Ceasefire in Syria: A who’s who of the terrorist factions

2014.10.25.CourtenayComoxValleyPeaceGroupAction-01crAs of February 27 a cessation of hostilities began in Syria. The agreement applies to the parties to the Syrian conflict that indicate their commitment to and acceptance of its terms. It does not however apply to “Daesh,” “Jabhat al-Nusra,” or “other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council,” which is part of the reason it is referred to as a cessation of hostilities rather than a ceasefire. The terms were submitted to the UN Security Council for approval by Russia and the U.S. in their capacity as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).Who is and who isn’t a terrorist continues to be an issue which is causing problems for the imperialists. We are posting an article by Aram Mirzaei below who profiles the different terrorist factions and who is in and who is out. 

As an example, while Canada’s new mission fighting ISIS includes training, assisting and equipping the Kurdish Peshmerga militias in Northern Iraq, Canada’s NATO ally Turkey had been demanding that Kurdish forces in Syria should be excluded from the cessation of hostilities agreement on the basis that they are terrorists. This is one of the backdrops for Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion’s extremely low profile visit to Istanbul on February 24, together with a marketing team from Bombardier, which is targeting both Turkey (Turkish Airlines) and Iran for C Series airplane and rapid transit sales.

Responding to the announced agreement prior to its implementation, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not comply. He compared the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), with ISIS, claiming that if Daesh and the al-Nusra Front are kept outside the truce, “then the PYD-YPG must similarly be excluded from the ceasefire for it is a terrorist group just as they are.”

Prior to the cessation of hostilities, the Turkish military had been openly shelling positions of the Kurdish forces in Syria. On March 2, despite the cessation of hostilities being in place, Turkey continued to shell inside Syria claiming that it was only attacking ISIS positions. Meanwhile Turkey is also being accused of smuggling weapons into Syria in humanitarian aid shipments.With the cessation of hostilities in place, the U.S. and its allies’ attempts to use proxies in Syria to bring about regime change through the use of force have been curtailed.

Snaking heavy trucks cross Syrian-Turkish border on December 25, 2015 | TASS / CORBIS

Snaking heavy trucks cross Syrian-Turkish border on December 25, 2015 | TASS / CORBIS

The Canadian government is also linked to the Erdogan family (Çalık Holding, owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayra ), which is accused by Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkish opposition MPS and different journalists (some of whom have been imprisoned in retaliation) of being involved in the trade of petroleum with ISIS, which has plundered approximately sixty per cent of Syria’s oil assets and seven oil producing facilities in Iraq. This will be the subject of a separate article.

The setbacks of the so-called “moderate” proxy forces is likely why the U.S. is now talking about a “Plan B” for Syria.

To be a party to the agreement armed groups must commit to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and “readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process.” They have to cease attacks against the Syrian Armed Forces and “any associated forces;” in return, they will not be subject to attacks by the armed forces of the Syrian government “or other forces supporting them,” Russian armed forces or those of the U.S.-led Counter-ISIL Coalition. The agreement is overseen by a Ceasefire Task Force co-chaired by Russia and the U.S. and its secretariat is the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria.

Kerry’s Plan B and intervention of the Trudeau Liberals

Speaking to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 23 following the release of terms for the cessation of hostilities, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated: “We are going to know in a month or two whether or not this transition process is really serious. Assad himself is going to have to make some real decisions about the formation of a transitional governance process that’s real. If there is not… there are certainly Plan B options being considered.”

Kerry stressed that the partitioning of Syria was part of Plan B if the cessation of hostilities fails to hold. Clearly the U.S. does not consider that the requirement for committing to a political resolution of the conflict in Syria applies to itself. Kerry stated at the Committee, “This can get a lot uglier and Russia has to be sitting there evaluating that too. It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if it is much longer.”

In the midst of UN-led peace talks to try and bring Syrian forces together to establish a political resolution to the conflict, Canada announced it was providing technical and advisory support to certain groups in the negotiations instead of supporting the peace process itself.  In Istanbul, Stéphane Dion met with one of the main foreign backed, self-proclaimed opposition groups in Syria, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also known as the Syrian National Coalition. (On December 11, 2012 American President Barack Obama declared the coalition to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” and 100 countries followed on the day after at the Friends of Syria Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco.) 

