Will Syrian rebels announce emirate in Daraa?

There are indications that the Yarmouk Brigade might be announcing an emirate in Daraa.

al-monitor Fighters from a coalition of rebel groups called Jaish al-Fatah, also known as Army of Fatah (Conquest Army), walk with their weapons near Psoncol town after saying they had taken control of it, in the Idlib countryside, Syria, June 6, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamad Bayoush.

Topics covered

syria, jihadists in syria, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state, isis, daraa

Jul 31, 2015

Jaish al-Fatah in the Southern Region, an alliance of rebel groups dominated by Jabhat al-Nusra, announced an all-out war on the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. The latter is accused of being affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) for having taken a series of actions considered a prelude to the declaration of an emirate in its stronghold in al-Shajarah town in the west countryside of Daraa.

In the meantime, reactions to the political articles of Ahrar al-Sham, which were published in Western newspapers, continued. Jabhat al-Nusra officially denounced the content of these articles all together, which led the relationship between the two sides to sustain the harshest crisis in their history. In light of the foregoing, Jabhat al-Nusra continued to get rid of its Syrian leaders, based on fatwas issued from inside the border.

The Wilayat of Daraa

After months of battles witnessed by the west countryside of Daraa — after that Jabhat al-Nusra accused Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, led by Abu Ali al-Baridi, of having secretly pledged allegiance to IS, and after the failure of numerous efforts of conciliation and compromise between the parties and their inability to militarily defeat one another — the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade took a series of provocative steps that increased doubts about its actual links to IS. This poses a very serious challenge to Jabhat al-Nusra, especially since it is aware that its influence and prestige are primarily targeted.

The step that confirms that the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade is implementing its emirate scheme is the announcement of the establishment of its own Sharia court based in al-Shajarah town, which is its main stronghold. The brigade indicated in its statement that this court is the only legitimate authority to issue judicial decisions in the Yarmouk Basin area. The statement pointed out that the purpose of the establishment of this court is to seek empowerment.

It is no secret that establishing this court and framing it within the scope of empowerment is a tradition adopted by IS as a prelude to impose its hegemony on a specific area. This was confirmed by another statement that the brigade attached, announcing the establishment of the Islamic police and calling to join its ranks under certain conditions within seven days of the statement. The statement also called competent and specialized persons to submit applications to select judges from among them.

It is worth mentioning that some activists accused Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade of seeking to establish the Wilayat (state) of Daraa in favor of IS relying on the previous statements and the included procedures, as well as the photo circulating on social networking sites, taken from a dawah (preaching) meeting held by the brigade last week. The photo shows an IS banner bearing in its lower part the mention of “Wilayat Daraa.” As-Safir was not able to verify the authenticity of this photo.

Although the policy of Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade was based from the start on denying its links with IS and rejecting any relationship with it, Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, headed by Ahrar al-Sham, insisted on the existence of a secret allegiance between the two parties. This had previously urged them to launch several attacks to eliminate the brigade, but they were all in vain. It seems that the new measures taken by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade were too dangerous for Jabhat al-Nusra to remain idle and led it to resort to escalation.

In response to the provocative steps taken by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, Jaish al-Fatah in the southern region — a new formation that emerged in July 2015 in Daraa, which has not gained the support of the majority of the armed factions in the province — issued two statements. Statement No. 1 indicated the continuation of the war on Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade to eradicate this small party and all its Kharijit supporters. Statement No. 2 called on the brigade members to surrender themselves and their weapons to the nearest headquarters of the Jaish al-Fatah, promising safety and protection to those who do.

But the statement excluded from the provision 13 leaders of Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades led by Abu Ali al-Baridi (al-Khal), and Abu Bakr al-Urdoni, Abu Musab al-Fanusi (leader of Saraya al-Jihad) and Abu Obeida Qahtan.

Aridi hits Ahrar al-Sham

The general Sharia official in Jabhat al-Nusra, Sami al-Aridi, a Jordanian national, replied to the political articles published by Ahrar al-Sham head of foreign relations Labib Nahas in some Western newspapers, declaring his opposition to the content of these articles all together.

However, in order to mitigate his reply, Aridi called upon the people of Syria to listen to the wise man Abu Musab al-Suri, known for his jihadist publications, including the critical study of the experience of The Fighting Vanguard in Syria in the '80s of the last century.

Aridi tried to deduce the most important criticisms tackled by Suri that can be projected onto Ahrar al-Sham in their recent orientations, particularly the rapprochement with the West, which was the focus of Nahas’ articles. Aridi quoted an argument by Abu Musab al-Suri, saying, “The enemy of yesterday and today cannot be an ally in the future, a friend, a companion during the battle and a supporter. We learned this the hard way and we are still dealing with the consequences.” But Aridi did not bother to explain why Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib is allied with factions whose leader, Abu Mohammed Joulani, acknowledged having received conditional funding from some countries.

Aridi’s response proved two facts cited by As-Safir in an earlier report. The first is the internal division within the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra regarding Ahrar al-Sham political orientations. A group led by Abu Maria al-Qahtani, Mazhar al-Wais (Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Shami) and Abu Saleh al-Hamwi believes that these orientations are compatible with the principles of Islamic politics and therefore are not vitiated by any flaw. This group invokes, in support of his position, the adoption by the Taliban movement of these same orientations in its regional and international dealings. The second group is led, as expected, by the general Sharia official, Sami al-Aridi, whose opinion is in line with that of senior al-Qaeda sheikhs outside Syria, such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Falastini. Falastini was the first to harshly criticize Nahas' articles and accuse him of treason.

The second fact is that the Jabhat al-Nusra hardline movement, greatly affected by the instructions and directives of the two former al-Qaeda sheikhs Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Falastini, is the movement leading Jabhat al-Nusra and imposing its views on most political and military issues. On the other hand, the less stringent movement (which in the past did not mind its disengagement with al-Qaeda) is waning, and its ability to influence the group’s central decisions is decreasing. This is not surprising. The second movement witnessed during the last period of several setbacks made it lose its ability to confront the first movement. The most recent setback was the dismissal of one of Jabhat al-Nusra's founders, Abu Saleh al-Hamwi, known as Sera3_alsham [on Twitter], following his public criticism of Jabhat al-Nusra policy. This is in addition to the list of senior leaders who are likely to be dismissed, such as Abu Maria al-Qahtani and Mazhar al-Wais.

Leaks regarding the issuing of a death sentence against Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Hussein Rahal, detained in the prisons of his group since about nine months ago, confirm that the hardline movement insists on eradicating the second movement and depriving it of its ability to compete with it on leadership. Some close to Jabhat al-Nusra said the death sentence was issued based on a fatwa issued by Falastini. The court examining Rahal’s case found him not guilty for lack of evidence, but al-Falastini finally found, in the concept of “prevalence,” what he has been looking for and on which he relied to issue his fatwa. This concept was much criticized, since according to the Sharia definition, prevalence cannot be invoked as a means of proof before the court.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Abdallah Suleiman Ali