Levant States Coming Unglued as Iraq teeters on Edge of Civil War and Syria Beset by over 1000 militias
Posted by Joshua on Sunday, January 27th, 2013
The Levant States seem to be coming unglued as the fighting in Fallujah pushes Iraq toward civil war. The Arab Spring may not be so much about democracy as reworking the states, borders, and national identities laid down by WWI colonial powers. The ungluing of state structures may eventually lead to democracy, but only after decades of turmoil and suffering. The peoples of the region are going through a great sorting out – perhaps not unlike the sorting out that Eastern Europe peoples went through during the first half of the last century. The ethnic groups and religious communities trapped within the Sykes-Picot borders must refashion national allegiances and identities into something workable. Today, they mostly seem dysfunctional. The economic and political failure of most Middle Eastern states seems linked to the broader social failure to find a common identity. Hopefully the North African states can pull through this without such collapse.
Manifestations of centrifugal forces from Libya to Iraq raise the question of whether the Arab postcolonial states can, as presently configured geographically and structurally, transit to post-postcolonial, at least quasi-democratic, states. Or will they be federalized, Lebanized or altogether dismembered, with all of the political turbulence and violence associated with these scenarios of reconfiguration and dismemberment? Secondly, the rise of Islamism — most especially in Tunisia and Egypt but essentially everywhere as Arab authoritarian leaders begin to teeter — raises a question: will the Arab world become part of global political processes or depart yet further from them? After all, Iran’s choice of a vilayat-e faqih [an Islamic jurist] to lead the nation hardly brought it back into the global mainstream.
Iraq Moves Toward Civil War
By Marisa Sullivan, January 26, 2013 – ISW
Thousands of Iraqis gathered in Fallujah on Saturday, 26 January, to bury the protesters killed the day before by Iraqi Army fire. At a protest following the funerals, demonstrators denounced the government in language reminiscent of the early stages of the uprising in Syria, chanting “Listen Maliki, we are free people” and “Take your lesson from Bashar.” Many protesters displayed Saddam-era flags, signaling their sympathy with the former Ba’ath regime. Photos from the funeral also show demonstrators waving the black flag of al-Qaeda.
Fallujah Protests Turn Violent
January 25, 2013
By Marisa Sullivan, Stephen Wicken, and Sam Wyer – ISW
Anti-government demonstrations turned violent today as Iraqi security forces fired on protesters in Fallujah. The confrontation began when protesters in eastern Fallujah attempted to join Friday’s demonstration and were blocked by security forces deployed from Baghdad. The demonstrators began to throw rocks and water bottles at the security forces at the checkpoint. In videos from the scene, the protesters appear to be unarmed, though Prime Minister Maliki later accused the demonstrators of firing on security forces. Iraqi army forces escalated by firing warning shots into the air, but soon they began to fire directly at the crowd. Protesters also escalated by torching several army vehicles and two cars, including one belonging to an Iraqiyya politician and another to a local politician. Initial reports indicate as many as seven protesters were killed and more than 60 were wounded in the incident.
Several hours later, clashes between gunmen and security forces occurred…The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a group linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, is claiming responsibility for the attacks and calling for people to join the “jihad” in Fallujah on Twitter. On Friday evening, they declared that “gunmen [were] deployed in the streets of Fallujah to protect the protesters.”…
1000 Militias in Syria
International Committee of the Red Cross index of armed groups in Syria with which they have to deal is 15 pages; about 1,000 in total.
Alawite Wedding Video attended by General Ali Khouzam, a high ranking general in the Republican Guard and right hand man to Mr Maher Al Assad.
The language is difficult but Ali Khouzam explains to the young men attending the wedding who hang on his words that only three of the original 50 soldiers of his unit remain alive. He says that he was dragged to the wedding by his wife who wanted to go out and have some fun.