In the meeting with Dion, the group advocated to Canada to ensure that regime change would be the outcome of any political transition process in Syria. A release from the Coalition about its meeting with Dion stated “the agreement must set the stage for a political transition that ensures ending the rule of the Assad family and achieving the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity,” and called on the Canadian government to “support the efforts aimed at bringing about a real political transition in Syria without Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle.”

2016-03-04-at-3.30.14.Stavridis-CBCSince then both CBC and CTV have carried items openly promoting the partition of Syria. For example, on March 16 CBC’s Power & Politics, following the news of Russia’s partial military withdrawal from Syria and the electoral results of SuperTuesday in the US, former NATO supreme allied commander James Stavridis (2009-2013) called for a federal state organized on sectarian line composed of an Alawite, Sunni and Shia parts. Stavridis is a regular, presented as an “expert.” On February 16 on the same program, this warmonger advocated a new invasion of Libya, saying “Canada has a responsibility to join a potential mission there.”

Clearly, the aim of regime change from outside is being imposed on a peace process which is supposed to lead to a political transition decided by Syrians themselves. The military training by Canadian Special Forces in Kurdistan, the deployment of special forces to Lebanon and Jordan and a warship assigned to the NATO fleet in the Aegean Sea, secret diplomacy, disinformation about “peacekeeping”, “engagement” with Iran, and its alliance with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey is part of that strategy. Such is the “advise” and “aid” the Syrian people are receiving from Canada, a country involved in trying to change and overthrow their government in violation of international law.

With a file from TML Weekly“Canada Participates in Foreign Meddling in UN-Sponsored Syrian Peace Talks.”.


A who’s who of the Syrian “civil war” and ceasefire

By ARAM MIRZAEI, Vineyard of the Saker

(March 8) – Since last week the Syrian ceasefire deal been in full effect. Despite repeated violations during this week, world leaders commit to putting their faith in this temporary truce. The Syrian ceasefire does not, however, cover the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Syrian Al-Qaeda branch, and other designated terrorist groups.

Despite the global powers making this statement, it remains unclear who these “other designated terrorist groups” actually are; it is therefore safe to say that no one really has an idea, since it has been rather clear that the main actors of this conflict differ radically in that designation. It is estimated that over 100 rebel groups participated at the implementation of this truce deal, with more joining as Russia has been ramping up its efforts of reconciliation in Syria. [1] [2] [3] Different actors consider different fighting parties to be terrorists and conflicting interests makes the matter even worse. While it is difficult to keep track of the estimated 1500 rebel groups fighting on the ground, it has never been a secret that the main rebel factions, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Jaysh Al-Islam, Harakat Ahrar-Al Sham and the Free Syrian Army have cooperated, carried out joint missions, and have occupied towns and villages together against the Syrian Armed Forces.[4] [5] [6] [7] These groups intermingle deeply and make it rather difficult for outside observers to distinguish between.[8]

The main areas of the truce deal are implemented in the southern and central parts of the country, with several pockets of rebel held areas, besieged for some years now, being able to catch a breath. Below is a map showing the rather small areas considered to be “green zones” for the truce.

Groups and areas part of the ceasefire deal or with unclear status

The ceasefire deal covers a few specific areas, namely the southern Daraa province where several rebel groups part of the “Southern Front Brigades” have agreed to several reconciliation and truce deals. [9] The ceasefire is also supposed to cover the northern Homs/southern Hama pocket of rebel resistance where Russia and government forces have come under scrutiny for bombing. Despite all of this, there’s no denial of the heavy Nusra and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham presence in the towns of Talbiseh and Al-Rastan. [10] [11] [12]

Also, the ceasefire was violated several times amid a new Islamist offensive launched six days ago. [13]

Other participants of the truce are the Kurdish YPG forces and their allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have pledged to abide by the truce despite Turkish insistence on their exclusion. [14][15]

Southern Front Brigades

Leadership: Gen. Bashar al-Zoubi (Alleged)

A coalition of 58 militant group factions associated with the Free Syrian Army was formed in February of 2014. The groups has recieved US and western backing in the form of training and arms. [16]

Despite its name, there remains heavy dispute over their association with the Free Syrian Army at all.

