The Western-backed Iraqi Army is occupying Syria in support of Assad.
This is footage of Iraqi government militias – known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) – fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. The PMU militias constitute the single biggest component of the coalition of pro-Assad ground forces in Syria today, outnumbering the Syrian Army, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They are legally part of the Iraqi Army (thus in fact technically constituting “Iraqi Army brigades”, not “non-state militias”) and are salaried by the Iraqi government (http://www.aljazeera.com/…/iraq-parliament-passes-law-legal…).
The militias are ideologically loyal to Iran and receive simultaneous Western (including UK) and Iranian military backing. They are fighting a sectarian “holy war” inside Syria, and in both Syria and Iraq they have been accused of carrying out sectarian cleansing in Sunni areas, emptying villages from their inhabitants and razing their homes to the ground. Inside Iraq the militias receive direct military support (including aerial cover) from the US and its allies, as well as salaries and arms via the Western-backed Iraqi government
Western governments and politicians know that these sectarian Iraqi units 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. Interestingly and counter-intuitively, despite Western governments rarely declaring their extensive military support for the sectarian Iraqi militias/army brigades, they have provided them with far greater practical support than anything received by the Syrian revolutionary forces – who by contrast have for years been the beneficiary of rhetorical backing. This is one of the many reasons why people interested in Syria and Western policy there should study quiet and often-undeclared Western actions inside Syria – as reported by sources on the ground – and not formulate their understandings on the basis of loud yet vacuous statements of “Assad condemnation” expectedly made by Western politicians.
What this Western support for the Assad regime via the Iraqi Army 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. To add insult to injury this reality is not merely retrospective, for Western governments continue to support these Iraqi forces despite their invasion of Syria, making a mockery of the “official” condemnations of the Assad regime.
Share, and expose.
Footage provided by FSA Platform
Since its entry into the Syrian war in September 2014, the US government has served to prop up the Assad regime, rehabilitate it internationally, undermine the mainstream Syrian resistance and increase the suffering and killing of the Syrian people.
The United States is directly complicit in this “record-breaking”. The US government continues to blockade measures by regional countries to end this unprecedented reality. Not only this, in 2014 the US airforce entered Syrian airspace on the same side of the fascist genocidal Syrian regime, coordinating intelligence with it and even supporting its ground forces in certain offensives . Syrian residents have routinely sardonically remarked that they were be bombed by the regime airforce during the day and the US airforce at night . As a symbol of the extent of the US government’s complicity with Assad’s unparalleled blitzkriegs, the US has even refused to grant early radar warnings of incoming regime airstrikes to rescue workers of the Syrian Civil Defence (“White Helmets”), which would simply allow them to try and evacuate civilian areas before destruction hits . Up to (and potentially more than) 1,500 civilians have been killed by the US-led “International Coalition” campaign in Syria and Iraq , to add to the thousands killed every month by the fascist regime and its allies.
Furthermore, the US has repeatedly launched airstrikes on mainstream rebel factions , whilst simultaneously not only completely ignoring the forces of the “sovereign” Syrian government (zero airstrikes to date), but also various non-governmental foreign militias present illegally on Syrian territory. All of these militias have come to Syria through Western-backed allies, such as Iraq and Lebanon. The declaredly pro-Assad Iraqi government sponsors tens of thousands of sectarian militiamen travelling to Syria to fight for Assad, whilst the Lebanese government is effectively controlled by Hezbollah and could not or would not stop Hezbollah’s invasion of Syria launched from its “sovereign” territory, or even demand its withdrawal.
Indeed, many sectarian Iraqi militias which have entered into Syria (not recently but since 2013) have been armed by the US . The sectarian Iraqi militias (estimated to number 30,000 men distributed over 30+ militias) are estimated now to constitute the single biggest fighting component of Assadist loyalist forces, outnumbering Hezbollah and the remaining fighting elements of the so-called “Syrian Arab Army” .
Yet despite the free entry of Iraqi and Lebanese militias into Syria, militias which have changed the balance of forces in the conflict (with the manpower depletion of the minority-based so-called “Syrian Arab Army”) and helped to reinstate the “stalemate equilibrium” which has been US policy of the Syrian war, the United States has not only refused to decrease (or sanction) aid for the Iraqi and Lebanese governments but has actually increased it . It has, furthermore, concealed from public knowledge the reality of these pro-Assad militias which is barely reported in coverage of the conflict.
The US, furthermore, also arms the Egyptian regime of Abdul Fatah al-Sisi which has also provided military support to the Assad regime . The US also directly arms the pro-Assad tribal militia, the Jaish al-Sanadeed, as part of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” .
Finally, US statements (not just actions) since 2012 have also served to rehabilitate the Syrian regime’s “legitimacy” on the international stage, far more than the Russian government. Since 2012 the US has consistently argued against the military defeat of the fascist Syrian regime forces [see our full statement for further details and references] and the preservation of regime apparatuses including state security forces, indeed even going further to state that Syrian rebels should cooperate with the Syrian Army even before any Assad resignation . The US has also made it clear that is only seeking a negotiated “safe exit” for Assad  (the same attempted pacification of the Arab Spring as in Egypt and Yemen) and is against the revolution’s fundamental demand to “bring the downfall of the regime” in its entirety and and its accountability . This is why the US has directly prevented the regime falling at various points and routinely sabotaged various rebel military campaigns throughout the conflict [see our full statement for further details and references].