The primary context of the video is the singing of a zajal, a semi-improvised and semi-sung form of poetry. In this instance it is constructed around the repetition of variations of the word “Ali” to mean “Ali” the cousin of Prophet Muhammad, “aali” the highest, and the preposition “on”. There is nothing unusual about such a zajal, but what is unusual is the distinctly Alawite religious incantations that are added by Khouzam, something that has shocked many non-Alawite listeners and caused it to go viral. Most Syrians know little about the Alawite religion. Even though Alawites and Sunnis have lived side by side for centuries, the Alawite deification of Ali remains a shocking realization to many. Alawites conceal their religion and have been frequently condemned for exaggerating their worship of Ali.
Ali Khouzam calls Ali the creator and the Prince of the Bees, a title frequently used in Alawite prayers. Khousam tells the young men that God will forgive the Alawites for their sins and that they have no choice but to continue fighting.
Apparently 10 days after he attended this wedding Khouzam was killed in the ongoing battles with the revolutionary forces.
Even in Assad’s coastal retreat, the war has come and the bombs are dropping
Martin Chulov, The Observer, Saturday 26 January 2013
Bands of rebels, pursued by Syrian air power, are consolidating their position in mountains above the wealthy playground of Latakia – which may become the regime’s last redoubt….jihadist groups, first among them the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, who are now congregating around 20km north of Latakia and making plans to advance. “There are around 300-400 of them,” said a rebel commander in the hills not far away. “They have their eyes on the gold and jewellery stores. They are more interested in here than in Idlib, or Aleppo.”
Not all those under fire are seeking refuge in Latakia. Some families, the few that remain in the battleground villages of Jebel al-Krud, are trying to make their way north to Turkey. In one such village, the custodian of the town’s Orthodox church offered the Observer a tour of the ancient stone building that she so clearly cherished….
“It won’t be fast and it won’t be easy,” said a leader of the rebels’ military council, who not long ago owned large and lucrative quarries in the Idlib hinterland. His business interests have since been confiscated and he claimed to be as penniless as the defector sitting cross-legged on the barren floor next to him, a private in the Syrian army who fled his post in Jisr al-Shughour last month. “I don’t care what it takes,” the officer said. “As long as we beat al-Qaida to Latakia.”
In this room, a former Syrian army outpost, and in others like it in the northern countryside of Syria, the working theory is that Assad and his senior officials are keeping a corridor open to Latakia from the south-east – a line that traces the Alawite heartland of the country, past Hama, then Homs, and ending in Damascus.
“They are preparing for a worst-case scenario,” one rebel offered as an explanation. “If it goes badly for the Alawites, they will want a country of their own.”
“Do you think it’s going badly for them?” another man asked. “This is going to continue for another year. They will wear us down.”
Another man joined in, struggling to be heard above a now increasing din of voices. “Another year, we’ll all be dead. That is too much. May God punish Bashar and all his family.”
The conversation was now drowned by shouting. Goals and realities seemed almost irreconcilable at this point in the group’s battle planning. There seems little way forward except more of the same grinding, miserable suffering that has come to characterise the war in the north.
“But we must get it together. We just must,” the rebel leader finally piped up. “You in the west ask us why it is going like this and then you refuse to help us. Latakia is a price worth paying. There is no way Bashar can win the war if he loses there.”
We spoke by phone to a merchant in Latakia on Saturday. He runs restaurants on the coastline and an import business through the nearby port. “Jet skis are on the ocean and people are smoking [water pipes],” he said. “Yes, there are planes and bombs in the distance. But for now it’s our new reality. We are getting used to it. If they get any closer, we’ll leave.”
The Battle for Latakia Part One
by Karen Leigh – January 21, 2013 – Syria Deeply
“The [rest of the] fighting will be in Latakia, because the regime’s power is all in Latakia,” says Major Abu Suheil, head of the provincial military council. “If we finish them there, we win. Latakia’s fighting will stretch on longer than anywhere else in Syria.”…
The creation of an unbridgeable divide
Ammar Abdulhamid 24 January 2013, Open Democracy
Syria’s civil war is now strongly characterised by militias identifying along sectarian lines. The growing divide between Sunnis and Alawites has profound implications for Syria, and the Middle East…. The revolution has indeed challenged this state of affairs, constituting an existential threat in the political as well as the socio-economic sense, not only to the Assad family but to the Alawite community as a whole….