The Carter Center, a private organization in the U.S. in February 2015 also described ‘The Southern Front’ as a loose coalition of self-described moderate armed groups without leadership or organizational structure, that has agreed on the name ‘Southern Front’ to receive support from the ‘Friends of Syria’ “an international diplomatic collective, which focuses on supporting the Syrian opposition”[17]

The Southern Front Brigades have made it no secret that they cooperate with Jabhat Al-Nusra in this area as well, with the groups launching multiple offensives together against the Syrian Armed Forces. [18]

YPG & SDF

Leadership: Sipan Hemo

The People’s Protection Units (YPG) were introduced to the Syrian conflict rather late, with their first clashes occurring during the summer of 2012 where Kurdish forces assumed control over Kobani and Afrin among other areas. [19] [20] The Kurdish campaign has mostly focused on fighting Islamists from Jabhat Al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant since then, with the most heated battles taking place around Kobani and Tal Abyad. The Kurdish effort has since long been supported by the US led anti-ISIL coalition with regular airstrikes backing up YPG forces. The Turkish government however views this group as a Syrian branch of the Kurdish separatist PKK group in Turkey. Thus Turkey views this group as a threat and has been shelling them several times. [21]

The Syrian Democratic Forces is a relatively new alliance of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrians militias formed in October 2015. The YPG forms the biggest group participating. [22]

The alliance has shown tendencies to tolerate Syrian government forces and vice versa with President Bashar al-Assad stating that he is willing to make concessions and engage in talks with them. Since the start of the Russian intervention in Syria, the SDF have also engaged in cooperation and talks with Russia. [23] [24]

Operations rooms/Alliances not included in the ceasefire deal

Ansar Al-Shariah

A conglomerate of over a dozen Islamist militant groups who formed the Ansar Al Shariah coalition in 2015 to combat government forces in Aleppo. The forefront groups participating in this coalition are Jabhat Al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Jabhat Ansar Al Din and the Syrian Turkmen Brigade. Because of Al-Nusra being heavily funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey among others, it is likely that the other members of the coalition have access to and enjoy the same kind of backing.[25]

Fatah Halab

Another coalition of Islamist militants in Aleppo, totalling up to 50 groups and formed in 2015, with a similar goal “to “liberate” Aleppo City from the Syrian regime”. Predominantly composed of fighters from the large hardline Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham group and Jaysh Al-Islam. Also composed of more than a dozen FSA units as well, It is noticeable that Jabhat Al-Nusra is not part of this operations room.

Jaysh Al- Fateh (Army of Conquest)

Formed in March of 2015, this alliance was a special joint Saudi/Turkish project which was aimed at expelling the Syrian Arab Army from the Idlib Governorate. [26] The Army of Conquest quickly captured the remainder of the Idlib Governorate that was under government control, including Idlib City, while also besieging the two predominantly Shia towns of Kafraya and Al-Fuaa. The alliance was originally formed by seven founding groups, of which three were direct Al-Qaeda affiliates (Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Jund Al-Aqsa) and who provided more than 90 % of the troops. [27] Several other groups such as Sham Legion (Faylaq Al-Sham) are Muslim Brotherhood affiliates. Interestingly enough, this coalition also had the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Islamist separatist organization founded by Uyghurmilitants in western China and is now proudly displaying its fighters in Syria. [28] It is widely believed that Turkey and specifically Turkish intelligence has provided aid to this terrorist organization. [29]

Jaysh al-Mujahedeen

Leadership: Mohammed Shakerdi [30]

Formed in January of 2014, the Army of Mujahedeen was formed out of several smaller FSA and Islamist brigades, notably the Harakat Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki Islamic Brigadesand the Al-Noor Islamic Movement.[31] In 2015, with the formations of several other alliances, the prominent Harakat Nour Al-Din Al- Zenki group left the alliance. Foreign support has been given through the United States and Qatar among others. [32] The group mainly operates in the Aleppo Governorate, but claims to also operate in Idlib.

