BEIRUT — The role of Daraa in Syria’s uprising is now part of Arab Spring lore. In March 2011, a group of schoolboys were arrested, interrogated and tortured by security services after spraying anti-government graffiti on a wall. Soon enough, a national protest movement fanned out from the southern city and engulfed several major Syrian cities.
Nowadays, though, Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions from the Southern Front — once feted as the best hope for a moderate fighting force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — increasingly appear on their back foot in Daraa. They have faced competing threats, including the emergence of Islamic State-linked groups near Syria’s southwestern borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Priorities have also changed within the Military Operations Center (MOC), an Amman-based coordinating body said to include the CIA as well as Jordanian and Gulf intelligence that has backed the Southern Front for the past two years.