The White Shroud: A Syrian Resistance Movement to the Islamic State

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

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Logo of “The White Shroud”

I have previously written on Sunni groups created within Iraq to fight against the Islamic State [IS], but what about in Syria? Some attention has been devoted to the group “Al-Kafn Al-Abyad” (The White Shroud), but on social media I have seen some controversy as to the nature of The White Shroud. For example, people ask: is it Jabhat al-Nusra, or ‘FSA’?

To answer this question, one needs to bear in mind that The White Shroud is an anti-IS outfit originally set up in the Deir az-Zor locality of Albukamal on the border with Iraq (now declared part of IS’ ‘Euphrates Province‘ spanning the borders, including al-Qa’im just over the border with Iraq): indeed describing itself as “the brigades of popular resistance in Albukamal.”

It will be recalled from my prior work that the town of Albukamal originally had six factions, listed below with their wider affiliations where applicable:

- Liwa Allahu Akbar (SMC/Hayat al-Arkan)
- Kata’ib Allahu Akbar (Authenticity and Development Front)
- Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar (independent; one-time pro-Ahrar al-Sham)
- Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya (independent; pro-Caliphate, tied to seeing the Syria and Iraq struggle for Sunnis as one)
- Katiba Bayariq al-Sunna (independent; pro-Caliphate)
- Kata’ib Junud al-Haq (Jabhat al-Nusra; evolved from Katiba Junud al-Haq)

Note that there were other factions in the wider area that emerged over time with influence such as Liwa al-Fatah al-Mubin which belonged to the now defunct coalition Euphrates Islamic Liberation Front, which had once played a role in the fight against IS in the northern Euphrates area in Syria.

Of the six main groups of Albukamal, Liwa Allahu Akbar became part of what was then the Islamic State in Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) after the November 2013 defection of leader Saddam al-Jamal (also known as Saddam Rakhaytah), who had clashed with Jabhat al-Nusra in September 2013. The Authenticity and Development Front is a Salafi coalition backed by Saudi Arabia that only conceives of Syria as an Islamic state within a national framework, while Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar did not have a political program beyond the fall of the regime despite the one-time affinity with Ahrar al-Sham that was subsequently disavowed in rejection of fighting ISIS at the end of January 2014. Kata’ib Junud al-Haq had defected to ISIS when ISIS was first announced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but re-defected to Jabhat al-Nusra after Zawahiri’s call to annul ISIS.

It will be noted in the picture of the logo above (taken from The White Shroud’s official Facebook page) that members of three of the factions I have just mentioned are included within The White Shroud: Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar, Authenticity and Development Front, and Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya. Of the other factions, two other sources from Albukamal- one the former spokesman for the defunct Kata’ib Junud al-Haq- have told me that Katiba Bayariq al-Sunna members all became part of IS once the town fell under IS control (undoubtedly ideological overlap played a role), while no members of Kata’ib Junud al-Haq are known to have joined The White Shroud thus far. Some of course will have become part of IS (again something undoubtedly facilitated by ideological overlap), but others will have simply laid arms aside as part of declaring ‘tawba’ (‘repentance’) before IS and then returned to civilian life with acknowledgment of IS’ supremacy. Others too- even of those factions now part of The White Shroud- simply fled the Albukamal area to head to other fronts: this was the case for the leader of a local Albukamal Authenticity and Development battalion- Liwa Basha’ir al-Nasr- who fled to Qalamoun in Damascus province after the fall of Albukamal.

The operations conducted by The White Shroud, like those of the anti-IS Sunni resistance movements in Iraq, have mostly been small-scale claimed assassinations so far, but apparently the group has been trying to expand its activities in Deir az-Zor province, with a contingent supposedly now in Deir az-Zor city in a video released by the Authenticity and Development Front. It will certainly be of interest to see if The White Shroud develops into a broader umbrella front for a variety of former rebel factions in Deir az-Zor province of a variety of orientations.

