Syrian Stage Set for Intra-Islamic Struggle for Power
By Clare M. Lopez
"Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (IPE)" is a military term for analyzing the operational environment, including the adversary and his potential courses of action. The corollary to the IPE process is taking action to help shape that environment in ways advantageous for one's own side and detrimental for the enemy. Such action may be military, but also includes intelligence and psychological operations.
This is what's going on in Syria right now. Bashar al-Assad's regime is going to fall and the only question left is, "How soon?" The forces that will savage one another to succeed him in power in Damascus are beginning to make moves that are calculated to improve their position in the immediate post-Assad period.
Key players are being either removed from the chess board or strategically placed on it. For example, on March 19, 2013, the Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) elected Ghassan Hitto, a senior member of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, as head of an interim opposition government for Syria. Hitto was profiled in an extensive report by the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report (GMBDR) later the same day.
An American Connection
The GMBDR notes that Hitto is a founding member of the Muslim Legal Fund of America and has served as Vice-President of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Dallas-Ft. Worth chapter and Secretary-Treasurer of the American Middle Eastern League for Palestine (AMELP), another name under which the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) operated in the U.S.
CAIR and the IAP have been identified by the U.S. Department of Justice (in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas terror funding trial) and the FBI as part of the Hamas infrastructure in the U.S.
Further, the SNC leadership also includes another senior member of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network who would now be one of Hitto's colleagues, Louay Safi, who (when not acting as an advisor and lecturer for the Pentagon) served as Executive Director of the Leadership Center for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), acknowledged by the Muslim Brotherhood itself as one of its "organizations," as well as Research Director for the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), another Muslim Brotherhood front group.
The response from the Syrian Free Army (SFA) to Hitto's election was not long in coming. They rejected it, asserting that they do not recognize the Qatar-backed Muslim Brother as the legitimate choice of the anti-Assad coalition.
Shortly thereafter, on March 24, 2013, Moaz Khatib, likewise closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (he was the former Imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus), but more closely backed by the SFA, announced his resignation (now apparently since then rescinded as Khatib took the Syrian seat at the Arab League meeting on March 27, 2013).
Khatib, an early opponent of the Bashar al-Assad regime, had been selected in November 2012 to head the Western and Gulf-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Thus, Khatib remains in the fight despite what is described as interference from Saudi Arabia and complaints that unnamed Western nations have been channeling weapons to parties that support their own interests.
In between the Hitto election and the Khatib resignation, a massive explosion inside a Damascus mosque on March 21 killed at least 42 people, including one of the most important remaining Sunni clerical figures still supporting the Assad regime. The suicide bomber who killed Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramada al-Bouti, age 84, removed an influential figure in Sunni Islam and one whose support had been critical to providing religious legitimacy to Assad.
As if the mosque bombing and these moves at the top of the Syrian Opposition Coalition were not confusing enough, somebody tried to assassinate Col. Riad al-Assad, one of the top leaders of the Syrian Free Army, on March 24.
Col. Al-Assad has been described as opposed to the al-Qa'eda (Jabhat al-Nusra) and Muslim Brotherhood militias, which, despite forming a dominant part of the opposition fighting forces, openly tout their plans for a post-Assad Syria that involve establishment of an Islamic sharia-compliant regime.
Grenades and Disinformation
The grenade attack on al-Assad's car did not succeed in killing him, but he had to have one leg amputated after being evacuated to a Turkish hospital for treatment. A flurry of false reports that made the rounds on the internet on March 24 and claimed that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had been assassinated likely was a well-executed information operation, designed to cover Col. Al-Assad's successful evacuation.
The net effect of these events is to position the Qatar-Turkey-and-U.S.-backed Muslim Brotherhood forces firmly in line to control the post-Assad period. The effective removal from the chess board of Sheikh al-Bouti and Col. Al-Assad in particular, and the election of Hitto as the SNC's interim president, all point to IPE moves that marginalize (or remove) any who would stand in the way of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover.
While it is not known at this point who is responsible for the assassination attempt against Col. Al-Assad, a cui bono analysis points to an outcome that aligns most closely with the one preferred by the Qatar-Turkey-U.S. alliance.
This is deeply troubling on a number of counts: First, that the U.S. is not taking the lead to selectively support those elements of the SFA that do not seek another Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Islamic regime in the Middle East; and second, that the U.S. is actively supporting elements of the Syrian opposition that have made no secret of their intent to install another sharia-compliant Islamic regime in Damascus once Assad is gone.
Syria is poised for the next stage in its seemingly endless civil war, which is, in fact, an intra-Islamic struggle for power between the forces of Shi'a and Sunni Islam. While the anti-Assad opposition more or less hung together during the two-year fight to oust him, those factions are now beginning to make the chess board moves that will define the post-Assad scramble for succession power among themselves. If these early moves are any indication, that scramble promises to be savage.