In “ruling out” (long before the rise of ISIS) rebels bringing down the regime with military force , US policy since 2012 has been effectively to “convince” Assad to resign out of his own good will (as precedented in Egypt and Yemen) whilst in the meantime ensuring a “level playing field” which sustains a weakened rebellion, a weakened regime and a “balance” of destruction . The obvious failure of this and the obvious refusal of Assad to take the step of resigning, and yet the nonetheless continued adoption of this pretense policy by the US government has not enamoured it with or fooled the revolutionary Syrian people, who now know beyond doubt that both the US and Russia have prevented the collapse of the Assad regime. The US government has long proven through both word and deed that beyond its compulsory “Assad must resign” statements (as it did with Egypt’s Mubarak and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh) it would rather the Syrian regime stay in power, even with Assad at its head, than stop interfering to prevent the downfall (or as it calls it, “collapse” ) of the regime in its entirety.
Join us to say no to US duplicity in Syria, no to its policy of double-dealing with different sides of the conflict, and no to its policy of “mutual destruction”, genocide appeasement, regime preservation and endless war.
1. Regarding Proxy Support for the Assad regime:
– The United States must stop arming sectarian Iraqi militias which fight in Syria for the Assad regime.
– The United States must stop arming/sanction the Iraqi government if it does not force the withdrawal of Iraqi militias fighting for Assad. These are extremely crucial to the regime’s survival and are numbered in the tens of thousands.
– The United States must stop arming/sanction the Egyptian regime if it does not stop its military provisions for the Assad regime.
– The United States must stop arming/sanction the Lebanese state if it fails to enforce the withdrawal of Hezbollah from Syria, an invasion launched from its sovereign territory. The United States currently supports the Lebanese army which is effectively under the control of Hezbollah and whose abuses against Syrian refugees have been well-reported.
– The United States must stop arming the tribal militia Jaish al-Sanadeed, the main Arab component of the so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” and who are declared Assad loyalists.
– The United States must investigate any complicity of their allied Afghani and Pakistani governments, both declaredly pro-Assad, in the recruitment of their citizens in pro-Assad militias (including Fatemeyoon and Zaynebeyoon) .
2. Direct Military Involvement: The United States must withdraw its military forces from Syria, an involvement which has only served to prolong the Assad regime’s survival and repeatedly stave off its collapse at various points at its most vulnerable moments (see our statement for more details/references). To that end:
– The United States must stop targeting any sides in the conflict, including the targeting of civilians.
– The United States must stop the sharing of intelligence with the Syrian regime.
– The United States must end its interference and “vetoeing”/blockade of serious military provisions to the Syrian rebels by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which could otherwise in short time tip the balance against the Assad regime. Notably the United States must end the blockade on the arming of local Syrian resistance forces with anti-aircraft missiles. Qatar and Saudi Arabia must be allowed to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry to mainstream rebel brigades as necessary and without restriction.
– The United States must withdraw all of its foreign ground forces present on Syrian land, including the so-called “special advisors” currently embedded with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) , which Barack Obama had stated would not be deployed . Syrian revolutionaries are more than sufficient in fighting ISIS and fought ISIS long before the US coalition .
– The United States must dismantle any military bases it is reported to be building and plans to occupy in Northern Syria .
For more details and our full statement, please visit:
– The US government must end support, both proxy and direct, for the genocidal Assad regime –
We hope to see you there
Omar Sabbor (2016)
Sharing of intelligence:
– “West cooperating secretly with Damascus against militants: Assad” –http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-assad-idUSKCN0ZG28G
Launching of joint airstrikes:
Syrian regime statements welcoming US intervention:
– http://syriadirect.org/news/syria-direct-news-update-9-24-14/ : “Meanwhile, the pro-government news network Damascus Now hailed the strikes on Wednesday as a historic moment, in which “happiness was etched on the faces of the majority of Syrians, because they found international support towards eradicating a cancer which has been rooted in the diseased Syrian body,” referring to the rebels.”
 – http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20160415/1038088490/us-syria-opposition-manpads.html
 – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/09/syria-isis-bashar-al-assad-coalition-air-strikes :
‘…“Syrian warplanes used to shell us two or three times a week but now they target us every day thanks to the coalition forces,” Faris Samir, from Harm in the northern Idlib region, complained on Thursday. “We are losing martyrs and many get injured but no one pays any attention. Now the Syrian [regime] army is taking areas bombed by the coalition forces after the Islamic factions withdraw. I have to say that the coalition military campaign is in the interest of the Syrian regime and against the Syrian people.”’