Update and Further Note

My friend and colleague Alfred Hackensberger, drawing on his own sources, contends that The White Shroud is not a real group. I would disagree with this notion but a more general point needs to be made about real manpower and capabilities. In truth, I do not think The White Shroud at present has any more than a few dozen fighters. Indeed, it has to be remembered that the component battalions of The White Shroud lost significant numbers of members to an ISIS assault on the town of Albukamal in April. Not overstating manpower and capabilities also applies to other anti-IS resistance movements: if, for example, a Kata’ib Mosul component representative gives contingent numbers into the hundreds, it is a safe bet to downgrade the actual manpower by several factors. As far a operations go, nothing suggests the attacks on IS- even if successful- have truly damaged the group’s power base in the areas it controls.

Also in my own experience, though Abu al-Layth of the Dawn of Freedom Brigades affirmed to me that 250 fighters of his coalition had been sent to Kobani to aid the YPG in its fight against IS, he affirmed that this number had declined to 160 in a subsequent conversation. Meanwhile, a representative of the Sun of the North/Northern Sun Battalions- the contingent of Dawn of Freedom Brigades in Kobani- only affirmed the presence of some 70 fighters for the group in a 12 October conversation with me.

Joshua Landis on ISIS, Syria & the “Great Sorting Out” in the Middle East – Interview with Danny Postel

Joshua Landis on ISIS, Syria & the “Great Sorting Out” in the Middle East In conversation with Danny Postel of Denver University’s CMES This discussion is an elaboration of a short article, “The Great Sorting Out: Ethnicity & the Future of the Levant,” that Elias Muhanna published on his blog, Qifa Nabki

Interview with Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali: Commander of the National Ideological Resistance in Syria

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Following on from my previous post here at Syria Comment on the National Ideological Resistance in Syria (a ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ militia brand primarily based in Tartous and Hama governorates but also operating militarily at least in Aleppo province as well), below is an interview I recently conducted with the group’s leader: Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali.

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Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali, who is based in Tartous.

Some things to note in particular about this interview:

1. ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ brands at the grassroots level- whether or not actually set up by Hezbollah- with propagation of Iranian-aligned Shi’ism among Syrian Alawites predate the onset of the civil war in Syria, if the Sayyid’s testimony is true.

2. As ever, a contrast exists between what is stated here in this interview and what is propagated as open source social media advertisement. For example, in the case of extent of military operations, little from open source advertisement points to operations in Quneitra or Deraa.

3. It is interesting that the Sayyid says there is no connection with the Muqawama Suriya, even as the latter claims a media office branch in Masyaf (Hama province), for instance. This may indicate tension between the two despite the public advert ‘brotherology’ here (cf. his reference to Ali Kayali as ‘brother’).

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Muqawama Suriya: Masyaf Branch

Q: When was the National Ideological Resistance in Syria [NIR] established?

A: In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. The NIR was established in the beginning in mid-2009 before the events in Syria, as a resistance movement from within the components of the Syrian people against the Zionist enemy: nationalist, of the people (ideological), and [established] without intervention or support from any state or any other faction. We began with a small, limited number [of members] and we undertook special training sessions to undertake martyrdom missions against the Zionist soldiers. But [because of] our very weak capabilities…we undertook a number of simple missions…and we continued lying in wait for any opportunity to be offered to us to undertake a mission against the Zionist soldiers, in any case. And before the beginning of the crisis in Syria we perceived the danger and visited some of the oppositionists in a number of provinces and our weapons were the freedom of speech we possessed and we always expressed our opinions even if they were against the government, and we did not fear the truth…

Thus we were before the events and thus we still are, and thanks to God, we managed to connect with some of those who thought that what is happening in Syria is a revolution and a number of them joined our ranks, either transmitting information to us or participating in battle. The resistance was established in the mosque of Sayyida Zahara’ (peace be upon her) in the village of Namriya in the Sheikh Badr region of  Tartous.

Q: How many ‘martyrs’ does NIR have?

A: We have 27 great martyrs of righteousness and men of our Lord the Companion of Time [Imam al-Mahdi] (peace be upon him). We also have, thanks to God, around 70 wounded…and the wounds among them are serious and light, thanks to God.

Q: Does NIR support Ayatollah Khomeini’s wilayat al-faqih*?

