Syrian revolution: Into a struggle against occupation
At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, in March 2011, the two sides of the conflict were clear-cut. The first party was the people of Syria who have suffered Assad regime’s persecution and oppression with a deep passion for change. The second party was composed of a group of people bound together by mutual interests, those who were leading the country according to a military, security and economic ad hoc system god-fathered by the Assad family. Through time, changes have taken place. A large part of the Assad "army" defected, leaving that gang and choosing to defend innocent people, thus creating a large vacuum, in human terms, in the Assad gang, prompting him to seek help from the militias he has already planted and patronized in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and ISIS-like organizations.
Soon, Iran intervened to protect these militias, a necessary move for its expansionist plans in the region, by thousands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and members of the allied countries, such as Iraq.
I am surprised when I read the formula used to transfer news from Syria. CNN and BBC used the definition "Syrian government forces", so that listeners and readers who cannot have information on the details of the events in the Syrian arena will understand that the winners in battles are purely Syrian soldiers. Yet, their comprehension is far from reality. The percentage of Syrians fighting by the side of the regime in the battle that is taking place now in Halab (Aleppo), does not exceed 10% of the total forces. The rest is a mixture of various militias. I will try to provide some details about these militias through information I obtained after a meeting with a Syrian officer who recently defected from the army, and whose anonymity must be protected.
The Iraqi militias that first entered Syrian territory were Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Nujaba and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, at the beginning of 2013. They were coordinated by the Iraqi and the Iranian government. Τhese militias number 15,000 fighters, spread mainly in Damascus and Halab. Their operational center is located at Al Sayeda Zainab district of southern Damascus. The ideology and therefore the motivation of these militias is mainly religious. They have committed many massacres against the Syrian people in the rebellious areas of Damascus and Halab which cost the lives of hundreds of unarmed civilians. Their monthly salary is around $ 500.
Liwa Fatemiyoun is the strongest among the Afghan militias in Syria. This militia was formed in southeast Iran, backed and trained by the IRGC. The Iranian government took advantage of Afghan refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan and exploited their bad economic situation. In addition, it pumped extremism in the hearts of the Afghan youth. Afghan militias began entering Syria at the beginning of 2014. They are around 5,000 fighters located in Halab, Daraa and Damascus, fighting for around $ 400 per month. The town of Al-Zahra in the northern countryside north of Halab is their operational and recruiting center.
Three thousand fighters under the name of Zainabiyoun, mainly present in Halab and Daraa. This militia was formed by the lobby of the Iran-backed Shiites in Pakistan, by supercharging young Pakistani Shiites with sectarianism and taking advantage of their deteriorating financial situation, under the supervision of the IRGC and their financial support. These young people were trained in an IRGC camp in eastern Iran, and then they were transferred to Damascus to support Assad’s forces. Their monthly salary is around $ 600.
A world-known militia, ranked within the international and European terrorist list. It was formed during the Lebanese civil war in 1982 with the support of the Iranian government, and started cooperating with the Assad regime which has increased its support in the war on Christian militias in Lebanon, when Assad the father was in power. The so-called “Party of God” carried out several terrorist operations in Europe, South America and Africa, not to mention its role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Hezbollah came to Syria at the beginning 2012 to support Assad’s forces in the repression of peaceful demonstrations, then moved to carry out military operations against Syrians opposing the regime. Its operations’ room is located in southern Homs. The number of Hezbollah members who entered the Syrian territories is 10,000. During the previous four years, more than 2,000 have been killed. Its members are spread in Damascus, Daraa, Halab and Homs.
The relations between Assad regime and Iran go back to the late seventies of the previous century, after the return of Khomeini to Tehran, culminating in military and intelligence relations between the two regimes. At the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Iranian government showed open support for the Assad regime, at first by military experts. Then, it moved to the stage of sending the aforementioned militias. At the beginning of 2015, Iran’s Ali Khamenei gave orders to the IRGC to intervene directly and send more than 4,000 members who were stationed in Damascus and Halab. Damascus airport is the center for the operational command for those members. According to Iranian newspapers’ reports, in the past two years more than 1,000 were killed.
Last but not least, Russia
The first Russian military base in Syria was created in 1971 by the ex-Soviet Union under an agreement with the Assad regime. After the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Russia stood as a shield for the Assad regime in international arena such as the United Nations. Russia also significantly contributed to stopping European and American military strikes against Assad regime after the chemical massacre in August 2013. Russia then moved to the next level: the direct military intervention on September 30, 2015. It sent nearly 100 military aircraft and established a new military base in the coastal city of Latakia. Russian air force supported the Assad regime in its war against the Syrian people and the Syrian military opposition. Furthermore, Russian leadership secretly commanded the Russian intelligence to send Russian fighters through cooperation with Russian private security companies. More than 2,000 Russian fighters have already been distributed in the countryside of Latakia, Halab and Hama.
After this detailed description of the militias supporting the Assad regime, the picture is completely clear. Those who are really fighting against the free Syrian people who made the revolution are groups of expendables: mercenaries, criminals and sectarian groups under the name of Assad regime troops. Having in mind that the Ministry of Defense of the Assad regime does not have the authority to order these militias, they move under orders either from Iran or Russia. Thus, what began in Syria as a civil revolt against a brutal regime has become a "revolt against occupation."
Eva J. Koulouriotis is Greek political analyst specialized in Middle East. Twitter: @evacool_f, Facebook: @evakoulouriotis