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European Council on Foreign Relations: Syria's Uprising Within an Uprising

Author: Rania Abouzeid
January 16, 2014


"The armed Syrian opposition, in all of its disparate glory, has long talked of a revolution after its revolution to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a period when scores would be settled between various anti-Assad groups…. Elements of all of these various fault lines had become frontlines during isolated bouts of rebel infighting over the past year or more, but the decision by so many different groups to take on ISIS at the same time, and in so many locations, was surprising. What was also surprising was how quickly ISIS was initially routed from some areas."

It was bound to happen, this uprising within an uprising against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a transnational ultraconservative Islamist group that ostensibly fights alongside Syria's disparate rebel groups but more often intimidates, antagonises, or opposes most of them, including other conservative Islamists.

Long brewing tensions between ISIS and manyother rebel groups exploded on 3 January in fierce clashes that have quickly spread across northern and northeastern Syria. It's a localised, extremely fluid fight, with some groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) opposing ISIS in some areas while trying to mediate between it and other rebels in different locations. The fight has rallied an unlikely motley group of rebel brigades against ISIS while also testing the cohesiveness of some groups.

ISIS has been a thorn in the Syrian revolution since the group's inception in April 2013, when its leader, the Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the merger of his Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) with a group it spawned, Jabhat al-Nusra, headed by the Syrian Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

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