Syria | Splintering of Opposition, Rise of ISIS Cause Concern
- Syria Main Page
- Regional Conflicts Continue Through the End of the Century
- Syria is Repeatedly Accused of Supporting Terrorist Groups
- Syria and Israel Begin Negotiating, but Terrorism and Conflict Continue
- Government Forces Crack Down on Protesters
- Diplomatic Effort to End Violence Stymied by Security Council Vetoes
- Syria Sinks into Civil War
- Opposition Forms New Governing Body
- Several Countries Accuse Assad of Using Chemical Weapons
- Gains by Government and Splintering of Opposition Signal Staying Power of Assad
- Assad Accused of Launching a Chemical Attack
- Splintering of Opposition, Rise of ISIS Cause Concern
- UN-Led Negotiations Begin in Geneva; Rebels Suffer Setbacks
- Assad Re-elected in a Disputed Election
- Obama Authorizes Strikes on ISIS
- Peace Talks Delayed Again as Civil War Rages On; Another Attempt at Peace
Splintering of Opposition, Rise of ISIS Cause Concern
The fragile coalition of opposition groups further splintered in late September 2013, when 11 rebel groups announced that they would no longer recognize the Syrian National Coalition, the dissident leadership that is based in Turkey. Instead, the groups said they would work together to establish sharia, or Islamic law, in Syria. The move signaled the rising power of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda—a troubling development. In December, the U.S. and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to the opposition after the Islamic Front, a group that severed ties with the moderate coalition backed by the U.S., confiscated equipment provided to the rebels by the U.S.
By December, the humanitarian crisis in Syria had worsened, with both rebels and government troops blocking the delivery of much-needed food and medical aid to civilians. The death toll had reached nearly 126,000 and some 3 million people had fled to other countries in the region. In January 2014, an enormous trove of images that revealed the unspeakable torture and starvation of thousands of civilians who had been held in Syrian jails were leaked to the media. The photographs had been smuggled out of Syria by a Syrian police photographer and handed over to the Qatari government. If authenticated, the images will likely be used as evidence of human rights violations in a trial against Assad.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which continued to over-run rebel-held areas in northern Syria throughout 2013, started to face challenges from other rebel groups in Syria as a result of its brutal tactics and its focus on instituting its strict brand of Islam over ousting Assad. ISIS was accused of executing leaders of both the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham, another rebel group. In January 2014, the Nusra Front joined with other rebels groups to drive ISIS from several cities, dealing the group a significant defeat. But the rebels' fight against ISIS compromised their war with government troops. However, ISIS recovered and by late summer, it had taken over areas in Aleppo province previously held by the rebels. Al Qaeda also distanced itself from ISIS because of the group's merciless attacks, including those against Muslims. With support on the wan in Syria, ISIS turned its focus to Iraq.
Some have speculated that if the Obama administration had armed the rebels in Syria, then ISIS may not have had an opening in Syria. "I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in August 2014.