Syria Opposition to Set Up Interim Government

BEIRUT (AP) -

Syria’s main opposition group is launching its most serious attempt yet to form a rival government to President Bashar Assad’s regime, convening in Turkey on Monday to choose an interim prime minister for areas the rebels control.

Twelve candidates are running, including economists, businessmen and a former Syrian Cabinet minister.

Some warn setting up such a government could close the door to negotiating an end to Syria’s civil war and instead harden the battle lines even more.

Another obstacle is asserting the authority of a government picked by the largely exile-based opposition, especially in areas where Islamic extremist militias dominate.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition needs to take the reins in increasingly chaotic rebel-held areas where many services have broken down, but doing so means taking a political risk, said University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis.

“Obviously [the opposition] has been very frightened of trying, because it does not have a real social base on the ground, and it is worried that if it fails, it will get egg on its face,” said Landis.

The deadlocked Syria conflict, which has claimed 70,000 lives and displaced about 4 million people, entered its third year this weekend.

Leading members of the coalition are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday and Tuesday to pick a prime minister who would put together the interim government, said coalition spokesman Khalid Saleh. A vote is expected by Tuesday, he said.

Twelve candidates have been nominated, though the list could shrink if not all accept their nominations, Saleh said.

In recent months, Islamic extremist militias, particularly the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, have asserted dominance in key battle areas.