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Al Qaeda Groups in Iraq and Syria Merge

Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The ongoing volatile situation in Syria has become even more treacherous with the announcement Tuesday that an al Qaeda group based in Iraq has joined forces with the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front that is fighting to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since al-Assad began a violent crackdown on his opposition more than two years ago, more Islamic militants have joined in the conflict, making it harder for Washington and its allies to determine how to assist the insurgency in Syria without strengthening terrorist elements.

The U.S. supports the Free Syrian Army's efforts to depose al-Assad but the West has only provided the group with non-lethal aid, fearing that any arms could fall into the hands of the Nusra Front, a black-listed terrorist organization.

Now, the task of helping Damascus' enemies becomes more difficult with the Islamic State in Iraq declaring it has merged with the Nusra Front.  Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said the single group would now be known as the Islamic State in Iraq.

In a message to the entire Syrian insurgency, al-Baghdadi suggested ominously that those who oppose al Qaeda should not allow their desire for democracy to stand in the way of defeating al-Assad.

The Free Syrian Army is already at odds with the Nusra Front for it violent tactics that include bomb attacks against innocent civilians.

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