How Kuwait And Saudi Arabia Are Becoming A ‘Virtual Western Union’ For Syria’s Rebels

Nov 15, 2013

A man displays part of a mortar launched by the Syrian Army that destroyed the house behind him in al-Qsair - February 9, 2012
Credit Freedom House / Flickr Creative Commons

Private donors have contributed tens of millions of dollars to Islamist militias in Syria, dividing the opposition even further and forcing the United States to reexamine who it backs in the region.

The New York Times reports the practice is adding a “wild card” to the war in Syria.

One Kuwait-based effort raised money to equip 12,000 rebel fighters for $2,500 each. Another campaign, run by a Saudi sheikh based in Syria and close to Al Qaeda, is called “Wage Jihad With Your Money.” Donors earn “silver status” by giving $175 for 50 sniper bullets, or “gold status” by giving twice as much for eight mortar rounds.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the widely-read blog Syria Comment, says militias are raising money the way any non-governmental organization would.

“They're making YouTube presentations,” Landis says. “It's the same use of what we've seen pioneered in America for fundraising for the war front.”

He argues the idea of advancing Islam appeals to these private donors with deep pockets.

“You're going to be working on the side of God,” Landis says. “And you're going to take down a dictator, and that al-Qaeda ultimately is on the side of good. That's where obviously we have a big, big problem in the Middle East.”

And Landis says that’s undermining the rebel cause, since America doesn’t want to be a major funder of the civil war, or turn against the opposition to fight our allies in the region.

“Kuwait, Saudi Arabia – who are the pillars of our policy in the Middle East – that’s the conundrum,” Landis says. “It's one thing going after Iran, an enemy. We can't go after Saudis and Kuwaitis in the same way.”

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