Main terrorist groups not included in the ceasefire deal

These four main groups fighting the Syrian Armed Forces are considered by the Syrian, Russian & Iranian governments to be terrorist organizations that are not included in any truce or ceasefire deal.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Leadership: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

Local type of leadership: Wilayah & Emirs

A Salafi Takfiri militant group with origins from Iraq. ISIL has today grown into arguably the most powerful militant group fighting in the Syrian war with estimates ranging between 52,000–250 000 in terms of manpower. ISIL controls large parts of eastern Syria and sizeable portions of central and northern Syria. ISIL entered the Syrian war in April 2013 after having wreaked havoc in neighbouring Iraq for years before, and quickly began to gain strength in Syria, capturing several areas in northern Syria. ISIL began as an ally to the various rebel groups operating in northern Syria, including Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. This alliance culminated in the capture of the Menagh Military Airbase in the Aleppo Governorate, in August 2013. [33]

Internal divisions within the different Al-Qaeda branches of Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIL on one hand and ISIL and the other rebel groups on the other, sparked a rivalry that culminated in a inter-Islamist conflict on New Years eve of 2013. Since 2014, ISIL has not only been fighting the government of Syria and the Kurdish YPG, but also other terrorist organizations in a power struggle for domination of Syria. ISIL currently controls 35-40 % ( 1.5 -2 million people) of the country and one provincial capital in Syria: Raqqa city.

Jabhat Al-Nusra

Flag of the Al-Nusra Front.svg

Leadership: Abu Muhammad Al Golani

Ideology: Wahhabism/Salafism

Strength: ~10 000-15 000

Main external backers: Turkey & Saudi Arabia

Area of operations: Mainly in the Idlib Governorate, which is also a stronghold of Al-Nusra and their allies. Nusra also enjoys strong support from the local population in some of these areas.

The Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. Established in 2012, Jabhat Al-Nusra quickly took a leading role in the battle against government forces. By the second half of 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra stood out among the array of armed groups emerging in Syria as a disciplined and effective fighting force.[34] Jabhat Al-Nusra, unlike many of the other rebel groups, operates through almost the entire country, with branches spread out across Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Hama, Daraa and Damascus. Several sources put their manpower strength at somewhere between 10 000- 15 000 active militants, with more recruits joining from Turkey, who together with Saudi Arabia form the main external backers of this Islamist group. [35][36]

Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam)

Leadership: Zahran Alloush (former)

Jaysh Al-Islam, formerly known as Liwa al-Islam is a Islamist/Salafist group formed in 2013 by the late Zahran Alloush, son of Saudi-based religious scholar Abdullah Mohammed Alloush. Jaysh Al-Islam primarily operates in the Damascus Governorate, mainly in the East Ghouta area. The group shares many ideological similarities to Al-Qaeda and other Salafist Takfiri organizations, with its now deceased leader Zahran Alloush being famous for his sectarian remarks against Shiites on several occasions. [37][38]

Jaysh Al-Islam have themselves claimed on May 2015 to have between 17 000-25 000 members, but this number is likely lower due to heavy casualties in recent battles. Jaysh Al- Islam controlled East Ghouta is not part of the ceasefire deal since they are considered to be Al-Qaeda affiliates, in close cooperation with Jabhat Al-Nusra

Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham

Leadership: Abu Yahia al-Hamawi[39]

Arguably the largest Islamist rebel group in Syria and together with Jabhat Al-Nusra form the bulk of the Islamist rebels fighting the government in mainly Idlib, Latakia, Hama and Aleppo. Already in 2013, the group was said to have up to 20 000 fighters[40] The group shares the same radical Wahhabi/Salafi ideology and have on occasions been thought to be a political front for Jabhat Al-Nusra, as this group is not a designated terrorist organization by the Security Council.[41] The group enjoys heavy backing from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. [42] Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham is however not part of the ceasefire deal since they intermingle with Jabhat Al- Nusra on the same fronts that are not part of the agreement. This makes them legitimate targets according to the ceasefire deal.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Endnotes

