ISI-L's Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is stated to have decisively defeated his Syrian rival and onetime comrade-in-arms Abu Muhamad al-Julani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, for control over the ability to determine the militant Salafist group's future direction in the Syrian civil war. al-Baghdadi, as the leader of the "Iraqi faction" of ISI-L, is continuing the long practice of conflict waged against other Sunni militant fighting groups that was one of the hallmarks of Iraq's al-Qaeda affiliated fighters during the Coalition occupation of the country. It is likely that the Iraqi faction of ISI-L, which is also believed to claim the loyalty of the largest contingent of foreign jihadists in Syria, is convinced that it has the strength on the ground inside of the country to stand "toe-to-toe" against the resources of anti-Assad, Western nations (including Turkey) that are actively seeking to support fighting groups aligned with the FSA-SMC. In northern Syria, ISI-L's increasing control over checkpoints leading from border crossings between Turkey and Syria in the Aleppo agro-city region, where much of the foreign assistance for the rebels' war efforts is routed, allows the group to be a decisive arbiter to decide in that key front of the conflict who in the armed opposition receives war supplies.
This is a position of strength for ISI-L, and one that will be difficult to dislodge it from. The killing of Kamal Hamami, at a checkpoint leading to the front-lines of the conflict for his native governorate, is indicative of how much influence on the ground the Western-backed armed opposition groups lack. One ironic consequence of Hamami's death could be a "shock" applied to the FSA-SMC's Western allies that would compel them to significantly increase lethal assistance to the group. Anti-Assad, Western nations may also approve of FSA-SMC launched attacks against ISI-L, especially in strategic northwestern Syria, in order to reduce or remove the militant Salafist organization's control over logistical routes into the front-lines of the war.
Nicholas A. Heras is a Co-Founder and the Research Program Strategist of 361 Security