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In 'Free Syria,' the opposition tries its hand at being the boss

In the small section of northern Syria now beyond government control, the local opposition is filling the power vacuum, ensuring people are fed and that criminals stand trial.


Members of the Free Syrian Army gather around a map in Aleppo September 3.

Shaam News Network/REUTERS

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In the last month, a tiny slice of Syria north of Aleppo has wrested itself free of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Local towns are still targeted by regular air strikes and artillery fire, but for the moment, those are the only vestiges of the Syrian regime.

In what residents now call “Free Syria,” citizens are creating their own local governments that manage everything from bread lines to murder trials. They even control the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey, where they place their own official stamp on visitors’ passports.

These transitional governments are usually volunteer efforts that rely on donations from wealthy residents when funding is required and, in the absence of official state codes, often resort to Islamic law.

In Akhtrin, a small village about 30 miles northeast of Aleppo, Ahmad Ibrahim, an agricultural worker and Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander, now finds himself serving as the town’s de facto mayor.

“In this village, about 70 or 80 percent of the people are uneducated,” says Mr. Ibrahim. “I studied law for about two years so they decided I should be the leader.”

Chronic food shortages in the war-torn region have made managing bread rations a key priority. Ibrahim says that he and his fellow villagers created a ration card system and have even managed to subsidize bread through the donations of several residents who can afford to help.


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