Fledgling Syria rebel government faces uphill battle


The opposition Syrian National Coalition announced a new government this week, after months of delays, facing challenges on the ground from Kurds seeking autonomy and al-Qaida groups that reject its authority.

The interim government is under pressure to quickly provide services to citizens living in large swaths of rebel-held territory, particularly in Syria’s north.

But the fractious internal politics of the coalition, along with the strength of al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists on the ground and advances by regime troops all pose key challenges for the new government.

Members of the coalition acknowledge that the government’s first priority will be to prove itself by offering badly needed public services.

“The primary goal of the government will be to ease the living conditions of citizens living in the liberated areas by providing them with the services they need on the ground,” said Monzer Aqbiq, an adviser to coalition President Ahmed Jarba.

On Monday, the coalition announced the selection of nine ministers, though several posts were left empty after members failed to agree on names.

An interim prime minister, moderate Islamist Ahmed Tomeh, had already been chosen for the post on Sept. 14.

The newly chosen ministers include Vice Prime Minister Iyad Qudsi, Defense Minister Assad Mustapha, Economy and Finance Minister Ibrahim Miro and Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Yassin Najjar.

Uthman al-Dawi will take on the job of local administration and humanitarian aid, Fayez Zaher that of justice, Elias Warde energy and Walid al-Zohbi infrastructure and agriculture.

The Cabinet includes a single woman, Taghrid Hajali, who will take the culture and family portfolio.

The coalition failed to agree on who would fill the posts of the interior, health and housing ministries.

Speaking in Istanbul on Tuesday, Tomeh said civil order, security and basic human needs are to be the top priorities in zones under rebel control.

He said his government would be one of “work and not words . . . and will have as its top priorities establishing security and civil order in the liberated zones of Syria and to respond to vital needs.”

He also confirmed his team’s commitment to the “general policies of the coalition,” and said his people would work to “activate the role of local councils to administer cities, towns and villages and respond to the needs of citizens.”

He said they would also set up a special agency to provide aid to Palestinian refugees inside Syria and abroad.

The government is coming late to providing services on the ground. In Kurdish areas, local councils have taken over administration and security, providing several rare spots of quiet and relative normality.

And on Tuesday they announced the formation of their own autonomous regional administration.

Meanwhile, jihadist groups including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have been busy for months distributing food and even school supplies.

Groups like the al-Nusra and ISIS do not recognize the authority of the coalition, which is based in Turkey.

“The prime minister is in contact with the forces present on the ground and many of them, particularly those who are acting under the flag of the coalition, have expressed their willingness to cooperate with the government and protect its officials to allow them to supply services to citizens,” Aqbiq said.

“There are terrorist groups like ISIS that are affiliated with al-Qaida and refuse to cooperate with the government, which represent a challenge we will have to confront,” he added.