“Assad’s secret ingredient? The Iraqi military’s unknown invasion of Syria”


In the past year or so, much has been made of the Assad regime’s victories in different areas of Syria. From Aleppo to Daraya and most recently the besieged Homs suburb of Al-Waer, the regime recaptured bastions of Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades across the country. Whilst the Assad regime’s victories have often been put under the label of the “Syrian Army” in general media coverage, the reality of who exactly constitutes that army is generally very different.

Whilst the dominant role of pro-regime foreign militias has been relatively underplayed in general media coverage (especially when compared to the attention given to foreign fighters travelling to Syria to fight for groups such as ISIS), what in particular has been little covered is the role of Iraqi state-backed brigades in the fighting: sectarian Iraqi Shia brigades known collectively as part of the “Popular Mobilisation Units” (PMUs) or al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (Hashd for short). Possessing a sectarian-doctrinal loyalty to the Iranian theocracy, the PMUs receive simultaneous Western and Iranian military backing in the fight against ISIS and other Sunni insurgents inside Iraq. However like ISIS their fighting is not limited just to the borders of Iraq; they are a transnational force who believe in fighting for Iran’s cross-border “Islamic nation”.

Similarly, in stark contrast to the substantial attention devoted in official Western statements to “ISIS’ trampling of national borders”, little has been made of the same process taking place by the PMUs and indeed other pro-Iran groups such as Hezbollah (the latter has also come to experience a relative rapprochement with the United States in the post-Arab Spring era with US officials poignantly declaring that they do not view Hezbollah as a threat, and with the Lebanese Army serving as a security and intelligence conduit between the two sides in the greater fight against Sunni jihadism; indeed there have even been reports of direct coordination against Jabhat al-Nusra).

Numbering somewhere in the region of 20,000+ fighters spread across a dozen core constituent groups (details of the individual PMU factions can be found here in Englishand Arabic), the PMUs fighting in Syria are the single largest component within the pro-Iran coalition fighting for the Assad regime in Syria – twice outnumbering Hezbollah. They view their fighting in Syria as part of an ideological “holy war” – albeit a Shia rather than Sunni one – and have been accused of war crimes inside Syria as well as Iraq. The sectarian nature of their Syrian intervention is reflected in the areas that the PMU groups profess to be fighting in, with the bulk of their fighting concentrated not in the known ISIS strongholds of Raqqa, al-Hasakah or Deir al-Zor but mainly in West Syria and the far-away, anti-ISIS popular bastions of the mainstream Sunni rebel forces (mainly local Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front battalions) in HamaHomsAleppoRural Damascus and Dara’a. In many such crucial battles, as in the regime’s attempts to regain control of Damascus’ besieged suburbs and Aleppo, the Iraqi brigades played a dominant front-line role. Not all PMU groups have however joined in the fighting in Syria, with the Saraya al-Salam (”Peace Companies”) of the influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr notably refusing to do so.

In both Syria and Iraq sectarian PMU groups have been accused of carrying out sectarian cleansing in Sunni areas (often under US air-cover); including emptying villages from their inhabitants, razing their homes to the ground, and partaking in extreme brutality and torture against their opponents. Inside Iraq the militias receive direct military support(including aerial cover) from the US and its allies as well as salaries, machinery and armsprovided by the Western-backed Iraqi government (whilst the US has also taken part in training select PMU groups). The PMUs have arguably played the most decisive role in the Assad regime’s victories in the past year, surpassing the much more media-reported role of Hezbollah. It was their increased presence that was decisive in capturing rebel-held strongholds (which Hezbollah and the Syrian Army for years proved uncapable of), most prominently East Aleppo and the Damascus suburb of Daraya. Though not as extensive, there have also been reports of regular Iraqi security personnel belonging toSWAT teamsSpecial Operation Forces (SOF) and ‘Rapid Response Units‘ fighting alongside the PMUs in Syria.

The years-long Western backing of Iraqi brigades who fight for Assad in Syria has received scant to little coverage in mainstream Western media, despite both their decisive role in support of Assad and the reality of their Western backing being well-reported by Syrian groups and activists. Ironically, much of ‘alternative’ media and anti-war platforms have also similarly largely ignored their critical intervention inside Syria, perhaps viewing it as an uncomfortable, complex contradiction to a long-propagated and comfortable (yet false and simplistic) ‘regime-change’ narrative.

