Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Syrian Opposition Faces Feuds over Leadership Reform

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Syrian Opposition Faces Feuds over Leadership Reform

Article excerpt

DOHA, Qatar -- Over the coming days, Syria's anti-regime camp will wrangle over reorganizing its ranks, as the United States pushes a proposal to create a new leadership body with fewer Syrian exiles and more military commanders fighting on the ground to bring down President Bashar Assad.

But there are serious doubts whether the divided and ideologically diverse factions can come together into a structure the U.S. and its allies can work with.

Hundreds of Syrian opposition figures are taking part in a five- day conference starting today in the Qatari capital Doha, seen as the most serious push yet to forge a united front to help end the 19- month conflict that has killed over 36,000 people and left much of the country in ruins.

For the United States, it represents an opportunity to overhaul Syria's fragmented opposition leadership, which is widely seen as petty, ineffective and cut off from the events on the ground. Washington hopes a more cohesive and representative body can provide a reliable partner, buffer against interference by extremists and help bring Syria allies Russia and China on board with change.

The key issue is whether the main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which consists largely of academics and Syrian exiles, will accept a U.S.-backed proposal to set up a new 50- member leadership team with more representatives from inside Syria.

Under the new plan, called the Syrian National Initiative, the new leadership would include representatives of the rebels' Free Syrian army, political groups and local councils in Syria. The SNC would also be included but its influence would be diluted significantly.

Burhan Ghalioun, a senior SNC member, said Saturday that the group is willing to consider the idea, but hasn't decided yet. Potential members of the new leadership will discuss the initiative Thursday. …

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