– http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/sharing-skies-assad-america-s-predicament-syria-1105355734 : “The politics don’t matter to the people here, all we see is one type of death – it comes from the sky, whether the Americans are dropping the bombs or Assad, it makes no difference. They are both murdering us. What do you expect any sane person to think here? One day American airplanes and the next Bashar’s, how do they not crash or shoot each other? It is simple, they call each other and say today is my turn to kill the people of Raqqa, please don’t bother me, it will be yours tomorrow”
– http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/10/here-s-how-obama-and-assad-team-up-against-isis.html : “We are seeing coalition warplanes hit targets during the day in Raqqa province and then Syrian warplanes follow-up with more indiscriminate strikes at night,” a commander with the Free Syrian Army told The Daily Beast. “This is not a coincidence—to argue that it is stretches credulity””
– http://www.worldcrunch.com/54d9089fd29b53f0e879ecc81cd99d34/world-affairs/no-the-progressive-syrian-opposition-is-not-dead/protests-raed-fares-activism-assad/c1s17292/#.VEzWuxYxg1J ; “[The U.S.] bombed Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, parts of Homs and Aleppo. But [their] airplanes fly over our city along with the regime air force, which means that they and the regime are coordinating. They say they don’t want to coordinate with the Assad regime, but [U.S.] planes are flying with the regimes in the same air space”
– http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/03/why-does-the-free-syrian-army-hate-us.html : “The American and Syrian warplanes are flying in the same airspace,” he expounds incredulously. “There has to be some communication for them to avoid each other!”
 – https://act.thesyriacampaign.org/sign/warn_civilians_of_attacks/
 – https://airwars.org/news/international-airstrikes-and-civilian-casualties-in-iraq-and-syria-december-2015-to-may-2016/
– https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/the-us-led-coalition-bombing-syria-has-killed-more-civilians :
“A witness to the attack in Bir Mahli, a 67-year-old man who goes by the nickname Abu Khaled, described family after family killed in a series of strikes, giving names that match reports from monitoring groups. “They killed whole families,” he said, speaking by phone from southern Turkey. “The Americans will never apologize, and they will keep killing civilians. They could have stopped Assad at the beginning if they cared about human rights.””
 – http://eaworldview.com/2014/11/syria-daily-insurgent-leader-us-bombed-us-abort-revolution/
– http://www.aksalser.com/index.php?page=view_articles&id=0c9a0c60f2a055595be113ce9f70ec5e : “After the International Coalition’s bombing of the Justice Brigade, the Free Army’s Joint Staff request a clarification of the concept of “moderate opposition”!”
 – http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-backed-militias-using-american-tanks-battle-809449820
 – http://russia-insider.com/en/syrias-army-now-almost-fiction/ri12624
 Iraq: – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/19/iraq-crisis-us-urging-maliki-to-resign-live-updates
Lebanon: – http://yalibnan.com/2015/10/02/u-s-doubles-its-military-assistance-to-lebanese-army-envoy-says/
 – http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/29728/Cairo_Strengthens_Ties_With_Assad_Regime_Through_Military_Support
 – https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/2015/7/2/سورية-النظام-يسترضي-القوات-الكردية-في-الحسكة
– http://www.aljazeera.net/news/reportsandinterviews/2015/10/17/المعارضة-السورية-تشكك-بمليشيات-تدعمها-واشنطن : ‘Syrian opposition suspicious about militias supported by Washington’. Article quotes FSA official who states “Based on its foundation statement, we cannot say that the SDF coalesces with the FSA and achieves the goals of the revolution”
– http://al-akhbar.com/node/209385 : Jaish al-Sanadeed leader, “Sheikh” Hameedi al-Jarba “does not see the Syrian Army as an enemy, and does not look to confront it”, also stating “The one who rules Damascus rules Hassakah, for it is an inseperable part of Syria, and the Syrian Government is strong and standing but it is not present in his area, and this difficult circumstance has forced upon us the taking of arms to fill the security vacuum and face dangers”
– http://anbaaonline.com/?p=381206 : ‘Al-Modon [Newspaper] reveals alliance between Washington-Moscow and Syrian Democratic Forces’
– http://www.newroz-syria.com/portal/node/3603 : Claims that Jaish al-Sanadeed trained as part of Syrian Army 154 Corps by Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards
The Damascus suburbs of Wadi (Valley) Barada, home to the biblical river of Barada, has been under a brutal regime offensive led by Hezbollah ground forces and backed by regime firepower since the 22nd of December 2016. According to local activists and the Wadi Barada Media Centre, more than 100 civilians have been killed since the start of the regime campaign and [ ] wounded.
UPDATE (12th January): At the time of writing this piece, we have been informed that a large scale massacre has occurred in Wadi Barada, killing 6 residents, including a 12 year old girl. 60 barrel bombs have been dropped on the villages of Bassema and Ein el-Feijah, which combined have an area of only five square kilometres. It has also been reported today (12th January) that the Russian airforce as well has joined the bombing of Wadi Barada, further violating the ceasefire it had agreed with Turkey.
The water spring in the village of Ein el-Feija in the Barada valley – which continues to be damaged by regime shells, missiles, airstrikes and heavy machine gun fire as part of the regime’s attempts to capture the village – provides the city of Damascus with 70% of its clean water supply. Since the launching of the regime offensive on December 22 the UN OCHA agency estimates that at least 4 million residents have been cut off from clean drinking water.
Syria Solidarity Campaign’s sources in Wadi Barada have also confirmed to us today that the Media Centre in Wadi Barada itself was bombed by the regime’s warplanes yesterday morning, leading to the death of many of the media activists working there.