Meanwhile, in much mainstream media coverage from the frontlines of Mosul, it would be common to find BBC and Sky News journalists declaring that they were “embedded with the Iraqi Army” whilst the flags of a PMU faction could be seen clearly flying in the background. Yet whilst this form of coverage (of presenting sect-based militias to Western audiences as a ‘national’ – i.e. non-sectarian – regular army) can be deceiving, the PMU groups nonetheless have indeed been the backbone of the Iraqi state’s forces and long constituted the closest Iraq had to an effective ‘army’. There is thus a combined ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ media failure on much of reporting regarding Syria.

Whilst having previously qualified as a ‘substate militia’ – albeit one still operating with official state sanction – as of November 2016 the ‘militias’ finally and officially became legally integrated into the Iraqi Armed Forces. Their fighters are thus salaried members of the Iraqi military under the command of the Iraqi Commander in Chief, the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Thus the Iraqi PMUs are in fact no longer ‘militias’ (indeed, some PMU leaders insist on no longer being called this), but in fact Iraqi military brigades.

What this means, in other words, is that the Iraqi military is occupying Syria.

Western governments have of course been fully aware for years that the same PMU brigades who they support inside Iraq also fight across the border for Assad in Syria, yet they have for years kept this quiet and relied on the lack of coverage of the issue in Western media (as with so many other aspects of Syria, a lack of coverage not helped by the ‘complexity’ of the issue). Indeed, the US and UK arguably allowed and facilitated the capture of the revolutionary, democratically-governed town of Daraya in an offensive led by Iraqi brigades in August 2016 – blocking Saudi and Qatari military supplies to the rebels via the Jordanian border whilst taking no action against the thousands of Iraqi state fighters entering Syria to fight for Assad. The ‘evacuated’ or ‘transferred’ (to use the regime’s terminologies) residents of Daraya joined the growing list of towns which have been recaptured from the regime and allegedly “cleansed” of their original inhabitants.

Whilst the PMUs have always been state-backed – meaning that the distinction between ‘state-sanctioned militia’ and ‘official military brigade’ can be a fine one – clarifying the nuances in the terminology is nonetheless an important endeavour. For terminology plays a large part in the confusion – and for Western power-holders, obfuscation – of the decisive role of the PMU brigades inside Syria. Within the dominant existing lexicon the PMUs are commonly referred to as ‘Iraqi Shia’ or ‘Iranian proxy’ militias, yet more accurate definitions (especially since the PMUs’ legal integration into the Iraqi military) would clearly underline the statist nature of these groups, whether that entails labeling them specifically as ‘Iraqi military PMUs’ or simply as ‘Iraqi military brigades’.

Furthermore, acknowledging these forces as official state actors opens up a series of legal questions. Indeed, it should be remembered that the US began its destruction of Iraq in 1991 after it invaded ‘sovereign’ Kuwait, yet today it is effectively supporting the ‘sovereign’ troops of its regional ally occupying Syrian territory.

There are two crucial factors that have provided Western governments with the necessary deniability of this pro-Assad role in Syria (though they have been seldom interrogated on the matter). The first is the claim that the groups are militias, i.e. with the implication of being “out-of-control” non-state actors on which Western governments could exercise no leverage. Yet this is patently mistaken: as well as indirect Western arms provisions via the Iraqi government, warplanes of the US-led coalition have also directly provided vital aerial cover to PMU brigades (including such Assad-supporting groups as Iraqi Hezbollah, the League of the Righteous/Asa’ib ahl al-Haq and the Badr organisation) in military operations against ISIS in Iraq.

Indeed, the PMU brigades can be commonly found in Iraq driving US Humveys and APCs provided by the Iraqi government, and have even been documented fighting for Assad inside Syria in US tanks and Humveys. Meanwhile the flight of Iraqi PMU fighters from Baghdad to Damascus takes place directly under the eyes of US military personnel and officials present in the country (for symbolic value, a US military base surrounds and protects the same Baghdad airport which serves as Assad’s Iraqi conduit). The US could easily condition military support to the Iraqi government to the “verifiable closure of the country’s airspace… to pro-Assad convoys” – and has been advised to do so since 2013 – but chooses not to.

