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Should US Ally with Al Qaeda in Syria?

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   9 comments

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Reprinted from Consortium News


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The key sentence in The New York Times' lead article about Russian airstrikes against Syrian rebel targets fell to the bottom of the story, five paragraphs from the end, where the Times noted in passing that the area north of Homs where the attacks occurred had been the site of an offensive by a coalition "including Nusra Front."

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What the Times didn't say in that context was that Nusra Front is Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, an omission perhaps explained because this additional information would disrupt the righteous tone of the article, accusing Russia of bad faith in attacking rebel groups other than the Islamic State.

But the Russians had made clear their intent was to engage in airstrikes against the melange of rebel groups in which Al Qaeda as well as the Islamic State played prominent roles. The Times and the rest of the mainstream U.S. media are just playing games when they pretend otherwise.

Plus, the reality about Syria's splintered rebel coalition is that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the few "moderate" rebels and the many Sunni extremists. Indeed, many "moderates," including some trained and armed by the CIA and Pentagon, have joined with Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, even turning over U.S. weapons and equipment to this affiliate of the terrorist organization that attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Lest we forget it was that event that prompted the direct U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

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However, in recent months, the Israeli government and its American neoconservative allies have been floating trial balloons regarding whether Al Qaeda could be repackaged as Sunni "moderates" and become a de facto U.S. ally in achieving a "regime change" in Syria, ousting President Bashar al-Assad who has been near the top of the Israeli/neocon hit list for years.

A key neocon propaganda theme has been to spin the conspiracy theory that Assad and the Islamic State are somehow in cahoots and thus Al Qaeda represents the lesser evil. Though there is no evidence to support this conspiracy theory, it was even raised by Charlie Rose in his "60 Minutes" interview last Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The reality is that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have both been leading the fight to destroy the secular Assad government, which has fought back against both groups.

And, if these two leading terror groups saw a chance to raise their black flags over Damascus, they might well mend their tactical rifts. They would have much to gain by overthrowing Assad's regime, which is the principal protector of Syria's Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other "heretics."

The primary dispute between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which began as "Al Qaeda in Iraq," is when to start a fundamentalist caliphate. The Islamic State believes the caliphate can begin now while Al Qaeda says the priority should be mounting more terrorist attacks against the West.

Yet, if Damascus falls, the two groups could both get a measure of satisfaction: the Islamic State could busy itself beheadings the "heretics" while Al Qaeda could plot dramatic new terror attacks against Western targets, a grim win-win.

One might think that the U.S. government should focus on averting such an eventuality, but the hysterical anti-Russian bias of The New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media means that whatever Putin does must be cast in the most negative light.

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The Anti-Putin Frenzy

On Thursday, one CNN anchor ranted about Putin's air force attacking "our guys," i.e., CIA-trained rebels, and demanded to know what could be done to stop the Russian attacks. This frenzy was fed by the Times' article, co-written by neocon national security correspondent Michael R. Gordon, a leading promoter of the Iraq-WMD scam in 2002.

The Times' article pushed the theme that Russians were attacking the white-hatted "moderate" rebels in violation of Russia's supposed commitment to fight the Islamic State only. But Putin never restricted his military support for the Assad government to attacks on the Islamic State.

Indeed, even the Times began that part of the story by citing Putin's quote that Russia was acting "preventatively to fight and destroy militants and terrorists on the territories that they already occupied." Putin did not limit Russia's actions to the Islamic State.

But the Times' article acts as if the phrase "militants and terrorists" could only apply to the Islamic State, writing: "But American officials said the attack was not directed at the Islamic State but at other opposition groups fighting against the [Syrian] government."

Unless The New York Times no longer believes that Al Qaeda is a terrorist group, the Times' phrasing doesn't make sense. Indeed, Al Qaeda's Nusra Front has emerged as the lead element of the so-called Army of Conquest, a coalition of rebel forces which has been using sophisticated U.S. weaponry including TOW missiles to achieve major advances against the Syrian military around the city of Idlib.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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