[Contrary to regime-propagated reports, there has been no truce agreed with the locals in Wadi Barada. The Ein el-Feija spring continues to be in the hands of the locals, who had previously made a call for UN repair workshops to enter the Spring to fix the damaged pumps.]
The local and civil society organisations issued a call to the UN, offering them safe access for repair workships to enter the spring to fix the damaged pumps. Syria Solidarity Campain sources on the ground have told us that the call went “ignored” and “not responded to” by the UN.
Since then, negotiations have occurred between the locals and a regime delegation. A truce was agreed on the 12th January. The terms of the truce were:
On the 13th of January
Friday 6th January: Footage of regime aerial bombardment (using unguided barrel bombs) of the town of Ein el-Feija, which hosts the spring facility. Ein el-Feija only has an area of three square kilometers:
Wednesday 11th January – Bombardment taking place “tens of metres” away from the spring, according to the narrator:
Sunday 9th January: “More than 30 airstrikes, 40 “Elephant” surface-to-surface missiles, 60 mortar shells by the regime and Hezbollah on the villages of Ein al-Feija and Basima in the Wadi Barada area of the countryside of Damascus in the past two days, in a continuous violation of the ceasefire”
Tuesday 11th January: “5 raids by military warplanes (MIG) with tens of missiles.
Approximately 130 “Elephant” rockets from the Republican Guard
More than 40 barrel bombs from the military helicopters
More than 300 missiles including mortars and Katyusha and Grad from Hezbollah
Some of the missiles carried poison chlorine gas.
In addition to heavy and medium machine guns and snipers and others
All this was only on the village of Basima, the smallest village in Wady Barda with a size of two square kilometres
And it was only today.”
Moment of dropping Barrel bombs on the village of Basima, in Wadi Barada:
Destruction to houses in Ein el-Feija from regime airstrikes. Activists have told SSC that more than 90% of the village has been destroyed:
Many villages within the valley have been emptied as a result of the regime assault. The village of Basima, once home to 15,000 residents, and the town of Ein al-Fijah – 30,000 residents – have now been emptied from residents and become “ghost towns”. This may again be part of a sectarian cleansing strategy, with the forced displacement (or “evacuation”) of civilians aimed at long-term demographic change, a policy which the regime has employed elsewhere in Syria, notoriously in Homs (whereby residents of 14 districts of the city “evacuated” have still not been allowed to return since 2014 – with others from Assad’s sect “settling” in their place) and Daraya (where again Iraqi Shias have been invited to take the place of “evacuated” Sunni locals).
We have also been informed that in its most recent offensive on Wednesday, the regime has used chlorine gas, injuring two residents, though they have recovered after treatment. The regime was also reported by media activists to Al-Jazeera Arabic to have dropped Napalm (as has occurred elsewhere in Syria).
The medical situation in Wadi Barada is also dire, with a high rise in severe diarrhea and fever especially amongst children. The drinking of unsterilised contaminated water and overcrowding of the displaced into mosques and houses has helped to spread disease. The lack of clean water (as well as the high price of that which is available) has also led to the rise of food poisoning as many families at home are not “washing their fruit and vegetables properly”, whilst those who have preferred to feed their children in local restaurants thinking that it is safer have in fact contributed to the highest proportion of food poisoning cases, with local restaurants turning out to have “too little water to wash plates and cleaning utensils”. The local medical committee and pharmacies have used up their reserve of medications for diabetes, heart, blood pressure and arterial disease.
The regime has also cut off telephone communications, mobile communications, internet communications and electricity, and even target satellite communications, further adding to the difficulties of those besieged.
The regime’s bombardment of Wadi Barada and its exclusion from the Turkish-Russian agreed ceasefire justified by citing the presence of “Jabhat al-Nusra” (an area known for years not to have any Nusra presence) shows the substantively flawed nature of any ceasefire which takes as a “partner” and excludes the main terrorist in the conflict, the Assad regime, whereby the regime will target any revolutionary-held area under the pretext of “attacking Nusra”. The pro-Assad bias of both the US-led Coalition and Russia was fully represented in its selective excluding of Jabhat Fath al-Sham (al-Nusra previously) from the ceasefire; any objective analysis of the Syrian conflict (including from UN and Western Human Rights reports) will show that when it comes to “terrorism” towards innocents, no faction in Syria (including Jabhat Fath al-Sham/al-Nusra) comes close to the regime in any way, shape or form. This is before mentioning that the regime has in the past in fact targeted towns in which protests against Nusra took place, released extremists from its prisons who would become high commanders in extremist groups including ISIS and has long been buying oil from both ISIS and Al-Nusra.
It should be noted that no government in history has deployed as much aerial bombardment inside its own borders as the Assad regime (this has taken place on an almost daily basis since mid-2012 until today). Syria’s once largest city of Aleppo became the most bombarded city in the world since the Second World War. The US-led Coalition (in which the UK plays a key part) has not only stopped regional allies from providing the defensive weaponry needed for Syrians to have defended themselves during these World War levels of aerial bombardment, refused to allow civil defence forces on the ground to have radar warnings of incoming airstrikes, but have actually shared the same skies as this genocidal mass-murdering regime (intrinsically involving the sharing of intelligence with the regime) to jointly bombard Syrian territories continuously since 2014 (with joint US-regime bombardments continuing even after the 2015 intervention of Russia).