A: With regards to your question about wilayat al-faqih, allow me to respond to your question with a question: are we able to be in the presence of one knowledgeable in religion to guide us? And why should we become confused in our matter so long as the sayyid and knowledgeable one is present? And we are the ones working for our Lord- the Companion of Time- to accept us in his army,** so as long as our work is pure to the face of God- Exalted is He- so it is obligatory for us to be bound by the program of the Commander of the Faithful and our impeccable imams. And we must embrace the original Islamic religion of Muhammad.

Q: What are your relations with Hezbollah in Lebanon?

A: On the question of our relations with the heroes and mujahideen of Hezbollah, we say with total pride that they are our model, whose manners, commitment, faith and power- which are from trust in God and Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah (may God protect him)- we imitate. Their cooperation with us gives us power, constancy, and faith in the divine victory.

Q: What are your relations with the Muqawama Suriya led by Ali Kayali?

A: On our relations with the brother Ali Kayali, sadly we are not connected by any relation because we work on internal fronts in Aleppo, Hama, Damascus, Deraa and Quneitra, but not in Latakia. So we don’t meet with them but in any case we respect all the honourable ones in this crisis and we are completely ready to cooperate with them within the ethical framework and direction of the Ahl al-Bayt [Muhammad's family revered by Shi'a in particular] (peace be upon them).

Notes

*- Iran’s ideological system of governance.
**- Whence NIR’s ‘armed wing’: Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi

Islamic State Officially Admits to Enslaving Yazidi Women

Matthew Barber 3by Matthew Barber

I first began tweeting about the Islamic State’s campaign to kidnap and enslave Yazidi women when I was in Iraq this past August. Though analysts were skeptical and online jihadists who defend IS vehemently denied my claims, I was communicating with the families of the kidnapped women and with those engaged in rescue efforts. I have even spoken by phone directly with kidnapped Yazidi women in captivity. One month ago, I sounded the alarm regarding the plight of the kidnapped Yazidi women for whom time is running out, detailing how an effective rescue operation would be possible. A number of journalists had written amazing stories, directly interviewing survivors—girls that had been kidnapped and placed into the homes of IS jihadists as slaves. These stories continue to emerge, TV interviews have taken place, and the UN issued a report on the kidnapping issue.

Despite the widespread doubt, I and the team I work with have been able to collect the names of thousands of kidnapped Yazidis—mostly women and girls, but also a number of kidnapped and imprisoned men that have been forced to convert to Islam. A month ago, our estimate of kidnapped Yazidis was below 4,000 individuals, but as we continue to gather data, our number now stands at almost 7,000.

Ongoing efforts to shed light on this crisis notwithstanding, the media hasn’t lingered on the issue. Evidence in the form of firsthand accounts of survivors gathered by credible journalists and academics wasn’t enough; skepticism seemed to reign in the absence of photographic evidence—something nearly-impossible to obtain. How would one snap photos of women distributed through private IS networks and placed into the homes of individual IS jihadists? Even a photograph of a Yazidi woman in an Arab home wouldn’t indicate that she was in fact enslaved as a “concubine.”

But today this controversy can be laid to rest. IS has just released the fourth installment of Dabiq, an official publication that they began to produce in July. This issue, called “The Failed Crusade,” contains an article entitled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” which details how IS fighters kidnapped and distributed Yazidi women as slave concubines. The article also provides their rationale for reviving slavery, which they root in their interpretation of the practice of the earliest Islamic communities. The Islamic State has now officially disclosed that it engages in the sexual enslavement of women from communities determined to be of “pagan” or “polytheistic” origin.

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Several observations on this IS article:

1) The campaign to enslave Yazidi women is genocidal in that it is part of a greater effort to end the existence of the Yazidi people:

The article states that the existence of the Yazidis is something for which God will judge Muslims:

Upon conquering the region of Sinjar in Wilāyat Nīnawā, the Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām. Their continual existence to this day is a matter that Muslims should question as they will be asked about it on Judgment Day, considering that Allah had revealed Āyat as-Sayf (the verse of the sword) over 1400 years ago.

The Islamic State also see the enslavement project as a means of forcing Yazidis to renounce their identity and convert to Islam:

Many of the mushrik women and children have willingly accepted Islam and now race to practice it with evident sincerity after their exit from the darkness of shirk.

