Check out my new ‘Policy Watch’ for the Washington Institute: “Rebels Consolidating Strength in Syria: The Islamic Front”

The recent merger of several Syrian rebel groups into the Islamic Front (IF) is one of the war’s most important developments. Although the political and military opposition has long been fragmented, the new umbrella organization brings seven groups and their combined force of 45,000-60,000 fighters under one command. It also links the fight in the north and the south. Most notably, though, it affirms the troubles Washington will have setting policy in Syria going forward.

WHO ARE THEY?

Formally announced on November 22, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (HASI), Kataib Ansar al-Sham, and Liwa al-Haqq joined, as did the KIF as a whole and former SILF brigades Suqur al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam. None of these groups has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization.

Although these groups previously kept their individual names under the SIF and SILF, they will no longer do so under the IF, though it may take time to phase out the original names. This was confirmed the same day as the IF announcement, when SIF leader Hassan Aboud put out a directive dissolving his organization.

The IF’s leadership positions have already been distributed among five of the seven groups:

  • Shura Council leader: Suqur al-Sham’s Abu Issa al-Sheikh
  • Deputy Shura Council leader: Liwa al-Tawhid’s Abu Amr Zaydan Hajji al-Hiraytan
  • Chief of the Political Office: HASI’s Hassan Aboud
  • Chief of the Sharia Office: HASI’s Abu al-Abbas al-Shami
  • Chief of Military Operations: Jaish al-Islam’s Zahran Aloush
  • Secretary-General: Liwa al-Haqq’s Sheikh Abu Ratib

Although HASI — likely the largest group — did not take the top leadership role, its control over the Political and Sharia Offices will give it important say over key issues.

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