Is Bashar al-Assad winning?
Kamal Hamami (otherwise known as Abu Basir) served on the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council. He was travelling in a car with his brother, when they were stopped at an al-Qaeda-manned checkpoint in the Turkmen mountains near Latakia. Hamami was on a reconnaissance mission, which was in preparation for a planned attack on al-Assad's forces. While at the checkpoint, Hamami, his brother, and an unidentified third man were executed by Al-Qaeda.
The execution of a FSA commander followed a public dispute between Al-Qaeda and the Free Syrian Army. The FSA have claimed that Hamami got into a "heated debate" with a local leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, in which he was accused of being an "infidel" and then executed. One FSA rebel told Reuters, "We are going to wipe the floor with them. We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us." The infighting will be welcome news for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A divided opposition means a weaker opposition, and fighting between rebel groups will result in a diversion of resources away from the fight against al-Assad's regime.
The Syrian civil war has lasted for two-years, in-which 93,000-120,000 people have been killed, and 1.6 million have been turned into refugees. The various factions that are fighting seem to have reached a bloody stalemate; there has been limited progress, and frustration has set in. Over the last year, fears have been growing both within the Syrian opposition and the "liberated areas" in the north about Islamist groups like Jabha Al-Nusra. Al-Nusra is the best equipped rebel group. They are aligned with Al-Qaeda and count many foreign fighters in their ranks. These fighters have been accused by other Syrian opposition groups of carrying out arbitrary executions of civilians, forceful veiling of women, and setting up alternative court systems which follow Islamic law. This tension is now boiling over into war.
It the last two-years, al-Assad's regime has been seriously weakened — but not removed. In 2011, the uprising was non-sectarian, peaceful, and democratic. Most Syrians were sympathetic to the messages of political reform. Fearing a similar fate as Mubarak and Ben-Ali, Al-Assad began a strategy of sectarianizing the uprising. Most of the protesters were Sunni Muslims (Sunnis being the clear demographic majority in Syria), and he attempted to frighten Syria's minorities about the effects of majority rule. His security forces differentiated between protesters based on their religious sect. Towards Sunni protesters, they adopted a scorched earth policy: the security force would shoot at whoever was there. When Alawite villages joined the protests the security forces stood by and did nothing.
This was all part of an attempt by the regime to crush the uprising using sectarian loyalties. The entrance of Al-Qaeda into the conflict followed a year of brutal killings, targeted sectarian killings by the regime, the "silence" of Syria's other minorities, and the failure of the international community to act. These conditions made the soil fertile for Al-Qaeda type movements; but the more Islamic extremist movements that spring up, the more infighting increases between the different groups. Al-Assad is winning the battle, but can he win the war?