Rasūlullāh (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Allah marvels at a people who enter Jannah in chains” [reported by al-Bukhārī on the authority of Abū Hurayrah]. The hadīth commentators mentioned that this refers to people entering Islam as slaves and then entering Jannah.

Abū Hurayrah (radiyallāhu ‘anh) said while commenting on Allah’s words, {You are the best nation produced for mankind} [Āli ‘Imrān: 110], “You are the best people for people. You bring them with chains around their necks, until they enter Islam” [Sahīh al-Bukhāri].

2) The Islamic State differentiates between a) People of the Book (non-Islamic religions receiving some rights and protection), b) religious groups that were originally Muslim but that have apostatized, and c) religious groups that were “originally polytheistic:”

Prior to the taking of Sinjar, Sharī’ah students in the Islamic State were tasked to research the Yazidis to determine if they should be treated as an originally mushrik group or one that originated as Muslims and then apostatized, due to many of the related Islamic rulings that would apply to the group, its individuals, and their families. Because of the Arabic terminologies used by this group either to describe themselves or their beliefs, some contemporary Muslim scholars have classified them as possibly an apostate sect, not an originally mushrik religion, but upon further research, it was determined that this group is one that existed since the pre-Islamic jāhiliyyah, but became “Islamized” by the surrounding Muslim population, language, and culture, although they never accepted Islam nor claimed to have adopted it. The apparent origin of the religion is found in the Magianism of ancient Persia, but reinterpreted with elements of Sabianism, Judaism, and Christianity, and ultimately expressed in the heretical vocabulary of extreme Sufism.

Accordingly, the Islamic State dealt with this group as the majority of fuqahā’ have indicated how mushrikīn should be dealt with. Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah payment. Also, their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqahā’ say cannot be enslaved and can only be given an ultimatum to repent or face the sword.

3) The IS article justifies their enslavement of polytheist women through their interpretation of the practice of the early Islamic community:

The article invokes the practice of khums originating with the earliest battles of Islam in which 1/5 of the war booty was set aside for the Prophet Mohammed (i.e. the “state”):

After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharī’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums.

The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikīn were sold by the Companions (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) before them. Many well-known rulings are observed, including the prohibition of separating a mother from her young children.

From the Islamic State’s point of view, any Muslim who tries to interpret the practice of the early Islamic community in a different way, in order to condemn the practice of slavery, speaks in direct contradiction to the Qur’an and the Prophet and has therefore left Islam:

Before Shaytān reveals his doubts to the weak-minded and weak hearted, one should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffār and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharī’ah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’ān and the narrations of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and thereby apostatizing from Islam.

4) In the view of the Islamic State, reviving the practice of slavery is actually a desirable goal with tangible spiritual benefits. They believe that slavery helps men avoid sexual sin because it enables them to avoid prohibited forms of extramarital sex. They underscore that it is impermissible to sleep with a hired household maid (a widespread occurrence in some countries where maids who become pregnant are often punished/imprisoned), yet sleeping with one’s concubine (who will have the same duties as the maid) is permissible:

Finally, a number of contemporary scholars have mentioned that the desertion of slavery had led to an increase in fāhishah (adultery, fornication, etc.), because the shar’ī alternative to marriage is not available, so a man who cannot afford marriage to a free woman finds himself surrounded by temptation towards sin. In addition, many Muslim families who have hired maids to work at their homes, face the fitnah of prohibited khalwah (seclusion) and resultant zinā occurring between the man and the maid, whereas if she were his concubine, this relationship would be legal. This again is from the consequences of abandoning jihād and chasing after the dunyā, wallāhul-musta’ān.

 

A Must-See Human Rights Watch Report

Coinciding with IS’ own admission of the practice, HRW has just released an excellent report on kidnapped and enslaved Yazidis that should be read in its entirety. A separate page has video footage containing extensive interviews with survivors, available with English and Arabic subtitles.

 

The National Ideological Resistance in Syria: A ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ Brand

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime is well-known, most notably in the captures of Qusayr in Homs province in May 2013 and Yabroud in Damascus province in March 2014. Considerably less attention has been given though to the emergence of native brands, which, if not actually set up by Hezbollah, are nonetheless identical in ideology and messaging. “The National Ideological Resistance in Syria” (NIR. Arabic: al-muqawama al-wataniya al-’aqa’idiya fi Souria) is a case-in-point.

