Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

Syria's rebels can create alternative if properly backed

Passive moaning about the situation in Syria is not enough. A new "national army" initiative, though no panacea, deserves western and other support.

Three developments over the past few days in Syria's neighbouring countries underline the urgency of resolving the conflict that has plagued the country for 29 months.

On Friday, the leader of Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq vowed to defend Syrian Kurds against weeks-long attacks from Islamist rebels. On the same day, two Turkish pilots were kidnapped by Lebanese Shia gunmen, who demanded the release of nine kidnapped Lebanese Shia in Syria. And on Tuesday, 18 Turkish soldiers were wounded in deadly clashes with Syrian smugglers on the border.

The spillover of Syria's conflict to its neighbours is nothing new. But the incidents highlight the urgent need for outside powers to step up diplomatic and military measures to end the crisis. And there is a lot these powers can do.

Ahmed Jarba, the president of the opposition's National Coalition, announced on Friday a plan to form a "national army" that will include volunteers from existing rebel groups - the initial target is 6,000 fighters. Some might suggest that the move will reinvent the wheel and that the army will suffer from the same old problems, like fragmentation and infighting. But the idea has a great potential for organising groups and fighters under command and control that is acceptable for Syrians as well as outsiders.

The idea is to form a new group committed to maintain law and order after the collapse of the regime. This is not the first time the Syrian opposition has taken such a step to establish a body to serve as an alternative to the regime. But the problem every time has been that world powers fail to support the emerging body militarily, financially and politically. Once they are formed, such groups often suffer from a Catch-22 situation whereby they cannot gain Syrians' trust without providing supplies, and outside powers do not offer supplies without these groups establishing authority on the ground.

Countries that oppose the Assad regime would do well to understand that to unite the Syrian opposition, support has to come first. The rise of Islamist extremists has been made possible because their backers have shown much more commitment than the supporters of the moderates.

That is a fact that must be the starting point of any measures to resolve the conflict.

Updated: August 13, 2013 04:00 AM