The UK has for years proclaimed that it stands against the Assad regime. Yet despite these proclamations we find that the UK continues to provide major military aid to regional states which have proven crucial in the survival of the Assad regime – prime amongst them the Iraqi state.
The UK like the US has much leverage it could use to halt the current offensives. The bulk of the pro-regime forces which in the last year have taken Aleppo, Daraya and are now attempting to take Wadi Barada are overwhelmingly foreign paramilitary brigades arriving from states backed by Western governments, such as Iraq and Lebanon. Whilst these brigades are also backed by Iran, they are simultaneously backed by their respective national states. In Iraq, these sectarian paramilitary brigades are directly supported – both by airstrikes and arms – by the US-led “anti-ISIS” coalition and have recently been officially integrated into the Iraqi armed forces. Some of the brigades have even been documented fighting for Assad in Syria with US tanks obtained in Iraq. The members of the Iraqi brigades in Syria are part of the Iraqi government, paid salaries by the Western-backed Iraqi government and are legally subject to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s authority. Was the invasion of Iraq – presumably in the name of bringing democracy to the region – intended instead to help Assad later crush the genuine demands for democracy which broke out in Syria in 2011?
Meanwhile whilst Hezbollah is not part of the Lebanese Army, the major support by the US-led Coalition to the Lebanese Army has reportedly allowed it to cover Hezbollah’s rear and flank against domestic rivals, allowing the latter to focus on supporting Assad in Syria.The Lebanese Army has been described as an effective “auxillary” of Hezbollah and part of a “joint LAF-Hezbollah counter-insurgency targeting the Syrian opposition”. The Lebanese Army has been “actively aiding Hezbollah in its war effort in Syria. This assistance has ranged from participation in shelling positions across the border in the Qalamoun region in Syria, to securing Hezbollah’s homefront. This includes patrolling and securing logistical routes and the transfer of Hezbollah materiel and personnel into Syria, monitoring and raiding Syrian refugee camps, and closing off Lebanese areas and towns on the border with Syria”.
Over the past few years the Lebanese Army has been closing the border in only one direction – from and not into Syria – and not to totally close the border, allowing Hezbollah to continue its invasion of Syria. Western arms to Lebanon have thus been “deployed in a manner that relieves Hezbollah and assists its war effort”. It has coordinated major military operations with Hezbollah and allows it through its checkpoints to fight in Syria. It has also been accused of coordination with the Syrian Army itself, including abusing and unlawfully deporting back to the hands of the regime Syrian refugees for almost certain torture and/or death. Hezbollah itself has been part of the UK-recognised Lebanese government since 2014, forming more than third of its members, whilst the recently-elected Lebanese President Michel Auon is a declared Hezbollah supporter.
– The UK must stop all military aid and support to the Iraqi army until the full withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Syria. The UK must stop all military aid and support to Lebanon until the full withdrawal of Hezbollah.
– The UK must stop all military aid and support to the Egyptian regime until it ends its military support to the Assad regime.
– The UK, along with the US, should withdraw from the Military Operations Centre (known as the “MOC”) in Amman, which controls the entry of supplies into South Syria and which has effectively enforced a freeze on anti-regime rebel operations in South Syria since 2015; leading to the fall of cities such as Daraya and allowing pro-regime forces to focus single-handedly on Aleppo. The UK and US must stop any interference and blockading of defensive weaponry – including anti-aircraft systems – by allies of the Free Syrian Army.
Similarly the UK must also stop all support to Jordan until it lifts its blockade on the entry of weaponry needed for the people of Southern Syria to defend themselves. As well as blocking weaponry the Jordanian government has long been accused of stealing arms meant for the Free Syrian Army.
– The UK must stop military support to the YPG-led “Syrian Democratic Forces”, which includes a pro-Assad tribal force (Jaish al-Sanadeed) and which has played a crucial role in the recent fall of Aleppo.
– The UK must freeze all arms export licenses to Iran, including military electronic technology, reportedly valued at more than £800 million in 2013 and £316 million in 2015 (making it the fourth largest recipient in terms of value of contracts after Israel, Saudi Arabia and China). The UK government is currently encouraging investment in Iran, showing that political and economic rapprochement with Iran has come at the same time as its crucial role in supporting Assad’s genocide.
FOR REVIEW: [The UK should sanction trade with Iranian government-linked firms, including a freeze on new contracts currently being negotiated.]
– The UK must freeze any outstanding arms export licenses to Russia, which were reported to still exist in the last Committee on Arms Exports parliamentary report in 2015 (despite Ukraine-related sanctions), if any. These were valued at £86 million in 2013 and £168 million in 2015, including “components for military helicopters, cryptographic software, equipment employing cryptography, equipment for the use of military helicopters, small arms ammunition and software for equipment employing cryptography”.
The UK is one of Russia’s biggest trade partners, relying on it for a large section of its energy requirements and exporting billions of pounds worth of exports. The UK government website extols the opportunities for investment in Russia, at the same time as it commits crimes in Syria.
FOR REVIEW: [The UK government should sanction trade with Russian government-linked firms.]
FOR REVIEW: [The UK government must work to ensure that humanitarian aid and access are allowed in to the besieged towns of Wadi Barada.]
