Al Qaeda’s Name Game in Syria

Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment has long seen Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front as a strategic ally in Syria – and now hopes a name change will protect it through President Obama’s last months, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The Nusra Front’s adoption of the new name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and claim that it has separated itself from Al Qaeda was designed to influence U.S. policy, not to make the group any more independent of Al Qaeda.

The objective of the maneuver was to head off U.S.-Russian military cooperation against the jihadist group, renamed last week, based at least in part on the hope that the U.S. bureaucratic and political elite, who are lining up against a new U.S.-Russian agreement, may block or reverse the Obama administration’s intention to target Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria.

Syrian refugees await the arrival of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his visit to the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. The settlement has grown to house nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees since it opened in 2012. March 27, 2016. (Photo from the United Nations)

Syrian refugees await the arrival of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his visit to the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. The settlement has grown to house nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees since it opened in 2012. March 27, 2016. (Photo from the United Nations)

The leader of the Syrian jihadist organization Mohammad al-Golani and Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri both made a great deal of the public encouragement that Zawahiri gave to separation from the parent organization. The idea was that the newly rebranded and supposedly independent jihadist organization in Syria would be better able to fulfill its role in the Syrian revolution.

But to anyone who has followed the politics of Nusra Front’s role in the Syrian war, the idea that Zawahiri would actually allow its Syrian franchise to cut loose from the central leadership and function with full independence is obviously part of a political sham.

Charles Lister, the British expert on Syrian jihadism who is now a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, observed in May that Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has acquired a huge political stake in Nusra Front’s success in dominating the war against the Assad regime, which it views as the jewel in the crown of its global operation, along with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group’s…

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