Syria: FSA appoints new leader as it moves south

Former Free Syrian Army Brigadier General Selim Idriss speaking during a press confrence at the European Union Parliament in Brussels. The Free Syrian Army announced on February 16, 2014, it had fired Selim Idriss as its military chief and appointed Abdel al-Ilah al-Bachir to replace him. In a video broadcast on the Internet, the rebel coalition said its military council had decided to replace Idriss because of "the difficulties faced by the Syrian revolution" in its battle with President Bashar al-Assad's regime. (Photo: AFP- John Thys)

By: Elie Hanna

Published Monday, February 17, 2014

Salim Idriss has been sacked due to the “paralysis within the military command over the past months,” a Free Syrian Army (FSA) statement declared. With this, the so-called moderate rebels seem to be deploying a new weapon in their arsenal, focusing their crosshairs on the front that runs along the border with Jordan. This requires a commander from southern Syria, to complement the work of Jamal Maarouf, the man spearheading the FSA’s campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the north.

In with Assaad Mustafa, out with Salim Idriss. On February 14, Mustafa, the “defense minister” in the Syrian National Coalition’s “interim government,” resigned due to sharp differences with Idriss, the outgoing FSA chief of staff. Mustafa has now rescinded his resignation, and Idriss was fired on February 16 and replaced by Abdul-Ilah al-Noeimi, commander of the Military Council of the Quneitra Governorate in southwestern Syria.

__title__Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir al-Noeimi

These developments point to an attempt to create momentum for a renewed push by “moderate” fighters. Idriss, who had turned from an FSA spokesperson to a commander leading a handful of armed groups, has failed, with factions threatening to withdraw from the FSA.

This has prompted the National Coalition and its backers to bet on a different horse, namely, the commander of the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) Jamal Maarouf, who has been rising through the ranks of the armed opposition forces.

The second round of Geneva II had barely concluded when SNC head Jarba visited the rebels in Idlib and its surrounding rural area. He sat next to Maarouf, the man who declared war on ISIS last month, and who also happens to be very close to Assaad Mustafa.

In other words, after the failure of peace negotiations in Geneva, Jarba decided to go back to the same claim he was touting after his election as National Coalition leader: revolution until victory.

This expected weaponry could flow to one destination exclusively. Indeed, in the north, the crossings of Bab al-Hawa (Idlib), Jarablos (Aleppo), and Tel al-Abyad (al-Raqqa) have all fallen to ISIS. In truth, when the FSA lost its weapons caches in Bab al-Hawa in December 2013, the FSA also lost the confidence and support of its US and European backers. But according to Reuters, foreign assistance to the FSA resumed in late January.

All eyes now are on the south of Syria, especially the region bordering Jordan. Noeimi’s appointment coincided with the release of information stating that the armed Syrian opposition is in the process of relocating its main command and control center from Turkey to the Jordanian border city of Ramtha, posing a real threat to Damascus’s southern flank.

__title__Talal Abdul-Ilah al-Noeimi

This was one reason why Noeimi was chosen. Defected Colonel Haitham Afisi was also appointed as Noeimi’s deputy. Afisi is the commander of the Maarat al-Naaman Martyrs Brigade and a commander of the SRF, operating under the leadership of Jamal Maarouf.

Noeimi is a Syrian army general who defected on July 13, 2012. He was later appointed chief of the FSA Military Council in the Quneitra Governorate. He had defected along with several officers from his tribe, al-Noeim, which is present throughout the villages of the Golan Heights and the Quneitra countryside. The officers include: Adnan al-Rafi, Saleh al-Hammada al-Noeimi, and Saleh Bashir al-Noeimi.

Noeimi is not someone who calls for foreign intervention behind closed doors. In an August 2013 interview, he openly called for support from the European Union and the United States, “to either supply the FSA with advanced weapons to defeat the regime or carry out strikes against selected targets belonging to Bashar al-Assad’s army by NATO forces, under the umbrella of the EU.”

Noeimi also admitted to holding meetings with the Iranian opposition, saying, “Our enemy is one, the regime in Tehran, the enemy of all countries in the region. Assad’s fall will cause velayat-e faqih [clerical rule] to also fall in Iran.”

In the same month, Noeimi delivered a speech at an Iranian opposition conference in Paris, and said, “We stand alongside the Iranian resistance and Mojahedin-e-Khalq out of our profound belief that we are facing the same enemy … our victory is your victory, and your victory is our victory.”

It is worth noting that Talal, Noeimi’s son, was killed on November 26, 2013 in clashes with the Syrian army in the countryside of Quneitra.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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