Anything less than taking these measures represents effectively siding with the Assad regime, no matter what the rhetoric of “condemnation” offered, rhetoric which we have long been accustomed to for six years whilst Assad’s genocidal policies and unprecedented aerial bombardments have continued unabated and international forces have occupied our country.
One of the largest sources of confusion on the conflict Syria are deceptive and lazy media reports which have routinely failed to distinguish between the actors in the conflict and explain the critical nuances in the situation on the ground. One news agency will publish a headline proclaiming “US support for rebels”, for example with arms-drops and aerial cover, when the article always subsequently reveals the “rebels” in question to be the Syrian Democratic Forces – a group which officially maintains a policy of “neutrality” towards the Assad regime and practically has always collaborated with its forces (notably in the recent fall of Aleppo, in which the SDF sided with the Assad regime against the FSA). Despite this fact dozens of other news agencies will recirculate the original misleading headline, with the SDF mistakenly labelled a “rebel faction” despite declaredly not being part of the Syrian rebellion.
Today, this false reporting comes to a head. For here are the constantly cited “US-backed “rebels”” giving up the city of Manbij to the Assad regime, to avoid it falling to the real “rebels” of the Free Syrian Army. The US-backed and counter-revolutionary so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” would rather the genocidal, dictatorial Assad take power than the democratic revolutionaries of the Arab Spring.
The “rebel” factions that the US has directly supported in Syria have always been those that do not fight Assad – in other words rebels that don’t rebel. The SDF position on Syria is identical to that of the US – a “third option” theoretically distinguishable from the regime but which ultimately involves indirect support to it. This “regime preservation by proxy” has been US policy in the conflict, helping it to avoid the criticisms which would otherwise arise from unmediated direct support – with other “proxy” US-backed allies of the regime include Iraqi army brigades (who currently form the biggest ground forces of the Assad regime) and the Egyptian al-Sisi regime.
The “temptation” was of depriving Russia of its naval base at Tartous, or conversely of having a Lebanese March 14-style regime in Syria that would pull away from Iran and Hizbullah (although this latter temptation became redundant with the Iran nuclear deal). But the Americans were never willing to pay the price of revolutionary “chaos” for this, especially once the “chaos” in Libya began to convince them that “regime change” there had been a mistake.
That all changed when Obama’s bluff was called in August 2013 – and again with the expansion of IS in Iraq in mid-2014 (with Ukraine in the meantime giving Clinton’s adventurism a far more promising point of pressure on Putin than Syria had ever been).
So I would date the “third party counter-revolution” policy from mid-2014. Before that, it had been a policy of half-hearted support for the “counter-revolution within the revolution”, on condition that the USA wouldn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting and wouldn’t have to risk a direct confrontation with Russia.
For their part I think the Russians felt betrayed enough in Libya that they weren’t willing to take any risks in Syria – and that the Ukraine crisis and the sanctions on Russia that followed it increased Russia’s paranoia, however obvious it might have been that Obama was angling for an “anti-terrorist” partnership with Russia and Iran in Syria and Iraq.
I don’t think that Putin regarded Obama as being an especially reliable “partner” in this sense, for the reasons above and given that the USA’s historic regional allies continued to provide some (however limited) practical assistance to the anti-Assad forces, even if the USA didn’t.
And in any case, Putin seems ideologically and strategically far more inclined towards “partnerships” with semi-colonial regional players like Iran and Turkey than with Russian imperialism’s most immediate global imperialist rival, something that I suspect that Trump’s search for a detente with Russia will founder on.
So yes, just as the “anti-war” movements tried to oppose the “regime change” that wasn’t happening instead of the “war on terror” that was happening, they also based themselves on a concrete strategic assessment that was only half-true before 2013/14, and increasingly fantastic afterwards.
All I’d add is that a large part of the Syrian opposition shared their illusions from the opposite direction, imagining that the USA had any intention (or any real objective interest) in supporting their cause, and falling into increasingly pathetic pleading the more that this vain hope failed to materialise.
But yes, it’s ironic that Western policy benefited the Assad dictatorship that they criticised more than the Sisi dictatorship that they didn’t. Just like British policy in Palestine benefited the Haganah far more than the Arab states (Britain’s nominal proteges) or indeed the Palestinians.
And just like Western policy in Bosnia aided the Serbs (who unlike Assad they did at least bomb on a few occasions) far more than it benefited the Bosnians (who were forced to accept the permanent ethnic division of their country), with Croatia playing the role of the YPG to the Sarajevo government’s FSA.
Whilst I used to also say that ideally the US would like a more pliable ally than Assad to weaken ties with Russia and Iran etc., I found that Assad was actually completely heading into that direction before 2011; Wikileaks will show that he was willing to cut ties with Hamas and even Hezbollah in exchange for normalised ties with the US and Israel, and Iran was even destabilising him by 2010 for fear of losing him. There was simply no need to replace him. Of course if you go back you’ll find much deeper links between the West and the Assads, certainly amongst the oldest ties between the West and any republican dynasty in the region, from the time of the pro-French grandfather to the US-admired father to the British-adored son, here of course you’ll find that the regime used to have potentially the best ties with the West that you could ever expect a country still occupied by Israel to have, collaborating with the US and Israel throughout the Lebanese civil war against the PLO, then the Gulf war, then War on Terror etc.. Barring Jordan (which lost the West Bank, which wasn’t really part of it) the regime offered quite possibly the least resistance to Israel from any of the countries occupied in 1967 – less than Lebanon, less than Egypt (despite having 3 more decades after we sold out) and less than the Palestinians. The timing of the rebellion – perhaps months or a year away from a treaty with Israel – actually saved him, I came across a report recently where it stated that before the uprising the Israelis were worried that a peace treaty with Assad wouldn’t work for fear that the population wouldn’t accept it.