The second factor is the relegation of the Iraqi nature of these groups to simply being ‘Iranian proxies’. Indeed, commonly used terms by many anti-Assad Syrians for the pro-Assad PMUs include ‘sectarian militias’, ‘Iraqi Shia militias’, ‘Iranian-backed militias’ or even simply ‘Iranian militias’. Yet this is ultimately a simplification; for whilst the invading PMUs are indeed ideologically-sectarian groups supported by Iran, this does not preclude them from being simultaneously backed by Western governments. That the Iraqi state has become largely a sectarian Iranian proxy does not negate the existence of that state or the backing that it receives from Western powers, and ultimately the PMUs form a crucial part of the Iraqi state apparatus alongside their simultaneous role as an Iranian foreign proxy. Furthermore, such descriptions of the PMUs as more or less ‘Iranian’ provide deniability to Western governments, since it can be claimed that Iran – unlike Iraq – is not a main beneficiary of Western military support. The legal commander-in-chief of the PMUs is the Iraqi Prime Minister, not an Iranian general.

Whilst US support for the PMUs has largely been centred in Iraq, the notion that the PMU brigades cease being ‘Western-backed’ once they cross the border into Syria is, of course, fanciful. Nonetheless it is noteworthy that the US has on limited occasion provided aerial support to the PMUs inside Syria, namely in Palmyra (along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the PMU’s Imam Ali Brigades [AR]]) and possibly – though indeterminately – as part of pro-regime forces in Hasakah and Deir al-Zor. In other words, the United States has provided military support to foreign militias on Syrian territory.

Indeed, according to many anti-Assad detractors of US policy, the United States had the clear capacity to condition its critical military support to the Iraqi government – without which Baghdad would have likely come under siege by ISIS in 2014 – on the understanding that it was contingent on the non-intervention of Iraqi state-backed brigades in the Syrian conflict. Accordingly, if the United States truly cared about the Assad regime’s criminality – or was obsessed with “regime-change”, the severely inaccurate mischaracterisation of US policy which Western commentators such as Robert Fisk have spent years promoting (simultaneously obfuscating a plethora of inconvenient facts, such as the Assad regime in 2014 welcoming the military intervention by the same US government supposedly conspiring against it – and correctly declaring it as “aligned”) its extensive military support to Iraq would have been suspended long ago when it was clear that the PMUs were fighting for Assad in Syria. Instead, the significant and game-changing level of involvement of Iraqi brigades in the Syrian conflict since 2015 has actually taken place concurrent with the US increasing its military support to Iraq during this period. That Western governments have for years ignored the intervention of Iraq in Syria whilst increasing support to its armed forces is due at best to their lack of interest in the regime’s crimes, and at worst (according to many of the detractors) a policy of active calculation.


Indeed, the capability of Iraqi PMU brigades to flock into Syria is directly a result of the heavy US-led intervention against ISIS and other Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq. It is within this context – the retreat of ISIS as the thousands of US-led Coalition bombings took their toll – that sectarian Iraqi groups proliferated into Syria. The number of Iraqi fighters entering Syria increased pointedly, with an estimated 2013 level of between 800–2,000 Iraqi fighters multiplying to at least 20,000 by 2016. Thus the US-led support for Iraqi state forces against their enemies inside Iraq undoubtedly facilitated the entry of many of these same forces into Syria.


The recent capture of Mosul opens the possibility that far more Iraqi PMU brigades will intervene in Syria, perhaps even with “official” backing (likely encompassing significantly-escalated and coordinated support). With recent news that the CIA has ended its “vetted arms” program to Syrian rebels (a misunderstood role which contrary to popular media portrayal was centred on controllingrestricting and vetoing existing arms inflows from regional states – and by extension the scope of rebel mlitary campaigns – to ensure that the regime was not pressured to a point of collapse), the possible US return to a “choking” policy of rebel supplies (potentially encompassing much tighter border policing) in conjunction with an escalated involvement by the Iraqi government in Syria may bode ill for the Syrian revolutionaries, unless regional rebel allies finally challenge US diktat and bypass “Uncle Sam’s” regime-preserving red lines. Contrary to the disparagingof the Syrian revolutionary forces as either non-existent, weak or ‘extremists’ (rhetoric which is noticeably fashionable today amongst proclaimed ‘anti-establishment’ circles, yet which far from being ‘alternative’ is in fact identical to long-established polemic by US officials and reports by Tony Blair’s think-tank), the US subversion of the Syrian revolutionaries was because – unlike others such as the Kurdish YPG – they were “not ready to back US interests”.

