Marriage Of Convenience

A recent item in the Long War Journal informs us that it appears that al-Qaeda is consolidating a Waziristan-style presence in Eastern Syria. Nothing happens in Syria without the consent of the Ba’ath Party, and the story does indeed tell us that there appears to be a working partnership in place between al-Qaeda and former Iraqi Ba’athists.

This has to be an uneasy alliance, I should think. For starters, there has been considerable tension in the past between the Iraqi Ba’ath Party and the original Syrian branch, although I would expect that with the party banned in Iraq that particular hatchet is likely buried for the moment. But there are very deep ideological rifts between the Ba’athists, who are more or less secular pan-Arab Marxists, and al-Qaeda, who obviously have as their goal the restoration of an Islamist theocracy. (Indeed one of the Ba’ath Party’s founding intellectuals, Michel Aflaq, was a Christian who saw in a secular, trans-national Arabist movement a way to avoid minority status under Islam — and in principle the Ba’athists, by favoring a secular state, are in violation of one of Ibn Wahhab’s Ten Voiders of Islam, and are thereby apostates.) Complicating things further, the Syrian Ba’ath Party has been led for decades by Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, who are Alawi Shi’ites; al-Qaeda, of course, is a Sunni organization, has no love for the Shi’a, and has been responsible for many attacks on Shi’ites in Iraq and elsewhere. (To get a feel for the depth of this animosity, read Section 3, for example, of this 2004 letter from Osama bin Laden’s deputy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to his chief.)

It is often pointed out that the Islamic world is far from monolithic, and that there are many orthogonal axes along which alliances (and fractures) can develop. These two players have common ground as Muslims, and as Arabs, and as enemies of the United States, and it seems that’s enough for now. I suppose they figure they can sort each other out once we’re out of the picture.

Story here.

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