For the Sunni Arab population of Syria, it’s the overt sectarian and violent nature of the crackdown, underscored by the willingness to kill unarmed protesters, including women and children, and to defile mosques and Sunni religious symbols, that have in time posed an existential threat. While in terms of the demographics involved, the Sunnis are under no real threat of being physically wiped out by Alawites, in reality, over the last 20 months, the very structure of their existence has been severely undermined. With millions of Sunni refugees now on the run inside and outside the country, and entire Sunni towns, villages and neighborhoods laid to waste, entire ways of life and a worldview that used to be more encompassing and tolerant have been, perhaps irrevocably, shattered.
The Syrian Sunni identity is changing. Sunnis see that they are being treated as if they were all extremist Salafists, as indicated by the pejorative term “Ar’ouris” (after the Salafi Sheikh Adnan Ar’our) concocted by Alawite militias. They see that the majority of members of other confessional minority groups seem to remain sympathetic to Assad,…
Jihadism and national pride
The fact that the Sunni community has for years harbored within its fold movements that were ideologically and psychologically primed to embrace such a development, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb Al-Tahrir, the Salafi community and other Jihadi elements, made this transformation somewhat inevitable.
There are two forms of Jihadism clashing in Syria today….. al-Nusra…
The other form of Jihadism on the scene is of course Alawite. In fact, in the context of the Syrian Revolution, Alawite Jihadism seems to have emerged first, before actively encouraging the emergence of a Sunni counterpart within the ranks of the revolutionary movement by providing a justification for its existence and tactics….
But there is something unique about Alawite Jihadism. Rather than developing as a strictly religious phenomenon, as is the case with other Shia Jihadi movements such as Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army, Alawite Jihadism is more of a national Alawite pride movement. Indeed, by taking part in Assad’s bloody crackdown, Alawite youths, irrespective of their level of education, seem to be expressing pride in who they are. In their leaked videos, Facebook pages and twitter accounts, young Alawite men in particular seem to feel quite empowered, liberated even, by the acts of brutality being perpetrated in their name by their “patriotic” militias, or which they themselves are directly perpetrating. The leaked video of the Alawite soldier who called his mother and had her listen in as he executed a “terrorist” is a grisly and poignant example. For the first time, young Alawite men are now able to celebrate their identity and declare the superiority of their ways and beliefs, while expressing publicly what they must have felt for so long vis-à-vis their Sunni compatriots. Young Alawite men are now telling the world that they are followers of Amir Al-Mu’mineen Haydarah Ali Bin Abi Talib and believers in the Divine Wisdom of one Bashar Al-Assad for whose sake they are willing to set the entire country on fire, and have in fact been doing so.
In a sense, Alawite youths have awoken and are leading their own revolution (or counter-revolution) in a manner commensurate with their own vision and understanding of where their interests lie. Far from the limelight, they are leading their own Jihad against history, the very history that has always conspired against them, so they believe, and continues to do so. The fact that their suffering is not as well-publicized as that of their Sunni “enemies” makes it seem even more authentic. After all, their suffering and sacrifices have always taken place far from the limelight, and the history books, and are alive only in their collective memory, their oral traditions, and their imagination.
The civil struggle
Far from the limelight as well, other communities in Syria feel equally threatened. There are Arab Christian communities of different denominations, there are Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent, there are Druzes and Ismailites, and there are Cherkessians and Kurds. All are looking on with horror as the two main protagonists in the current conflagration become more and more radical and out-of-control….
