Four Rival Factions Pick Over Syria's Bones


In the latest blow to supporters of the "moderate" elements among the Syrian rebels, the Harakat Hazm "Movement of Determination" this week announced that it was disbanding.

Hazm was never a large group.  It never possessed more than around 5,000 fighters and was active only in northwest Syria.  But for a period of time, it was held up by those who supported arming the Sunni Arab rebels as the kind of militia that the U.S. and the west could get behind.

It had ties neither to the Salafi jihadists nor to the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor was it given to the kind of open and florid corruption favored by some of the other "secular" groupings in Syria’s north.

As a result, Hazm was the recipient of a number of U.S.-made BGM-71 (TOW) anti-tank missiles in the spring of 2014.

Its demise comes in the same week that the U.S. plan for beginning a program to train and equip a force that will fight the Islamic State is set to commence.  The timing is not auspicious.

Hazm’s act of self-destruction appears to be an act of capitulation, undertaken in response to threats from the powerful Jabhat al-Nusra militia, and the capture by the latter of its headquarters.  Nusra, the Syrian franchise of al Qaeda,  is in the process of solidifying its control over north-west Syria.  In so doing, it is slowly isolating and swallowing up these smaller fry.

Among the victims are a number of elements that once featured large in western hopes for the rebellion.  In late October, Nusra destroyed the Syrian Revolutionaries Front of Jamal Ma’arouf.  Ma’arouf had a fair run enriching himself as a petty warlord in his native Jebel  Zawiya region, making deals with regime garrisons and smuggling across the border into Turkey.  In late 2014, the jihadis took him on and soon it was over.

Nusra and Hazm then clashed in February.  Hazm sought refuge by joining the Jabhat al-Shamiyah (Levant Front), a coalition of rebel groups in the northwest supported by Turkey.

However, in recent days, Nusra continued to issue accusations that Hazm was guilty of the murder of a number of Nusra fighters.  The Levant Front, meanwhile, made it clear that it would not stand between the two groups if Nusra attacked Hazm.  And that appears to have been that.  Left exposed without the help of its new friends, Hazm quietly took itself out of existence.

This not very uplifting tale nevertheless contains within it a number of lessons.

As of now, what constitutes  the rebellion in northwest Syria is Nusra, plus the Salafi Islamic Front, plus the Levant Front, whose most significant members are also Sunni Islamist.  But it is the jihadists of Nusra which are the key element.