Will Syria dissolve into patchwork of emirates?

Article Summary
As a number of Syrian factions establish their own emirates, the Syrian conflict enters a new, and potentially more violent, phase.

The "emirates war" has flared up between "declared" and "undeclared" [Islamist] emirates in Syrian territory, at a time when control on the ground is changing. Judging by the developments of this conflict, the bloodiest chapters will be seen in the next phase.

The Syrian events are moving toward a new stage, especially in relation to the fighting between jihadist factions.

The developments are oriented toward the formation of separate emirates in various areas, in a way that each faction or group of factions assumes the rule of its own emirate. The bordering emirates either agree, disagree or fight with each other, which will bring the Syrian crisis to a new level and escalate its complexity. This is particularly the case in light of regional and international military, logistic or commercial support that some emirates enjoy. International backers are assisting to further their policy of hostility toward the Syrian regime and to implement the policy of partition that is still threatening the map of Syria.

Regardless of whether Jabhat al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, has announced or has the intention of announcing the establishment of his Islamist emirate — there was a conflicting interpretation of the audio message that was intentionally leaked — the policy of Jabhat al-Nusra undoubtedly indicates it is trying to exert its control over a piece of land where it will have the final word.

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Clashes have been taking place between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army brigades for a week now in the countryside around Idlib, close the Turkish border, and are nothing more than evidence of this attempt to gain control. Even though it has tried to mask its real intention under the pretext of chasing thieves, which was also used by the Islamic Front when it declared war on Liwa al-Tawhid in Marea in the countryside of Aleppo.

The emirate of Jabhat al-Nusra will not be the only one declared de facto. The Kurds have established an autonomous administration in the Kurdish areas of Hasakah and Qamishli, where they have direct bloody contact with the Islamic State (previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS). The two sides have engaged in fierce battles for several months now.

The Army of Islam (Jaiysh al-Islam), led by Zahran Alloush, seeks to control parts of Eastern Ghouta, to annex them to its stronghold in Douma city, and create its own emirate, although it has not declare that openly.

As part of the emirates conflict is over size and weight, many areas are expected to see violent battles in which each party will do everything it can to kill and destroy. It is a war of existence where the weak will no longer survive.

Golani was clear in his leaked statements about these facts. He is well aware that his emirate will share front lines with all his other enemies, be it the Syrian army or other factions. He warned his troops against what awaits them in battles and clashes.

Since he recognizes that establishing an emirate, or the “implementation of the Sharia,” is a qualitative and controversial step, Golani reiterated to his subordinates that they won’t be able to abandon this project after starting it. “Those who wish to leave, leave right now,” he said, because later, those who walk away will be severely punished.

Regardless of Golani's chance at succeeding in establishing his own emirate, even the mere seeking to achieve this goal will have many implications at all levels.

By experience, Golani does not have a strategic vision to foresee the near or distant future. He himself threatened about four months ago that he would, “Banish IS from Syria and Iraq,” while he had to flee, along with other leaders, from the eastern region, with its tribes and oil fields, leaving it to fall into the hands of his arch enemy [IS].

Another implication of the proclamation of an emirate is that Golani is starting to follow in the footsteps of IS’ former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Al-Qaeda scholars flooded their opponents with literature about the inadmissibility of establishing emirates, terms of empowerment and the Shura principle — which Ayman al-Zawahri kept repeating after the Arab Spring. However, the branch of al-Qaeda in Syria found itself compelled to proclaim an emirate, regardless of all this literature.

Will Syria be able to endure another "Baghdadi" proclaiming himself a governor by the order of God? What is the correlation between Jabhat al-Nusra with its allies of other factions, especially in the regions Golani said are part of his emirate, such as Ghouta and Daraa?

Can Ghouta endure having two emirates on its lands, while the Syrian army is going further into the regions under the control of insurgents?

How will the leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra in Daraa receive their emirs fleeing from the eastern parts? Grand Mufti Abu Maria Qahtani, among others, arrived in Daraa following the fall of the city of Shuhail to IS last week. Furthermore, information confirms that the Jordanian IS emir in Daraa was not satisfied with the actions of Qahtani in Deir ez-Zor.

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Found in: syria, jihad, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state
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