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Qatar Faces Backlash Among Rebel Groups in Syria _ TIME

Qatar Faces Backlash Among Rebel Groups in Syria _ TIME

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Cached copy of April 24, 2013 article no longer available via the original link
Cached copy of April 24, 2013 article no longer available via the original link

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Text-only versionThis is Google's cache of http://world.time.com/2013/04/24/qatar-faces-backlash-among-rebel-groups-in-syria/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 17 May 2013 07:20:21GMT. Thecurrent pagecould have changed in the meantime.Learn mor e Tip: To quickly find your search term on this page, press
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Qatar Faces Backlash among Rebel Groupsin Syria
By AP / ZEINA KARAM and BRIAN MURPHY April 24, 20133 Comments
(BEIRUT) — In a war-battered suburb of Damascus, a commander for one of the smallernationalist brigades fightingto topple Syrian PresidentBashar  Assadgrumbles about the lack of ammunition for his men. He blames Qatar,saying the oil-rich Gulf state directs its backing to rebels with a more Islamistideology.Tiny , U.S.-allied Qatar has emerged as one of the strongest international  backers of the rebellion against Syrian President BasharAssad. Many in the Syrian opposition laud Qatar, saying it has stepped in while the international community has failed to intervene or send military aid that would help tip the balance in favor of the rebels, three years into the uprising-turned civil war that has ravaged the country and killedmore than 70,000 people.(
 TheSyrianCivil War: Photographs by Alessio Romenzi) But its role has also caused tensions within the ranks of the highly fragmented rebellion and political opposition.Some rebel brigades complain they are left out in the cold from the flow of money and weapons, sparking rivalries between secular and Islamist groups. Fighters and opposition activists worry that Qatar is buying outsized influence in post-Assad Syria and giving a boost to Islamist-minded groups if the regime falls.“Qatar is working to establish an Islamic state in Syria,” Abu Ziad, the commander of a brigade in the Damascussuburb, said sullenly, his Kalashnikov rifle resting on a wooden chair next to his tea glass.“With their money, the Qataris and a bunch of other countries are exploiting the Syrian revolution, each for theirown gains,” said Abu Ziad, speaking on condition he be identified by his nom de guerre for fear of reprisals from theSyrian regime.Qatar is not the only country in the region feeding support to the rebellion, and the various lines of backing haveprompted worries that numerous countries are trying to win influence, often with conflicting agendas. No country has revealed the extent of its aid to the rebellion. But Qatar appears to be the most prominent.Officials, diplomats and Western military experts told The Associated press last month that Jordan, Saudi Arabia,Turkey and Qatar were involved in a carefully prepared covert operation of arming the rebels. The U.S. has aconsulting role aimed at ensuring the weapons go to secular and moderate rebel groups.PresidentBarack Obamamet Tuesday at the White House with Qatar’s ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani,and said their two countries will continue to work on more support for the Syrian opposition in the coming months. Washington says it is providing non-lethal aid to the opposition.U.S. Secretary of StateJohn Kerry acknowledged Qatar’s influential role at a joint press conference with thecountry’s prime minister in Doha last month. He said he had received “greater guarantees” from Qatari leaders thatnearly all the arms were getting into the hands of moderates among the Syrian rebels.Qatari officials have denied their country aims to determine the shape of a post-Assad government in Syria. Qatar’sprime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, sought to downplay his country’s image as the chief Arab patron forthe opposition and dispel worries that it seeks to dominate the scene.“We are not looking for a role just for us,” he told reporters at the time. “We are looking for a pan-Arab role.”Syrian opposition figures regularly complain that the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian NationalCoalition, is dominated by fundamentalists from the Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar.Last month, the coalition elected American-educated Ghassan Hitto as its prime minister but almost immediately 