So it seems that the glue that used to keep these communities together through thick and thin, that element of trust, that live-and-let-live ethos stemming from centuries of relatively peaceful coexistence under the millet system, has dried up under the Assad regime’s continuous and vindictive assault on civil society. But there is nothing to replace it today: neither a covenant nor an accord, nor even a respected elite that can put something together then sell it to the people…..
Syria consensus coalesces in Davos, by Gideon Rachman in Davos – FT
West’s fears over Syria Islamists mount as coalition flounders
John Irish and Mohammed Abbas Reuters, January 25, 2013
PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) – Western concern over the growing strength of jihadist rebels in Syria is mounting, hindering aid to the moderate Syrian National Coalition opposition and possibly pushing it into the arms of religiously conservative backers, diplomatic sources said.
The widely recognized coalition has failed to gain traction on the ground in Syria since being formed in November, its credibility undermined by its failure to secure arms and cash in the battle to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the coalition’s lack of cohesion – it this week failed to form a transitional government – has deterred the West from boosting aid to the group, in particular the guns and ammunition coalition fighters are crying out for.
That has left the door open to Islamist groups, funded and armed by wealthy Gulf states and individuals, to become the strongest fighting factions in Syria. They command local respect for their effectiveness, but alarm some in the West.
On Monday, Western and Syrian coalition officials hope to break the deadlock at a meeting in Paris, amid coalition accusations of broken promises of aid and splits in the West on how to address the Islamist presence in the Syrian rebel ranks.
“This meeting is to ring the alarm bell. We have to assure the coalition of our support and the support of the international community,” said a French diplomatic source.
“We must avoid a government in exile. The objective is to have a direct impact on the ground. Bring value to the Syrians on the ground,” the source added.
Syrian coalition officials say the best way to make an impact is to provide its poorly equipped fighters with weapons. But Western diplomats are wary of the coalition’s disunity, and are mindful of the spread of weapons to Islamists in Syria and across the volatile region.
French forces are currently battling Islamists in Mali, the insurgents armed with weapons thought to have come from Libya after the Western-backed 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
“We have also learnt from experience and we’re seeing it in Mali with weapons that came from Libya to the armed groups there now. What we don’t want is weapons falling into the hands of the wrong people,” the French source said….
Today’s events suggest a significant escalation in Iraq’s ongoing crisis after weeks of anti-government protests. Sunni protesters and tribal leaders in Anbar are now threatening to abandon politics and return to violence as the primary means for addressing their grievances. A violent response by Sunni groups or security forces could prompt security and stability in Iraq to unravel.
Understanding the Supreme Military Council: The Military Branch of Syria’s Future Opposition Council-led Transitional Government, January 5, 2013 by Syrian Support Group Policy Blog – it gives a battle plan which can be compared to that of its rival, the Islamic Front, here.
At Davos, he said, “I urge that the administration not intervene militarily. If it does, it will find itself in the middle of a bitter ethnic conflict”…. world cannot ignore the huge unfolding humanitarian tragedy with more than 60,000 people killed and four million displaced. “Even if outside forces do not intervene militarily, the administration will be caught up in the humanitarian tragedy that has started”.
Rebel court fills void amid Syrian civil war
By Ivan Watson and Raja Razek, CNN, January 25, 2013
…This self-appointed council of judges, lawyers and clerics started working four months ago. Judging by the line of supplicants waiting in the halls, residents appear to have granted this court some degree of popular legitimacy.
….”Up until now we can control the situation,” Gayed warned. “But later on, we may not be able to contain it.”
Gayed argued his council’s experiment in rebel justice is a more tolerant alternative to the Islamic courts that Nusra Front has reportedly been establishing in Aleppo and in other rebel controlled towns.
The United Courts Council is working to expand its law-and-order model to other communities in the largely rebel-held north. It is a desperate strategy, council members admitted, aimed at preventing Syria from descending further into chaos.
Sultan Al Qassemi analyzes how Qatar’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is affecting its ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the region. al-Monitor