What this years-long effective Western support (be it directed or acquiesced-to) for the Assad regime by way of the Iraqi military means is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq – ostensibly committed in the name of “democracy” – has in fact brought to power forces that are today crucial in helping the Assad regime bury the genuine, grassroots demand for democracy of 2011. Neither is this merely a retrospective truth, for the US and UK governments continue to support Iraq despite being fully aware of its invasion of Syria, making a mockery of ‘official’ condemnations of the Assad regime.

Thus far from the useful populist fanfare of a ‘Western conspiracy’ to overthrow him – the empty trope repeated by every previously Western-collaborating Arab Spring dictator (and there is evidence that Assad himself does not fully believe it) – Assad’s real secret winning ingredient? The past and present US-led interventions in Iraq.


Part Two discusses the question as to what extent the United States simply turned a blind eye to the role of foreign militias in Syria, or whether this constituted part of a more calculated policy. It also discusses the Trump administration’s recent actions which have involved some foreign pro-Assad groups in Syria, and which have opened questions as to whether the Trump administration is shifting away from its predecessor’s policy.


Corbyn’s fundamental sameness with Tony Blair (and the US) on Syria

“Last night, Jeremy Corbyn was hanging out with “counter-extremist” and pro-Assad campaigner Marcus Papadopoulos, of the “European Centre for Counter-Extremism” (ECCE). The ECCE has previously invited representatives of the Assad regime to speak on its platform [1].

Papadopoulos has an “edgy” record of previously saying the Bosnian genocide at Srebrenica “didn’t happen” and citing the Arab Spring as a “Western conspiracy”. On Syria Papadpolouos incidentally shares the same view as another notable Labour politician, Tony Blair, whose thinktank slandered most of Syria’s armed revolutionaries as “extremists” [2]. Unfortunately, Jeremy has also repeated the same anti-revolutionary slander in parliament [3]. He has also proclaimed that the problem in Syria was “regime-change” – i.e. the 2011 cry of “The People demand the downfall of the regime” – rather than Assad’s genocidal violence [4].

Thus far from moving on from the days of Blair (indeed, Jeremy’s foreign secretary is someone who repeatedly opposed an investigation into the Iraq War), is Jeremy, in presenting these views, representing a fundamental continuity disguised under an “anti-establishment” veil – not unlike the likes of Farage and Trump?

What happened to being against the War on Terror, Jeremy?

[1] http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/cambridge-syria-extremism-rowan-williams-12845074
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/20/most-syrian-rebels-sympathise-with-isis-says-thinktank
[3] http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/articles/jeremy-corbyns-speech-against-military-intervention-in-syria/
[4] https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/05/jeremy-corbyns-chatham-house-speech-full-text”


Response to some idiot (going under the page name “We are the Sinister Fringe”) who responded to the below Corbyn post by saying: “Doing your stuff for MI5 boys? Your war is over and you can shut your mouth about your Hollywood style B movie disaster shite fantasy chemical attacks. Go and eat some pizza yourself your fucktards”

“Syria Solidarity Campaign “Doing your stuff for MI5” – We are the Sinister Fringe

Syrian activist’s passport seized by UK government at the request of the Assad government:

West cooperating secretly with Damascus against militants: Assad:

Assad’s foreign secretary: US airstrikes going in right direction:

MI6 in secret talks with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime: http://www.mirror.co.uk/…/isis-air-strikes-mi6-secret…

With help from US and Hezbollah, Assad retakes Palmyra: linkis.com/washingtonpost.com/ov6qC

