)

Idris had reserved his most scathing remarks for the Kremlin — “Lavrov and Putin are terrorists, partners in [shedding] Syrians’ blood,” he said — but he also made clear his exasperation with the U.S. “I would like to remind the international community that the Syrian people are dying for more than two years, and nobody is talking about their suffering,” he said, on hearing that Kerry and Lavrov had given the Syrian regime until mid-2014 to destroy its chemical weapons. “We are going to say to our friends in the world: Don’t leave the Syrians alone facing and resisting this brutal regime.”

Just over a week earlier, Idris and other rebel commanders had been poised to follow up U.S. air strikes against Syria by mounting a major offensive. As Kerry’s talks with Lavrov crystallized into the Sept. 14 agreement, so did the feeling — at least among Idris and the rest of the opposition — that the rebels had been hung out to dry.

Idris had come to Istanbul to meet with members of Syria’s main opposition outfit, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella grouping of antiregime figures, many of them longtime exiles. The SNC had assembled here to hold talks with Kurdish factions that had so far refused to join its ranks, discuss the political fallout from the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta and form an interim government.

The talks themselves were closed to the press, but SNC members milled about the hotel during breaks, chatting among themselves and with reporters. Most of them wore suits, some wore long, white robes, and several donned checkered kaffiyehs. One of the more visible delegates, Ayman al-Aswad, boasted an unruly beard of Darwinian proportions. He had decided to stop shaving, he explained, until Assad’s regime went down in flames.

The election of the provisional government had been a foregone conclusion. Only one man, Ahmad Tomeh, a moderate Islamist, former political prisoner and dentist by training, was running for prime minister. He was to receive 75 out of the 97 votes cast.

(MORE: Syria’s Rebels Turn on One Another, and That’s Not a Bad Thing)

The more pressing issue was what to do next. “Before, we were depending on the American decision that Bashar, this murderer, would be punished for using chemical weapons,” Salem al-Meslet, the SNC’s vice president, told me during a lunch break. “But now it is different. We want to see what is Plan B for General Idris and the Free Syrian Army.”

For the time being, al-Meslet said, the opposition would focus on trying to parachute its newly formed government into rebel-held areas. “We want this government to be active on the ground in the liberated areas, on the border checkpoints, in the oil fields,” he said. “These areas should be run by civilian authorities, not by [insurgents] with guns in their hands.”

For the provisional authorities to set up shop inside Syria, the FSA and Idris would have to provide them with some degree of security. But even that could turn out to be “very complicated,” Idris himself acknowledged. “We don’t have effective air defense against jets of the regime and against Scud missiles.”

What Idris did not say, but what must have been on everyone’s mind, was that the SNC doesn’t enjoy much legitimacy among the rebels to begin with. To many of the fighters on the front lines, the grouping is little more than a hotel government, a collection of exiles who might have powerful backers — particularly Saudi Arabia — but little sway with Syrians on the ground.

One faction that would never recognize the SNC’s authority in Syria, acknowledged Khaled Khoja, the group’s Turkey representative, were Islamist militants. “Al-Nusra and the [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] won’t allow this body in Syria,” he said, “because it is in competition with their project to establish a Shari‘a state.”

Several hours after Idris’ presser, the SNC members convened for an inaugural address by their new prime minister, Tomeh, and a rare photo op. Near the back of the long, brightly lit conference room, far away from the handshakes and hugs that followed the speech, sat Aswad with the long, untamed beard. He looked forlorn and pensive, thinking, perhaps, of the day he would finally shear his beard, and that it was not near.

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18 comments
lwwgaw
lwwgaw

4

“The Muslim Brotherhood is an international movement, the goal of which is to create an Islamic state universally.. the Muslim Brotherhood operates in various countries around the world. As we learned through the course of our investigation and work, the United States is one of those” – Nathan Garrett (FBI Agent and Federal Prosecutor )It is clearly documented in the Muslim Brotherhood ‘s plan for the destruction of this country from within using our own Constitution and Bill of Rights against us through a process called Civilization Jihad, to advance their mission. CAIR, ISNA, and the muslim students association are all three parts of the muslim brotherhood. As is Obamas brother and most likely the president himself.

KenyonHull
KenyonHull

Islamic terrorists; go pound sand. Or we could turn it into glass with bits of muslims in it. That would be a pretty site. Then we would not have to hear your bellyaching and victim status all the time. Not a bad idea.  However, since the USA has no security interests in Syria, go to hell.

ChrisJ.Breisch
ChrisJ.Breisch

Don't worry. I'm sure there are other plans in the works to get American weapons in the hands of terrorists.

neko.el.gato
neko.el.gato

Democracy is never the real goal with the U.S. with certain countries in the middle east, simply destabilization and endless conflict.

adderworks
adderworks

So, the Islamic terrorists murdering people in Syria are complaining about being slighted. Why should the world care?

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

SNC is the so-called external "opposition". They do not live in Syria and do not represent the people of Syria.  The Syrian people are not choosing these clowns as a legitimate opposition.  Even internal Syrian opposition does not consider the SNC legitimate.  
Constructive Syrian opposition calls for national reconciliation and supports government forces in the fight against international terrorism. Other actions for the internal opposition means political death, because Syrian people support own army. Even those Syrians, who do not like Bashar Assad does not want to see Western puppets in power. Patriotic opposition parties in Syria not afraid of elections in the country. New elections in Syria fears the Barack Obama and other enemies of Syria.  Russia considers that the Syrians alone are able to determine their destiny by themselves without any dictates or interferences from the outside.

universal93
universal93

The Syrian rebels are no different from Iraq or Egypt, which is the reason no one wanted to get in..! I do agree that Putin and Russia are responsible for arming Syria and worst still, continuing to support Syria using their international diplomatic influence.  Better the  Syrian rebels now request France, who at least was prepared, to help overthrow the current government.  It is most important that Syrian Rebels better shape-up and show that unity will prevail in the post Basher-era to a quick transformation and reconciliation.

rohit57
rohit57

@Sibir_Russia But that goes directly against the doctrine that America detemines everyone's destiny.   The Monroe doctrine, which once covered the western hemisphere has now been expanded to include the entire globe.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@universal93 

The representative of the United Nations Commission on human rights in the middle East emphasized that the composition of the armed Syrian opposition are only 5 % of the Syrians, all the rest of mercenaries from different countries.
This was also reported  German intelligence: 95% of the rebels in Syria are foreigners
Berlin (IRIB) – The BND admitted that only 5% of armed terrorists in Syria Syrians are really, 95% of them are from abroad.

andbary
andbary

@universal93And who is Syrian rebels?

From 25 to 50 thousand of them foreigners ...

You are a very bad understand what the civil war.