Battles Between Syrian Opposition Factions ‘Just A Matter of Time’

Islamist elements in the Syrian opposition are increasingly at odds with more secular forces in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), setting the stage for a showdown that could happen after the Bashar al-Assad regime falls — or possibly before — but looks almost certain to happen in some form:

These events give weight to concerns of a looming showdown in Syria between the rebel rivals that will in all likelihood intensify the tensions already gripping a volatile region torn by political upheaval, insurgencies and sectarian schisms that transcend national boundaries. The fear is that the growing gulf between the two coalitions in Syria, one Islamist and calling for an Islamic state, the other secular and oriented toward democracy, could lead to a new conflict once the regime of President Bashar Assad is brought down by his overwhelmingly Sunni enemies. And most observers say that’s just a matter of time.

Recent weeks have seen the FSA take political losses relative to Islamist hard-liners. Observers are openly talking about the opposition being in political disarray, renewing concerns that the rebels may lack the organizational capability and military means to defeat the Assad regime and end more than two years of fighting.

Colonel Riad al-Asaad, a founder and key figure in the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), lost a leg this week in an assassination attempt that left him hospitalized but stable. Meanwhile the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front doubled in size after foreign fighters streamed in to fight on behalf of the Islamist group.

Politically the disparity between opposition factions has been even more pointed. Last week the FSA formally rejected the appointment of U.S.-educated Ghassan Hitto to the post of provisional prime minister in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). SNC head Moaz al-Khatib – who had been prominent in calling on Western powers to arm the FSA and had been seen as a moderate bulwark against hard-line Islamist groups that have increasingly sought to hijack the rebellion – tendered his resignation in response to the appointment.

The losses and resignations will undermine the FSA’s ability to militarily and diplomatically hold off the Syrian army on one side and jihadist forces on the other.

[Photo: Zyzzzzzy / Wiki Commons]