The FSA, a collection of tenuously coordinated, moderately Islamic, rebel groups was long the focus of the West’s hopes for ousting President Bashar al-Assad.
But in northern Syria, the FSA has now become a largely criminal enterprise, with commanders more concerned about profits from corruption, kidnapping and theft than fighting the regime, according to a series of interviews with The Sunday Telegraph.
“There are many leaders in the revolution that don’t want to make the regime fall because they are loving the conflict,” said Ahmad al-Knaitry, commander of the moderate Omar Mokhtar brigade in the Jebel az-Zawiya area, south-west of Idlib city. “They have become princes of war; they spend millions of dollars, live in castles and have fancy cars.”
At the beginning of the Syrian war, cafés in Antakya, the dusty Turkish town on the border with Syria, was alive with talk of revolution.
Rebel commanders were often seen poring over maps discussing the next government target. Almost three years later the fight against Bashar al-Assad is long forgotten. Discussion now surrounds fears of the growing power of al-Qaeda’s Syrian outfit, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the criminality and corruption that grips rebel-held areas.
Syria’s north has been divided into a series of fiefdoms run by rival warlords.
With no overarching rule of law, every city, town and village comes under the control of a different commander. A myriad of checkpoints are dotted across the provinces: there are approximately 34 on the short road from the Turkish border to Aleppo alone. It is a dog-eat-dog existence, where men vie for control of territory, money, weapons and smuggling routes; it is, disgruntled civilians say, a competition for the spoils of war.