Dozens of more references: https://www.facebook.com/events/312534259134453/

If anything, it is you and your types who have spent years misrepresenting *actual* Western policy on Syria. You have failed miserably to understand even the most basic reality of it – either because you find it too “complicated” or because it’s simply much less tasking to fashionably condemn the West’s rhetorical commitment to Syrian Democracy (despite it for years being actually being at odds with its practical policy), instead of doing the actual scrutinizing work of finding whether Western policy actually matches the lofty and expected “we support democracy” rhetoric. By trying to pose as “opposite” to the most obvious and basic posturing by Western governments of “supporting” the Arab Spring, you have completely failed to document the *real* crimes of how Western governments have actually collaborated with regional regimes in killing the uprisings. Instead, you fashion idiotic and abstract conspiracy theories that are fashionable in some “chic” radical circles which you may belong to – circles which have probably never invited a Syrian to speak at – and which deny the agency and suffering of millions. Theories like “Assad is unfairly demonised” as if there was no uprising of millions of Syrians against him; or “the West funds ISIS” whilst Western governments blitzkrieg ISIS-held areas (with thousands of civilians killed as a result). Theories which make you think you’re cool and alternative but ultimately have no relation whatsoever to reality; even less to “anti-imperialism”.

Meanwhile, by the very same virtue of wanting to mindlessly (and ironically, inaccurately) appear “alternative” to your Western establishments, you might also have supporter Hitler during the Second World War, the fascist who was also claiming to be fighting “the West”. You are no anti-imperialist, you are simple prey for the forces of dictatorship, imperialism and reaction.”

Other exchanges:
Corbyn defender: “believe me, I’m no supporter of Assad (who could not be aware of the terrible suffering of the Syrian people?) but I’d rather have talks than guns and barrel bombs, and that has always been Corbyns approach.”
“If Corbyn actually wants a balanced playing field in Syria free from foreign intervention, we’re all for it. In fact, for those who have followed and actually studied Syria policy for years, Western intervention (though Corbyn thinks its the opposite) has been crucial in preventing the collapse of the regime. See this for details how for instance: https://www.facebook.com/events/312534259134453/
The problem with Corbyn’s lines – like “there is no military solution in Syria, only a political one” and “Syria’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people” – is that these are heavily contextually-loaded lines repeated by Russian and Iranian propaganda and are in short code for “There should be no condition for Assad to step down”. The notion that Russia and Iran – who have intervened militarily with thousands of bombs and tens of thousands of soldiers – actually think that “Syria’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people” is an Orwellian propaganda line not dissimilar to Israel’s “The Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel and live in peace with it” – as if it wasn’t the Israelis who were occupying the Palestinians not the other way round. The opposition has long accepted a political solution with the regime (which is far from the revolutionary ideal) where core regime members and institutions are integrated into a transitional government (probably including those who would’ve undoubtedly committed crimes in defence of the regime). So what political solution do Russia and Corbyn talk about if it excludes the absolute minimum of one person – Assad stepping down? Well that’s exactly it: a “solution” which drops the condition of Assad stepping down, which is non-negotiable. That’s why Corbyn’s lines – though sounding nice and theoretically unproblematic – are absolutely vacuous; because of their established contextual applications.
So if Corbyn *actually* uses the phrase in its genuine sense, regardless of whatever convoluted understanding he has on the conflict (i.e. demonising rebels etc.), then fine. And in that case, without external intervention (Assad’s army being mainly now made up of invader foreign militias) Assad would collapse within a matter of months. That would be “Syria’s fate decided by the Syrian people”. Unfortunately, the option of the revolutionaries forcibly collapsing the regime has been opposed for years (www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-13/cia-director-says-assad-s-collapse-would-risk-terrorist-takeover) not only by Russia but by the US as well, as the US does not want to replace a regime it knows how to do business with with an unknown variable (www.cbsnews.com/news/dempsey-syrian-rebels-not-ready-to-back-us-interests/). The US preference instead was a political solution which maintains most regime institutions intact and replaces Assad with another regime figure – in other words an intra-regime coup (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-pursued-secret-contacts-with-assad-regime-for-years-1450917657) This is what was achieved in other Arab Spring domains (such as Egypt and Yemen – in the former case the regime now is even more repressive than Mubarak, who remember was also “asked” to leave by the US).
The most ironic thing therefore is that far from being “alternative” to Western policy, the likes of Corbyn (and many, many others) have so badly misunderstood it that in a roundabout way they actually end up advocating the same existent Western position. Want proof? Here’s Trump also saying “Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people” – effectively removing the “Assad should go” condition (https://www.rt.com/usa/382839-tillerson-assad-syrian-people/), and here’s Kerry saying that Assad should be able to stand for presidential elections (www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/30/world/middleeast/john-kerry-syria-audio.html?_r=0).