Re the FSA, I have no doubt that the US wanted to infiltrate the movement and some of its officers, and without a doubt along with other regional states they probably succeeded (just look at the Southern Front). However why i think that doesn’t constitute them actually considering putting them in power is because it was clear to anyone who could open a Youtube video right from the start to see what the FSA consisted of – this was not a regular professional substitute regime army (a la Haftar for Qadaffi, Hadi for Saleh or Sisi for Mubarak) but essentially a grassroots popular-militia force that was (ironically) far closer to the ideals of the Ba’ath (resistance to Israel, regional unity, and originating from the socio-economically neglected provinces and regions that were once the Ba’ath’s heartland vs the urban centres which became regime strongholds, etc.) than the regime’s version of the Ba’ath which was diluted to the minimum level possible that could sustain legitimising rhetoric (thus condemning US invasion of Iraq in line with popular opinion, whilst later collaborating with the Americans against the Syrians it allowed to be sent to fight there; allowing limited support to Hezbollah whilst negotiating with Israel, practically recognise it in public and condemning all internal calls for opening a front with the Golan as “treachery”, etc.). In that vein it would become clear that whilst the Syrian opposition was, like the Lebanese one, Sunni, it was by no means a 14th March replicate and was probably far closer to Hezbollah than it was to the former. Nor were the FSA brigades ever under the effective command of defected soldiers, who became a numerical minority vis a vis armed civilians as time passed on. The US never took away legal recognition of the regime, in other words it supported the regime keeping its UN seat at the UN despite the opposition’s transitional government trying to get US recognition.
Re a few other things you said: I think for sure it is correct to say that the US policy included half-hearted support for the “counter-revolution within the revolution”, I 100% agree. The US put its hands in all the baskets, and literally could be argued to have helped and undermined in one way or the other all four sides of the civil war – the rebels, the regime, the Kurds and ISIS. Indeed, perhaps it is the most demonically genius reality that the precise nature of the US “politically” supporting the opposition allowed it to control what the opposition got – in short infiltrating the opposition like a trojan horse to undermine it from within – whilst the precise opposite of the US politically *not* supporting the regime perversely allowed it to have a complete hands-off policy on what the regime received via its US-backed friends, like Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, since there was no expectation for the US to be “involved” with the arming of the regime. If the US had taken a declaredly pro-Assad position from the start, (besides being politically stupid and unnecessary) there would both be massive attention and focus drawn to how the US was seizing weapons shipments at the Jordanian and Turkish borders and subsequently massive backlash against it. Instead, official US support of the opposition meant that reports that the US was actually trying to control what went to the rebels would be perversely headlined as “CIA said to be steering arms to the rebels” instead of the reality of them actually trying to steer the arms *away*. What’s that phrase, war is peace, ignorance is strength? Again, the US distancing itself from the regime allowed it to support the regime more than any other thing. You have to admit it is devilishly genius.
I don’t think however that contradicts that the US policy was also “third party counter-revolution”, though maybe this terminology is not perfect for the period between 2011-13 as at that time US allies like Iraq and indirectly Lebanon were not really supporting Assad as much and the US support for Assad by its blockading of weaponry etc. was, if anything, direct not “by proxy”. I’ve tried to note that above and make it clear that whilst counter-revolution by proxy was definitely an aspect of US policy, this did not preclude the US also directly supporting Assad, whether via arms embargoes, airstrikes against his enemies (both moderate and extreme), intelligence-sharing or other measures.
I also think that you are correct in the political opposition’s embarassing and redundant pleading for help from the Americans and their refusal (until very late) to expose US policy, though I should note that the political opposition’s attitudes was not identical to that of civil and armed revolutionaries on the ground and the biggest campaigns against actual US intervention in the conflict generally came from those. I’ve definitely been often frustrated by the repetitive broken record of some Syrians who’ve completely failed to understand the full dimensions of how cynical and calculated US policy was until very late (if ever), with them often being reluctant to even verbalise US policy as being pro-Assad until much later, if ever (generally thinking of it as “incoherent” or “weak”), whilst still talking of US “inaction” or still asking for the US to end its “non-intervention”, narratives which have actively misrepresented what is happening – as you say, like the anti-war movement – when they should have instead been talking of US *action* actively taking place in favour of the regime and asking specifically for the US to do the opposite of “intervention”, and that is to actually *stop intervening* and allow the rebels to get what they need from external sources. This ultimately all has to do with the details and knowledge of them, for instance knowledge that it wasn’t the US that was providing the arms, but it was the US that was controlling what was going in (it all crystalised in my head for instance maybe in the last year, that it was actually active US intervention – not Russian or Iranian – which was the most crucial element in the rebels not winning this conflict). Yet ultimately this was not the issue just with Syrians – indeed I’m sure many of our pro-revolution Western friends would repeat the same sort of stuff here of US “inaction”, “incoherence” and opposing labeling US policy as “pro-Assad”, even whilst refusing to call it “pro-rebellion”. And I think if you take a survey of activists and pro-revolution Syrians by 2013 (and I’ve seen such interviews at the time), most were EXTREMELY cynical about the US and most would’ve recognised it as a problem and said that “it needed to stay out”.