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One of the logos of NIR.

As becomes immediately apparent from a glance at the above figure, there is clear affinity with Hezbollah and other Iranian proxy militias, with the familiar extended arm and rifle, as well as the featuring of a globe to indicate the worldwide scope of ideological godfather Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision for the ‘Islamic Revolution.’ In this context, the mere use of the term muqawama ['resistance']*- popularized by Iran and its proxies- also points to NIR’s alignment, which is further demonstrated with other social media graphics and logos put out in the group’s name.

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In the above logo put out by NIR social media, the group demonstrates its ideological vision combining Syrian nationalism and Khomeinism. Beginning from the left of the outer circle, we have Bashar al-Assad, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hafez al-Assad, Sheikh Saleh al-Ali (an Alawite who spearheaded a revolt against the French presence in what is now Syria soon after the First World War), Ayatollah Khamenei (Iran’s current Supreme Leader, who also features prominently on ‘martyrdom’ posters and other social media output for Iranian proxy militias like Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization), and Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah.

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For a further point of comparison with the previous image: from a video screenshot to accompany Kata’ib Hezbollah’s song “Battalions of Iron and Fire.” Note the familiar shadow-figure fighters at the bottom: cf. this video for the pro-Hezbollah song “It has been written on the earth with blood.”

The inclusion of Hassan Nasrallah alone would not be sufficient to demonstrate NIR’s affinity with the Iranian regime’s ideology: after all, his face can also be found on posters of the Arab Nationalist Guard (see my profile of this pro-Assad militia group here). It is rather the inclusion of Khomeini and Khamenei as well that needs to be considered here. Yet the clearest evidence pointing to NIR as a ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ comes in an NIR graphic below, where the name ‘Hezbollah’ is explicitly used.

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Advertising the ‘military wing’ also of NIR (the ‘Army of the Imam al-Mahdi’- Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi), with the name Hezbollah below.

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Another NIR graphic, this time featuring the logos of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah (Iraqi proxies of Iran) as well as Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Main featured slogan here: “Our decision is resistance.”

An NIR media representative advertised the group thus in a conversation with me:

“We are from the land [i.e. Syria], in the land and on the land. We are present in all the land of Syria, all areas of Syria and all sides- resisting Syrian nationalists- resisting ideological nationalists. Our goal is to cleanse the land, preserve honour, and build souls. Our relations are good with all the honourable ones in existence [NB: referring to my question about relations with Hezbollah]. Our creed is one of love and faith. Our men, youth and cub-scouts are embarking on all the fierce battles with arms, good word, love and humanity. Our force follows from our faith, nationalism and creed…”

One may legitimately ask where exactly NIR is based and whether it is a meaningful fighting force in any way. Information indicates that the NIR movement had its beginnings in the Hama locality of Masyaf and has reached out to a recruiting base in Tartous governorate, which has been virtually untouched by the ravages of the civil war. Indeed, the group’s orientation, with potential outreach to a large local Alawite recruiting pool, appears to reflect a strand of ‘Shi’afication’ of Alawite identity that is otherwise multi-faceted, attempting to bring it ever more in line with Twelver Shi’ism and in this case in support of Iran’s system of governance of wilayat al-faqih.

The emphasis on Shi’ism is also made clear in songs used by NIR in its social media: most notably the songs of pro-Hezbollah Lebanese singer Ali Barakat, who has also put out numerous hits in support of Assad. For example, one Barakat song used by NIR includes the lyrics: “It is a finest land: the mother of Khaybar [NB: Khaybar, where Muhammad subjugated his last Jewish opponents, is prominent in Shi'a militia music]. The men of God are not defeated. The Wahhabi-Salafi will not be safe. The expansion of Ali is exploding.” Note the NIR video includes slogans such as “Labbayk ya Ali” and “Labbayk ya Hussein” (at your service Ali/Hussein- typical Shi’a militia sectarian rhetoric).

