This is not going to end well.
(Reuters) – Syria’s new opposition leaders are struggling to win over powerful Islamist rebel combat units, whose radical elements question whether the “hotel warriors” of the fledgling coalition can offer their fighters any real support.
Islamists have established themselves as the most effective, best armed and fastest growing units in the 20-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Many of them are wary of the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, set up earlier this month in an attempt to unify Assad’s fractured opponents and win greater international support.
“They are the hotel warriors, we are the men in the trenches. No one should be allowed to marginalize us, politically or militarily. These coalitions are just fighting over us and not for us,” said Yassir al-Karaz, a leader in the rebel Tawheed Brigade in northern Aleppo province.
Most rebels are conservative but politically moderate and willing to work with diverse opposition groups. But they were left to their own devices for months in an uprising they dubbed an “orphan revolution” and the challenge to bring them into the fold is made bigger by the rising role of radicals, including al Qaeda-style fighters in Syria.
The problem for the new coalition is maintaining the backing of this crucial bloc of Syrian fighters on the ground while bolstering support from Western powers wary of funding a movement that may be linked to extremist groups.
While the coalition has won formal recognition from Turkey, France, Britain and Gulf Arab states, the response from many Islamist fighters has been skeptical or downright dismissive.
“We are with the coalition – for now. We want to see what it is going to do for us,” said a fighter from one of the biggest Islamist brigades in the capital Damascus.
The Islamists have grown increasingly influential through the course of a civil war in which 38,000 people have been killed, but won minimal aid from Western powers. Radical groups such as the secretive Jabhat al-Nusra and independent foreign fighters have also gained a foothold.
Among the opposition, many civilians and fighters view the Islamists in an increasingly positive light. Their brigades are effective on the battleground and in the villages of northern Syria many credit them with maintaining electricity and water.