The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading
In response to the recent rounds of the Russian-organized “peace” talks in Astana, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s restructured presence in Syria, put out a statement through its Fatwa Council on 9 May 2017, “The legal position concerning the latest events and developments facing the Syrian revolution”. HTS’s fatwa was a declaration of war against all parts of the rebellion participating in the Astana conferences, which HTS labelled a conspiracy to defeat the revolution and secure Bashar al-Assad in power. The statement is clearly intended against the mainstream rebellion, which operates under the colours of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and has shown signs of coalescing into an anti-HTS alliance. HTS’s paranoia about the rebels being repurposed against it has led to previous “pre-emptive” attacks that might well have precipitated the very thing it feared. Perhaps most interesting, however, is HTS saying that it would treat as an enemy actors who “allow [the Astana-compliant factions] to work under their banner”. The reference here is to Ahrar al-Sham, a heretofore close ally of HTS, its key enabler in infiltrating and co-opting large sections of the northern insurgency, which in January sheltered various groups that survived the first wave of HTS attacks to prevent their destruction. The statement was translated by al-Maqalaat and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and the key sections highlighted in bold.
On 28 January, as a part of its long-term strategy of integrating with, and ultimately co-opting, the Syrian rebellion, al-Qaeda shifted ground again and merged into a wider spectrum of insurgent groups, many of them jihadi in character, but many not, united under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). One of the non-jihadi groups to join HTS was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which became infamous in July 2016 after it beheaded one of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s child soldiers on video. This has aroused some controversy in jihadi circles, and today a statement by a jihadi ideologue, Abu Mahmud al-Filistini, who lives in London, was circulating explaining why HTS was right to take in al-Zengi. The statement was entitled, “Clearing the Doubts Regarding Nooradeen al-Zengi Uniting with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and is reproduced below. Continue reading
After a horrific suicide bombing by IS at a Kurdish wedding in eastern Turkey had slaughtered more than fifty people on Saturday, Turkey moved to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Jarabulus in eastern Aleppo Province at about 4 AM on Wednesday morning. IS was swept from this last major border town in Syria, a key gateway for resources to the outside world, around ten hours later.
Operation EUPHRATES SHIELD saw Turkey put troops and tanks over the border publicly for the first time, and allow the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-branded and other mainstream Syrian rebels who have been battling IS for years to use Turkish territory to launch the assault. It was supported by airstrikes from the international anti-IS coalition.
For Turkey, this is a strong indication of a change in her threat-perception vis-à-vis IS, but it is also about a (correctly) perceived threat of what was to follow IS. Continue reading
Five years ago today protests broke out in a small town in southern Syria and, carried by social media, spread throughout the country.
For about six months, the Syrian uprising would be mostly peaceful, but inevitably the population fought back as the regime of Bashar al-Assad—aided from the earliest stages by Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hizballah—widened and intensified its violent crackdown.
In yet another unexpected turn, the last few weeks have seen the revival of this early spirit of the revolution to its strongest point in years. Continue reading
Published at NOW Lebanon.
So the Syrian opposition can unite. Foreign powers have been the major cause of rebel discord. Previous rebel unity initiatives like the Joint Command were pulled apart by the competition between the insurgency’s sponsors—Saudi Arabia and Qatar primarily—and the last rebel umbrella group, the Supreme Military Council, which was identified with Western power, collapsed after President Barack Obama decided not to punish Bashar al-Assad for the massive chemical weapons attack on the population of Ghouta. But under Saudi auspices, an opposition “team” was announced on December 10 after a three-day conference in Riyadh, which includes the political and military opposition and groups with varying ideologies and patrons. This is an achievement. Unfortunately, this team’s task is an impossible one: intended to partake in the Vienna process begun in October, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the war, Syria is not, at present, in a condition where a political agreement can be made and implemented, not least because the Assad regime and its supporters in Iran and Russia have doubled down, and the opposition continues to receive insufficient support to pressure the regime enough to force an agreement. Continue reading
A version of this article was published at Middle East Eye.
The Syrian opposition is meeting in Saudi Arabia between December 8 and 10 in an attempt to create a unified structure that can credibly sit across the table from the Bashar al-Assad regime in the internationally-organised peace talks in Vienna, and make a binding commitment on the path forward for Syria. Continue reading