Whilst these pieces have been written for a while they have not been yet published. Whilst ideally I was hoping for them to be out before Trump’s inauguration (as they pertain to US policy on Syria and related issues during Obama’s years), unfortunately this will unlikely be the case. Whilst the pieces will be published on this blog before then unfortunately they will not be released until after/if they are first commissioned on primary outlets.
– “In Syria, Stop the War Coalition is not against Western intervention”
– “Introducing the Syria Solidarity Campaign: What can Western governments do regarding the situation in Syria? Stop deflecting to Russia and look at your own allies”
– “Assad the Pied Piper and his Useful Minions:How Assad’s false “anti-imperialists” covered up actual US imperialism in Syria”
– “Syria, Stop the War Coalition and Islamophobia”
– “The failed victories of vacuous “anti-imperialism”: How those celebrating Assad’s Nakba would have celebrated the Palestinian one too”
Ok just to make this point clear as people keep bringing it up to me again and again: the Iraqi “militias” in Syria are all part of the “Hashd al-Sha’abi” (Popular Mobilisation Forces) which in turn is an *official* part of the Iraqi armed forces. Indeed, since their recent legalisation and integration as an official part of the Iraqi military (though they were always effectively the bulk of what constitutes the Iraqi state’s “military” before then anyway) some of the brigades don’t even like being called “militias” anymore, saying that they’re now official army soldiers salaried by the government. Indeed, even when you watch a BBC or Sky report from the frontlines of Mosul you will almost always see the reporter saying that they are with the “Iraqi army” whilst the flags of the militias fly clearly in the background.
Furthermore, whenever I bring this point up I am told that the groups are “Iranian-backed” in Syria. Yet just because they are Iranian-backed does not preclude them from also being Western-backed, as they are both. You don’t stop saying that they are “Western-backed” once they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border. Indeed, believe it or not the Americans and British who back them in Iraq know full well that they’re flying to Syria (from the US-monitored Baghdad airport) to fight for Assad – it’s been happening since 2013.
There are few policy recommendations from this:
1) It is better to refer to these militias as Iraqi army [paramilitary] brigades, as that’s what they actually legally are. Continuing to use the term “militia” gives the wrong impression that these actors are “out of control” or “non-state” actors, when they’re not, and allows Western governments to get away with backing them in Iraq whilst saying that “we’re not responsible for them” once they cross the border into Syria. Furthermore, acknowledging these forces as *state* actors opens up a whole lot of legal opportunities. The US destroyed Iraq when it invaded “sovereign” Kuwait, whilst it is effectively supporting the “sovereign” troops of its closest regional ally (barring Israel) occupying Syrian territory.
2) There *must* be an emphasis on distinguishing the Iraqi groups clearly as *Iraqi*, and not just bracketing them under the category of “Iranian militias”. Putting them in the latter severely limits any influence you can have in campaigning about them and demanding policy action of Western governments. If we categorise them simply as “Iranian” Western governments can simply say that they are not military backers of Iran (as they are by contrast with pro-Assad Iraq or pro-Assad Egypt) and are not responsible for their actions. Again the paramilitary groups may be “sponsored” to fight in Syria by Iran but that does not stop them also being an official component of the Western-backed Iraqi state. The commander in chief of the PMF is the Iraqi Prime Minister, not an Iranian general. Indeed, the main reason the Iraqi militias have increasingly flooded into Syria is arguably not Iranian support, but the fact that Western governments have supported them so strongly against ISIS in Iraq which has freed them to go fight for Assad in Syria.
3) Syria solidarity groups need to make it a clear and coordinated campaigning point that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought a declaredly pro-Assad regime to power in Baghdad, with the invasion justified in the name of “bringing democracy” to the region now “ironically” helping to crush the genuine indigenous democratic revolt in Syria.
Conclusion: The role of the Iraqi army brigades in Syria is the single most important leverage point that you have with Western governments and Syria. For years Syria solidarity groups have been lost in not knowing how to demand anything of Western governments shorn of direct military intervention, with Western governments (falsely) declaring that there was nothing else to tie them to Assad – and unfortunately erroneously getting away with it.
There must be a strategic (and much belated) reorientation towards demanding: a) the ending of support to pro-Assad regional proxies, such as Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, including the cessation of military support to the Iraqi government against ISIS until the withdrawal of all Iraqi brigades to Iraq; b) the ending of intelligence-sharing with the Syrian regime and the military intervention of Western airforces sharing the same skies as the Syrian Airforce (with each bombing different territories in coordination with one another for the past 2-3 years); c) the ending of all Western interference with and blockading of weaponry and ammunition provided to the Syrian resistance by regional allies.