Saturday, 12 November 2016

Former UK ambassador to Syria says moderate rebel groups in Syria are 'largely a figment of the imagination'.

88.The composition of the groups referred to, and whether Islamist groups actually constitute part of what the Mr Cameron labelled the “moderate opposition”, has been a key focus of our inquiry. Questioned about the complexion of the armed Syrian opposition, the Secretary of State replied in a Written Answer on 19 October 2015:
There are a number of moderate opposition forces focused on fighting the Assad regime. Many are also fighting ISIL in areas of strategic importance, for example north of Aleppo. The vast majority of these opposition groups are Islamist”.117
In a similar vein, the then Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee, on 12 January 2016, that some of the groups he had identified were Islamist and would not necessarily share the same interpretation of democracy as elected Westminster parliamentarians:
Are all of these people impeccable democrats who would share the view of democracy that you and I have?—no. Some of them do belong to Islamist groups and some of them belong to relatively hard-line Islamist groups. None the less, that is the best estimate of the people that we have potentially to work with.118
89.A number of our witnesses challenged the use of the term ‘moderate’. Dr Afzal Ashraf of RUSI told us that “every single group I have come across, with one possible exception, has a name that alludes to an Islamist ideology”. While he noted that some had been described to him as a “cuddly form of Islamist”, and despite such groups offering the opportunity for cooperation in the short term, he believed that “in the long term you will suffer”. As examples he highlighted Jamaat-e-Islami’s offspring, which he argued were “creating increasing havoc in Pakistan and Bangladesh”, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s offspring, which previously “have led to the formation of al-Qaeda and DAESH”.119
90.Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria went further. He described the existence of moderate opposition groups in Syria as “largely a figment of the imagination”.120 It is recognised that the figure quoted by the then Prime Minister came from the Joint Intelligence Committee who would be likely to have greater and more timely information than Mr Ford. Dr Frederick Kagan also argued that “virtually all the opposition is Islamist, one way or another, at this point”. He said that in terms of assessing the opposition forces, the distinction lay between Salafi jihadi groups (for example Jabhat al-Nusra, DAESH, and Ahrar al-Sham) and political Islamist groups121 tied to the Muslim Brotherhood; the latter being “the likeliest source of acceptable allies that we could work with”.122

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