The US and Iran destroy Mosul together


Syria Solidarity Campaign:

“The “liberation” of Mosul by the US airforce and Iran’s ground forces. A site of popular Arab Spring protests against the US-installed and pro-Iran Iraqi government, ISIS eventually hijacked people’s disillusionment and occupied the city in 2014. The entire city has been collectively punished as a result. As in Syria, the symptom of the problem – ISIS – was forcibly eradicated whilst the cause – the sectarianism of Iran’s allies in Baghdad and Damascus – was ignored and rewarded. Far from empty rhetoric of opposition between the two sides (a necessary show to justify themselves domestically), this is what the US and Iran have jointly done to Mosul.

Today there are fears of sectarian reprisals against Mosul’s residents by pro-Iran brigades within the Iraqi military (known as the Popular Mobilisation Units) who’ve advanced under the cover of US airstrikes. The PMUs are also fighting across the border for Assad in Syria (and have even been provided US military support there in places like Palmyra). The Arab Spring was replaced by the US with an Iranian Winter.

Is this what awaits Raqqa?”

Why ignoring US intervention in Syria in favour of Russia’s is a counter-revolutionary and pro-Assad position

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This response is from part of a debate within a pro-revolution organisation on the merits of holding a demonstration in front of the US embassy. The person being responded to raised the issue as to whether this was the best approach: whilst the US is historically an imperialist power and committed crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and its support of Israel, in Syria only it has the potential to confront Assad-supporting Russia. Protesting against the US may thus risk alienating it when we should be seeking its intervention against Assad.
“Thanks for your opinion. Unfortunately the US has arguably played a more decisive role in preventing Assad being overthrown than Russia has, and I’ll explain how. Since 2012 the US has enforced a blockade on the provision of certain types of weaponry (like anti-aircraft defences) as well as limiting the quantities of ammunition etc. that was provided by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the Syrian resistance. The reason they’ve done that is because they have always been against the regime being forcibly overthrown (so-called “regime-change” – uk.businessinsider.com/john-kerry-regime-change-syria-bashar-assad-2015-12?r=US&IR=T) – their preference is for a political solution where a new face takes power and the rest of the regime (including military, police and security forces) is maintained. This is what happened in other Arab Spring countries like Egypt and Yemen. The way they would ideally like to achieve this is by pressuring Assad to go via pressuring the power-holders within the regime, for instance it was SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in Egypt that effectively nudged out Mubarak and pressed him to resign. They wanted to do the same kind of intra-regime coup in Syria (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-pursued-secret-contacts-with-assad-regime-for-years-1450917657) but Syria was not Egypt or Yemen (not least because of sectarian dynamics), and the regime’s core held loyal to Assad.
Since then the US actually *opposed* the rebellion getting militarised, I remember at the start of the FSA the US opposed it saying it would bring “an escalation of violence” – and effectively limited (via officials on the Turkish and Jordanian borders) the quantity and quality of externally-provided weaponry that could go in to the rebels (one example: http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/05/20/report-cia-blocked-u-s-groups-effort-arm-syrian-rebels-russian-made-weapons/). After Assad’s 2013 Sarin attack the US “officially” changed its anti-arming position, but it would later become clear that it conditioned direct military support on the recipients agreeing not to fight Assad (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/key-rebels-ready-to-quit-u-s-fight-vs-isis.html). Thus the groups which have received direct US support in Syria are groups that largely don’t, like the SDF and the New Syrian Army. So first US preference was Assad to resign to be replaced by someone else acceptable to the regime. Second preference was that Assad stays in place if the regime doesn’t want to get rid of him. Simple: both pro-regime options were seen as preferable to the third option of allowing the rebels forcing Assad out by overthrowing his entire fascist regime.