  1. http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/nearly-100-rebel-groups-sign-up-to-syria-truce
  2. http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/nearly-100-rebel-groups-sign-up-to-syria-truce
  3. https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/30-villages-join-reconciliation-process-hama/
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/opinion/sunday/a-risky-bet-on-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0
  5. https://pjmedia.com/blog/us-backed-free-syrian-army-operating-openly-with-isis-al-qaedas-jabhat-al-nusra/
  6. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-airport-idUSBRE97411J20130805
  7. http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/free-syrian-army-and-jabhat-al-nusra-announce-joint-offensive-in-al-houla/
  8. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/syria-war-ceasefire-160228063752872.html
  9. http://en.abna24.com/service/middle-east-west-asia/archive/2016/03/01/738210/story.html
  10. http://syriadirect.org/news/jabhat-a-nusra-in-rastan-“like-the-islamic-state”/
  11. http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/russian-air-force-strikes-al-nusra-in-northern-homs-saa-moves-in-attacking-position/
  12. http://www.vox.com/2015/9/30/9423229/russia-bombing-isis-syria
  13. https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/nusra-launches-offensive-in-southern-hama/
  14. http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/02/24/452095/Turkey-Kurds-YPG-PYD-Syria-Erdogan-Russia
  15. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3463863/Syria-Kurdish-militia-says-respect-ceasefire.html
  16. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30374581
  17. http://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/NationwideUpdate-Feb-28-2015.pdf
  18. http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/JN%20Final.pdf
  19. http://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/7/syriakurd554.htm
  20. http://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/7/syriakurd541.htm
  21. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/13/turkey-shells-kurdish-forces-in-syria-in-retaliation-for-attack-on-border-posts
  22. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2015/11/01/Syria-Joint-Kurd-Arab-Assyrian-force-announces-US-backed-offensive-in-al-Hasakah/7601446424051/
  23. http://www.kurdwatch.org/?e3631
  24. http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/160920151
  25. http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Syrian%20Opposition%20Guide_0.pdf
  26. http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Syrian%20Opposition%20Guide_0.pdf, p 18
  27. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/12392/21/Gulf-allies-and-%E2%80%98Army-of-Conquest%E2%80%99.aspx
  28. http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=f25_1449440442
  29. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n01/seymour-m-hersh/military-to-military
  30. http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/syria-army-mujahideen-challenges-isis-gains
  31. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/01/04/New-Syria-rebel-alliance-declares-war-on-al-Qaeda.html
  32. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-insight-idUSKCN0JF2L020141201?irpc=932
  33. http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323420604578652250872942058
  34. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/al-qaeda-iraq-syria-108214_full.html#.VtP0Zmf2ZaQ
  35. http://southfront.org/500-militants-cross-turkish-border-towards-azaz-syria/
  36. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-crisis-turkey-and-saudi-arabia-shock-western-countries-by-supporting-anti-assad-jihadists-10242747.html
  37. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auKL9-rz0ek
  38. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA6Af9o4Zmk
  39. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/abu-yahia-al-hamawi-ahrar-al-shams-new-leader/
  40. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21582037-one-islamist-rebel-group-seems-have-overtaken-all-others-competition-among
  41. https://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/523
  42. http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/12/the-road-to-a-syria-peace-deal-runs-through-russia/
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3 Comments

Filed under West Asia (Middle East)

3 responses to “Ceasefire in Syria: A who’s who of the terrorist factions

  1. Tony,
    Thought you’d be interested in, and could act upon, the truth of Libya 2011 revealed in the explosive interview of James and Joanne Moriarty by Gary Null on “Progressive Commentary Hour”. Combined with Ellen Brown’s recent expose of the true reasons Gaddafi and Libya were destroyed, widespread global dissemination leading to the people’s awareness would literally and positively transform life on Earth. Pardon the pun, but the truth about Libya when widely known guarantees the end of Clinton and Sanders’ becoming the Democratic nominee – not only “huge”, but actually much “huger”: World-changing… All the best.

    http://prn.fm/progressive-commentary-hour-03-15-16/

    • Jerry, I am interested and thanks again. As they are proposing new military operation all over again. Stavridis, fomer NATO SUpreme Commander, has been on the CBC several times pushing this agenda.

  2. Using the simplest analogy, it’s like living in a town with one bank, another bank opens shop for business, and the owners of the first bomb and kill everyone associated with the new competitor. At that low level, the first bank’s owners would become prosecuted for murder and face the punishment – whether death sentence or life behind bars. In the case of Libya, Syria, etc. it’s correct to describe such actions as war crimes. The prn.fm link was shared on a WordPress site associated with the Coalition for the ICC, so it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, action those people take. I commented that the men and women there would “inevitably become faced with the deepest soul-searching” to determine the next moral step upon becoming aware of the truth. All the best.

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