The FSA (Free Syria Army), which is the military wing of the SNC (Syrian National Coalition), has some influence but not much control over the hundreds of separate rebel groups fighting inside Syria. The new Islamic Alliance takes about five percent of the rebels out of FSA. The Islamic radical groups account for about ten percent of rebel manpower and have already been fighting fellow rebels.
The inability of the Islamic radical groups to get along with anyone (even each other) is seen as a major asset for the Assad forces. The Sunni Islamic radicals tend to view all non-Moslems as enemies and considers Moslems who do not agree with them (like Shia and moderate Sunnis) as enemies. The Sunni Islamic terrorists try to control this hostility when they need allies, but everyone (friends and enemies) know that sort of thing is temporary. The Islamic terrorists exercised admirable (by their standards) restraint for two years, but now they are reverting to their essential and very nasty selves. This was aided by growing cash donations from wealthy Gulf Arabs who see the war in Syria as an important battle against Shia Iran. The Islamic terror groups already have sources for weapons and smugglers. With enough cash, these sources can deliver everything a Syrian rebel needs.
Despite the hostility towards other rebels, the Islamic terrorist militias are still fighting the Assad forces, and this is especially notable in Damascus, where the Islamic groups skirmish with the army and launch terror attacks into pro-government neighborhoods. This is very embarrassing and demoralizing for Assad supporters. While most of Damascus has been safe, most of the city can now hear explosions and gunfire. The Islamic groups even cooperate with secular rebels in Damascus because both rely on the same supply routes and government forces are concentrating on food, ammo, and other items being smuggled into pro-rebel neighborhoods.
FSA and SNC are based outside Syria and use their control over shipments of foreign weapons and military equipment, as well as selecting who shall be trained by Western experts to be more effective fighters, to gain some degree of control over the rebel fighters. As a practical matter there is no overall coordination and command. Most rebels inside Syria see the SNC as corrupt and not very efficient. Thus SNC influence has not been able to prevent the growing number of deadly spats between rebel groups. The Islamic terror groups are the most volatile and will fight each other over real or perceived disagreements. What the SNC and FSA have the most difficulty with is the growing Western popular distrust of Arabs, especially Arab Moslems. This attitude has existed for a long time, reinforced by things like centuries of Arab rulers providing bases for Moslem pirates who preyed on Christian nations they shared the Mediterranean with. While the Arabs complain about Western crusades, these pale in comparison to the centuries of Islamic violence against non-Moslem (“infidel”, “kafur”) neighbors. The Arabs may well have their grievances with the West but when it comes to supporting Syrian rebels, the West wants some assurances that good deeds won’t be punished by Arab perfidy and paranoia. Those assurances don’t seem to be forthcoming, just more bile and spite. To many in the West, getting the Assad chemical weapons stockpile safely out of the way is more important than helping one group of Western-hating Arab fanatics replace another.
The SNC presides over a shaky coalition. The Kurds (ten percent of the Syrian population) are demanding more autonomy than many other SNC members are willing to approve. The Palestinians (1.7 percent of the population) are considered unreliable, although a large number of them are pro-rebel. Other minorities, like Turkmen (4 percent), Iraqis (4 percent), Assyrians (4 percent), and Druze (3 percent) have traditionally been well treated by the Assads, in return for loyalty. But many of the minority people are changing their minds. The main support of the government is based on religion. Some 75 percent of the population is Sunni Moslem. The Sunni have long been the main victims of the Assad dictatorship. Most of Syria's neighbors are Sunni, and this has kept anti-Assad attitudes alive. Now, all this hatred is coming out. Shia Moslems, dominated by Alawites (12 percent), along with the Druze and Christian minorities, are generally considered the enemy by most Sunni Syrians. The Shia are particularly nervous because the Sunni conservatives openly call Shia (particularly Alawites) heretics and subject to extermination. Yet some Shia, even some Alawites, now side with the rebels, despite trust issues. While the Islamic radical rebel groups consider all non-Sunnis as the enemy, the SNC takes a more tolerant view and had had some success in persuading minorities (even some Alawites) that a post Assad government would be inclusive and, yes, that would mean more fighting to deal with Sunni Islamic radical attempts to impose a religious dictatorship. Meanwhile, the Islamic terror groups are useful, in a grim way, because they have increasingly used terror tactics on pro-Assad civilians, in some cases killing entire families.
Many American counter-terrorism experts believe that Syria will become a major terrorist threat as long as it is a magnet for Islamic terrorists from all over the world and that even if the Islamic radicals are not able to seize control of Syria once the Assad government falls, they will probably have part of the country and will be using that as a base for further attacks. Most of the neighbors (Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon) are already experiencing problems from Islamic terrorist groups in Syria. They expect this to get worse once the Assads weaken.
While rebels fight each other as well as the Assad forces, the violence throughout much of the country has cut millions off from reliable food supplies. People are beginning to starve to death. Most of the victims are either elderly or young children. But lots of adults look very thin.
Meanwhile, Baser Assad says that to destroy his chemical weapons will require a billion dollars and take a year. For anything like that to happen Assad also has to agree to allow hundreds of UN inspectors in to supervise the process. At the moment the Syrian government line is that they have stalled the rebels. Meanwhile, the rebels openly accuse the West of using the chemical weapons deal as an excuse to not attack Assad and give the rebels the air support they need so badly. The chemical weapons agreement is seen as a successful Assad ploy to keep foreign intervention out for at least a year.
September 25, 2013: FSA rebels took control of the main border crossing between Syria and Jordan. There is a major American training operation for the rebels in Jordan, as well as a supply base for donated weapons and equipment. The rebels are trying to build a large enough force on the border to make a serious move against Damascus to the north. That has been stalled by the arrival of thousands of Hezbollah gunmen from Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client of Iran and is following orders to get involved with a war that is very unpopular with most Lebanese.
September 23, 2013: In the north (Idlib province) an Iraqi Islamic terrorist leader (Abu Abdullah Libi) was killed, apparently by secular rebels. This has led to more fighting between Islamic and secular rebels up there.
September 22, 2013: A rebel mortar shell hit the Russian embassy compound, wounding three people.
September 21, 2013: Syria handed over data describing its chemical weapons and where they are. The UN is now studying the data to determine if it is complete.
September 20, 2013: FSA and Islamic terrorist fighters in the north, near Aleppo, arranged a truce with each other. It lasted a few days before falling apart.
September 18, 2013: Near the Turkish border, north of Aleppo, Islamic radicals from Iraq fought secular rebels and drove them out of the town of Azaz.