A group of 30 civilian and military opposition members met in Turkey to name Brigadier Selim Idris, a former Assad army officer, as the new head of the joint military command. The take-away from most media organizations is that some of the most prominent military defectors have been excluded, and that the « Islamists » with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be dominating this entire process:
Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.
Absent from the group is Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army and Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior officer known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Asaad and Sheikh were not part of the 263-man meeting in Antalia. Also excluded was general Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect from the military since the uprising erupted in March last year.
The general narrative misses a few key points. The first is that this organization also excludes the most radical elements of the Syrian uprising, especially ones associated with Jabhat al Nusra and the other groups that are especially strong in the far eastern districts of Syria. Instead, they tend to favor the strongest military units in the west, groups which have ties to Islamic conservatism but have rejected the jihadi elements.
The second point that this narrative misses is that the US may be the big loser here – Riad al Assad has strong ties with Turkey, and has long been favored by the US administration as the clear military leader. The only problem is that this sentiment has never been echoed inside Syria. This is further evidence that while the US is working to build ties with the civilian leadership, it’s control over the military leadership in Syria is severely lacking.