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The Wall Street Journal’s Misleading Report on the “Moderate” Syrian Opposition

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On September 2, 2013 @ 6:49 pm In The Point | 9 Comments

The Elizabeth O’Bagy WSJ article is an argument for intervention. Unfortunately it rests on the incorrect premise that the Al Nusra Front is Islamist and the Free Syrian Army’s brigades aren’t.

Even the New York Times long ago conceded that this was not the case, writing, “Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.”

And the Times quoted none other than Elizabeth O’Bagy.

When the armed rebellion began, defectors from the government’s staunchly secular army formed the vanguard. The rebel movement has since grown to include fighters with a wide range of views, including Qaeda-aligned jihadis seeking to establish an Islamic emirate, political Islamists inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and others who want an Islamic-influenced legal code like that found in many Arab states.

“My sense is that there are no seculars,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, of the Institute for the Study of War, who has made numerous trips to Syria in recent months to interview rebel commanders.

So now Elizabeth sets out to make the opposite argument.

Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda

These are condescending shades of Obama’s “You may be getting emails about me” argument.

Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards… Moderate opposition forces—a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army—continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime.

The implication here is that the Free Syrian Army’s brigades are not Islamist. But that clearly isn’t true. And the evidence of that comes from Mrs. O’Bagy.

Although led by an army defector, Gen. Salim Idris, the council has taken in the leaders of many overtly Islamist battalions. One called the Syrian Liberation Front has been integrated nearly wholesale into the council; many of its members coordinate closely with the Syrian Islamic Front, a group that includes the extremist Ahrar al-Sham, according to a recent report by Ms. O’Bagy, of the Institute for the Study of War.

But now she says…

While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I’ve watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups.

Since when is the Syrian military attacking Alawi or Christian villages? The assertion makes no sense. Assad is Alawi and Syrian Christians have been ethnically cleansed by Syrian rebels, not government troops.

And who are these moderate ethnic cleansers?

This March, months before the Qusayr ultimatum, Islamist militants from the opposition’s Faruq Brigade had gone door to door in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan neighborhoods of Homs, expelling local Christians. Following the raids, some 90 percent of Christians reportedly fled the city for government-controlled areas, neighboring countries or a stretch of land near the Lebanese border called the Valley of Christians (Wadi al-Nasarah). Of the more than 80,000 Christians who lived in Homs prior to the uprising, approximately 400 remain today.

Who might the non-Islamist Faruq Brigade be? It’s one  the largest brigades in the Free Syrian Army.  The Institute for the Study of War, to which Mrs. O’Bagy belongs, has tried to cover up for their abuse of Christians in the past… for obvious reasons.

Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France.

I rest my case. If there’s anything the Saudis are known for, it’s supporting “moderates”. Like the moderates who flew planes into the World Trade Center.

But oh wait, here is O’Bagy again.

As extremists rose in the rebel ranks, the United States sought to limit their influence, first by designating Nusra a terrorist organization, and later by pushing for the formation of the Supreme Military Council, which is linked to the exile opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.

Although led by an army defector, Gen. Salim Idris, the council has taken in the leaders of many overtly Islamist battalions. One called the Syrian Liberation Front has been integrated nearly wholesale into the council; many of its members coordinate closely with the Syrian Islamic Front, a group that includes the extremist Ahrar al-Sham, according to a recent report by Ms. O’Bagy, of the Institute for the Study of War.

But don’t pay attention to what O’Bagy said then. Listen to what she’s saying now. And sign on to Obama’s Syrian War.


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