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 witnessed a walkout by about a dozen of its members, who accused Qatar and the Brotherhood of using pressure toinstall its candidate for prime minister.“The new (interim) government will be composed by the government of Qatar and we will not be part of it,” said well-known opposition figure Kamal al-Labwani, who suspended his membership from the coalition.Several rebel officials and opposition activists said Islamist rebel brigades backed by Qatar are getting the bulk of the weapons. They spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the clandestine flow of support.The majority of rebel factions in Syria have religious leanings to some degree, and many of them call for some sortof rule by Islamic law in a post-Assad era. The Qatari support does not appear to be going to the most hard-linemilitant or ultraconservative fighters, such as al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, but rather toward organizations with a conservative religious ideology, away from brigades with a secular or nationalist bent. Among those are Islamic groups such as the Ahfad al-Rasoul, al-Furqan and Tawheed brigades, the rebel officialsand activists said. Tahweed is one of the largest rebel groups operating in the northern province of Aleppo, whichhas been a major front in the civil war since July. It is also strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, thefundamentalist political organization that is closely allied to Qatar, and is part of the Syrian Islamic LiberationFront, an umbrella group formed last year incorporating some of the largest Islamist groups in northern Syria.Representatives of those brigades could not be reached for comment. A senior member of the Military Council in Damascus and its Suburbs, which is seen as a moderate Islamic faction,said his group’s fighters do not receive weapons but that the “brothers” in Qatar were among the chief financers of the group. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.The Military Council nominally falls under the main rebel umbrella Free Syrian Army. The FSA regrouped inDecember under a unified rebel command headed by Gen. Salim Idris, who is seen as a secular-minded moderate.But Idris is believed to have very limited control over the dozens of brigades and battalions inside Syria. Abu Ziad said tensions resulting from diverging allegiances among rebel factions have led to setbacks on theground. He cited the case of Jobar, a key district on the northeastern edge of Damascus, where rebels have beentrying to push in the capital and clashing with government troops for weeks.The area is controlled by nationalist brigades including his own, Islamist groups backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabiaand Jabhat al-Nusra. But the rebels’ advance in the district has been held up by disagreements between the groupsover who should take the lead in the fight, he said. His account of the situation was corroborated by two otherrebels, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the divisions among fighters.“My men have been in Jobar for 55 days with hardly any ammunition,” said Abu Ziad. He said Islamic factionsrecently received shipments that “they do not share.”There is also mistrust of Qatar on the opposite end of the rebel spectrum, among the more hard-line Islamicfighters. Abu Mohammad, a fighter for Ahrar al-Sham, a prominent rebel brigade in northern Syria with an ultra-conservative ideology, said Qatar, as well as Turkey, “is interested in ruling Syria” once the regime is toppled.He said his group never saw “a dime from Qatar, which supports its own people.” He declined to specify whichgroups Qatar backs. He spoke via Skype from the eastern city of Raqqa, which in early March became the firstprovincial capital to completely fall to the rebellion and which is now controlled by Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra. Abu Muhammed said his group received some weapons from Iraqis and some from “good people in the region” butmainly from looting the stores of regime forces. He spoke on condition he be identified by his nom de guerre toavoid reprisals.Qatar has strongly touted its support for the Syrian uprising. At an Arab League summit last month in Doha, Qatarmanaged to push through a declaration saying member states had a “right” to aid rebel fighters. The statement wasseen as an attempt by Qatar to burnish its reputation in the battlefield and mark itself as a leading advocate for the various rebel forces.Qatar was among the few Arab states offering active military assistance to NATO-led attacks against MoammarGadhafi’s regime in Libya and, at the same time, was a key arms-and-money pipeline for Libyan rebels whooverthrew Gadhafi. In Egypt, Qatar has been a strong backer of President Mohammed Morsi, a veteran of theMuslim Brotherhood.“Qatar has something of an image problem with the rebels in the field” in Syria, said Salman Shaikh, director of TheBrookings Doha Center in Qatar. “They are seen as almost pushing too hard and that raises questions about theirobjectives.”
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