AMMAN — The commander of Syria’s main rebel force is coming under increasing pressure to impose unity on his fighters as the United States and other powers move towards arming the opposition battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
General Salim Idriss, a defector chosen six months ago as consensus figure to lead the rebel Supreme Military Council, is being promoted as a cool head to bring together fractious combat units and curb the influence of radical Islamists.
Idriss’ Supreme Military Council, which runs the Free Syrian Army that looked on the verge of toppling Assad last year, is trying to recover from the loss of the town of Qusair to government troops reinforced by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia this month.
Washington’s decision to arm the council, an umbrella group organised into five geographical fronts, and reports that weapons are also coming in from the Gulf, have put the onus on the East German educated former military academic to forge a single rebel front.
His response to Washington’s offer of military assistance was to call for heavy weapons to fight off an assault on the northern city of Aleppo by Assad’s forces, a battle he must win to keep his campaign on track.
In the absence of a unified political opposition, Idriss is also assuming a political role by sending delegates to the Syrian National Coalition, the civilian arm of the opposition.
But first Idriss has to impose discipline on his own officers and improve the reputation of the military council, which have proved less effective than hardline Islamist units and has struggled to assert its authority on the battlefield.
Like Idriss, most defectors in the Military Council are Sunni Muslims, a group who form the majority of Syria’s population and most of the opposition to Assad. (Reuters)