So far from the problem with US policy being simply a matter of “weak support”, the problem is its “decisive weakening” of the rebellion. To my eyes, the US role in blocking proper military support to the rebels (https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/us-and-jordan-demand-southern-front-rebels-stop-fighting-assad-cut-off-support/) actually was more decisive in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime than Russia’s direct support. When someone sets your house on fire, the person who stops you putting it out can be even worse than the guy who did it, because you could’ve saved the people inside if you had the fire-extinguisher you were banned from. Simply speaking, the rebels always had the capacity to overthrow Assad even with Russia’s support, his army became decimated by 2014. It is however precisely because of the lack of external backing of the rebels that they didn’t.
In fact, the US went further and actively supported pro-Assad forces repeatedly “against ISIS”, provided intelligence to Assad and actually bombed mainstream anti-ISIS rebel groups far more than they have the regime (one example: http://www.thedailybeast.com/did-the-us-just-kill-5-kids-in-syria). Until three months ago, the US had bombed mainstream rebel groups about 7 times, al-Nusra (whose rank-and-file is mainly Syrians including ex-FSA who joined it because of its better military capacities) dozens of times, killing by 2015 (those are the statistics I have) 200 rebels. The US even bombed a rebel-held part of Aleppo *during the Assadist siege* before it fell (https://www.facebook.com/doamuslims/posts/326235621052962), leading to revolutionary protests there (https://www.facebook.com/SyriaSolidarityCampaign/posts/339374613072396). We’re not even talking about the hypocrisy of bombing ISIS and ignoring Assad, we’re talking about bombing rebels. Throughout that period, the US did not bomb pro-regime *foreign* militias once. In fact, some times it actively supported them (linkis.com/washingtonpost.com/ov6qC). Lets make that clear again, the US has given aircover to foreign sectarian militias on Syrian territory which it has never done to native forces fighting Assad.
Honestly, the inability for many pro-revolutionaries to understand the difference between the effective positions of “Assad should diplomatically step down by pressure from within the regime” and “We should allow the rebels to militarily overthrow Assad” has *severely* hamstrung the ability of Syrian organisations to make demands of Western governments. The West will never intervene to take out Assad and has been decisively intervening on his side for a long time – and not just as a “by-product” of anti-ISIS policy: preventing the collapse of the regime *has always been the policy*. Its not hesitation, or Obama being weak or wanting to appease Iran or whatever. Its because US policy has always been against regime-collapse in Syria (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2015/3/14/us-does-not-want-to-see-syrian-regime-collapse). Why? Because rebels do not serve US interests (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dempsey-syrian-rebels-not-ready-to-back-us-interests/), and because the regime by contrast has been historically dependable (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2442). What we should be demanding is for them to stop doing the latter.
Staying silent loses us our leverage which we could employ in public domains and media and from which we could extract concessions from Western governments. Imagine how much stronger our demands could be when we say “you’re supporting Assad” instead of “you’re doing nothing about Assad'”. With the former, they’re already committed. With the latter, you give them an exit clause allowing them to say “its not our business”. That’s the massive problem with not documenting the pro-Assad nature of US intervention, in the hope that after seven years of being pro-Assad it would change its mind. I’m not suggesting anything people on the ground – who’ve repeatedly protested against the US since 2014 – haven’t done. The FSA founder himself said that the US policy in Syria was pro-Assad (https://en.zamanalwsl.net/news/6704.html).
To not know about these things – the (well-concealed) full nature of US support for Assad is something, to know about it but to still continue to refuse to cover it on the hope that the US changes its position is criminal, counter-revolutionary, and counter-productive. We don’t refuse to condemn US supporting Israel on the hope that it changes its opinion, do we?”
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The cowardly Assad regime disproves its own claims (and that of groupies such as Seymour Hersh) about the Sarin gas attack