As for whether NIR is a meaningful fighting force, my answer to this question is in the affirmative. From what can be gathered, fighters of the group have been active not only in the Hama area but also in Aleppo province, assisting along with other militia forces like the Muqawama Suriya the regime’s ongoing offensive in a bid to bring a fatal psychological blow to the rebels. To corroborate this assessment, below are some ‘martyrdom’ announcements from NIR under its ‘Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi’:

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Aymenn Shawqi Shaheen. Comparison with other data shows he was reported to have been killed on 2 March 2014 in the al-Safira area of Aleppo province. He was originally from Tartous. Note the Muqawama Suriya- another pro-regime Alawite/Twelver Shi’a militia- is present in al-Safira too.

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‘Martyrdom’ poster for Aymenn Shawqi Shaheen, featuring NIR’s logo etc.

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Ali Abbas: reportedly commander of the “Sheikh al-Wadi” contingent of NIR. His military efforts were said to have been known particularly in Mork, Hama province. He was also hailed as the “martyr of Wadi al-Uyun,” which is part of the Masyaf district of Hama province.

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Ghadeer Suleiman Ali: reported by NIR to have been killed in Aleppo.

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Ihab Ali Ali, reported to have been killed in Aleppo countryside on 10 December 2013. He was originally from the village of  Tayshour in Tartous governorate. Note the distinct Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi headband of NIR.

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Omar al-Shayet: originally from Aleppo and reportedly killed in north Aleppo countryside. He apparently moved to Tartous but then decided to return to Aleppo to fight against the rebels. Undoubtedly he came under the influence of NIR while in Tartous. His funeral took place in Tartous on 29 January 2014.

Note further this ‘martyrdom’ announcement for one Muhammad Muhammad Nour al-Shwaykh, who died fighting in Mork and whose burial took place on 27 May 2014 in Wadi al-Uyun.

Other photos besides death announcements attest to NIR’s existence as a fighting force.

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NIR fighters advertised by one “Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali,” who, based in Tartous, appears to function as secretary general for the group. Photo emerged in May 2013.

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NIR member Mohieb Khierbek, who has advertised himself as being present in Aleppo province (specifically, the Mount Simeon district) poses with his NIR headband, together with a Syrian flag, an NIR banner, and a Hezbollah flag, pointing further to the NIR as a ‘Syrian Hezbollah.’

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Mohieb Khierbek poses with his gun. Note his NIR headband and armband as well as the Hezbollah flag in the background.

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Mohieb Khierbek and fellow fighters pose with a Hezbollah flag.

In conclusion, it can be seen how the NIR- though admittedly a rather minor militia brand- attempts to blend distinct Syrian nationalism (contrasting with the pan-Arab messaging of the Arab Nationalist Guard) with Hezbollah’s imagery and ideology: hence a ‘Syrian Hezbollah’. It will be of interest to see if this brand expands in the future, with the overall effect of strengthening Iranian ideological influence over Alawites and perhaps Syrian Shi’a sects more generally.

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Another symbol of NIR: featuring the logo of the group inside the eagle of Syria’s national emblem, with inscription “Syrian Arab Republic” at the bottom.

Notes

*- In the Iraqi context, ‘muqawama’ is not the exclusive preserve of Iranian proxies and the Shi’a more generally. Non-Islamic State Sunni insurgent brands- such as the Islamic Army in Iraq- also deploy the term as an identity symbol.

The genesis of this article was due to a query put to me about NIR by Syria Conflict Monitor on Twitter.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Rubin Research Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre.

Further Thoughts (11 October 2014)

- In the opening of this piece, I wrote a conditional- ‘if not actually set up by Hezbollah’- but I am more inclined to see this group and any other ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ brands as the creation of Hezbollah. For further note, Syria Conflict Monitor points out to me that much of the reported presence of Hezbollah aiding the regime in Hama- with evidence of Hezbollah insignia and the like- points back to NIR.

- NIR is not the only pro-regime militia brand in Masyaf. The Muqawama Suriya, whose Alawites do not espouse a Shi’a identity aligned ideologically with Iran, also has a branch in Masyaf. In future, it will be of interest to see if these differing brands end up competing for local support and clashing, whatever public ‘brotherology’ may be espoused.

- Secretary General= Commander.