If anyone needed to know how Assad’s propaganda worked (and how the regime speaks out of both sides of its mouth), read this.

Following the recent publication of the OPCW report which confirmed the use of Sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun (unfortunately, international politics again means that the “mandate” of the OPCW report did not include assigning blame), Russia reportedly accepted the OPCW report findings in official international fora [1]. As it did not assign blame, the report did not contradict Russia’s claim that Sarin gas was in some way “released” – or prove that it was “dropped” from a regime helicopter, Russian Foreign Secretary Lavrov noted [2].

Assad had previously called the attack and the footage of the victims a “100% fabrication… They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack” [3] –
in fact contradicting simultaneous Russian claims that Sarin gas was released after a “rebel factory was hit”.

The investigators were not given “security permission” to access the town, which the OPCW said hampered the fact-finding mission. Under international threat of being accused with completely obstructing the investigation however, the regime facilitated the transferring of soil samples provided by locals from the area.

The soil samples provided by the *regime itself* – and tested by both regime and OPCW laboratories – proved the presence of Sarin. This comprehensively disproved any pro-regime claims that the attack was a “hoax” [4] or that it was in fact “supplies of disinfectants or fertilisers” (not Sarin) which were released – the allegation made by Seymour Hersh [5]. In other words, conspiracy theories promoted by the regime were disproved – under international threat – quietly by the regime. Luckily, the regime could afford to have such lies disproved as it has Russia’s own back-up conspiracy theory –
of Sarin gas being “accidentally” released in an undocumented coincidental bombing of a “rebel factory” – as a cushion to fall-back on.

Despite the report not assigning blame, the regime nonetheless condemned the OPCW report (which it helped bring about) within its domestic propaganda outlets, and has repeated the line that the Sarin gas attack was a “fabrication”.

In conclusion: The regime is a psychopathic liar.

[1] https://twitter.com/UK_OPCW/status/882542808917266433
[2] https://financialtribune.com/articles/international/67386/russia-says-opcw-does-not-prove-assad-role
[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4408648/Assad-brands-chemical-weapon-claims-100-fabrication.html#ixzz4m3x4zkBT
[4] http://al-bab.com/syria-and-chemical-weapons-3#chem39
[5] https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article165905578/Trump-s-Red-Line.html


On recent developments in North Syria: Afrin

Russia has seemingly acquiesced to an assault by Turkey and certain Turkish-backed rebel groups on the North Western province of Afrin. Afrin is held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the Kurdish YPG. Confusingly, the YPG/SDF has simultaneously been backed by Russia: indeed some areas around Afrin had previously been taken by the YPG/SDF under Russian aircover from the rebel groups. The YPG/SDF has since threatened to give up the area to the regime instead of allowing it to fall to the Turkish-backed FSA. Other areas had been taken by the YPG/SDF under US aircover, indirectly from the local rebel groups (who had been expelled by ISIS, only to be replaced by the YPG/SDF instead. Only those who agreed to give up the fight against Assad and were “vetted” by the YPG were allowed into the US-backed SDF).
This ironically may suit Turkey – whose priority is containing the Syrian Kurds, not taking on the Assad regime – but may not highly suit their rebel allies. It is unclear what the US response will be to the Turkish-Russian maneuvers. Previously, US Special Forces deployed to protect the YPG/SDF from the Turkish-backed rebels around the city of Mabij (areas which the YPG/SDF eventually gave up to the regime), and the US has also recently show down a regime airplane during a spike in clashes with the YPG/SDF.
On the other hand, whilst the Turkish-backed rebels are primarily concerned with the regime, they nonetheless have an axe to grind with the YPG/SDF – who they have accused of collaborating with the regime (as well as the US and Russia previously) at their expense. For instance, the YPG collaborated with the Syrian regime during the fall of Aleppo (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/what-role-are-kurdish-ypg-forces-playing-aleppo-554547107), and even handed over the city of Manbij to the regime instead of letting it fall to the Turkish-backed FSA (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-north-idUSKBN1684SB). The Turkish-backed rebel factions are of course not faultless, and some have been accused of violations against Kurdish civilians – including recently by a (pro-opposition) Kurdish council (http://aranews.net/2017/06/hundreds-of-yezidi-kurds-displaced-by-turkey-backed-rebels-northwest-syria-kurdish-council/). The increasing alliance with Turkey, which is far more concerned with anti-Kurdish sentiments than it is with the regime, can have troubling consequences if not restricted.
Meanwhile in North East Syria, the YPG/SDF continues to be backed by the US-led Coalition around Raqqa. Almost 300 civilians have been killed in one month, with Raqqa’s trapped civilians being terrorised – not “liberated” – by punitive US airstrikes and SDF shells. Under the six months of Trump’s administration, more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in ISIS-held areas. This is a form of collective punishment.
In South East Syria, there are reports that the US has airlifted an anti-ISIS Sunni Arab group from a garrison at-Tanf after they came into conflict with pro-regime Shia militias, including some the US has backed against ISIS (notably in Iraq). If true, the US would have in effect surrendered a further land-corridor between Iran, Iraq and Syria to Iran. The US had earlier during the week repeated its welcoming of the regime (i.e. foreign pro-regime militias) taking areas from ISIS. Of course, this has been effective US policy for years, and pro-regime (foreign) ground forces have even been backed by the US airforce under both the Obama and Trump Administrations.
In all cases, the regime is winning by US-Russian-Turkish agreement.