Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib: A Republican Guard Militia in Sayyida Zainab

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

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Emblem of Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib. With a balance flanked by two Syrian flags, the bottom of the emblem features the legendary Dhu al-Fiqar sword of Imam Ali, with the inscription: “There is no hero but Ali and no sword but the Dhu al-Fiqar.”

The Sayyida Zainab area in Damascus- home to the Sayyida Zainab shrine- serves as a primary base for many Shi’i militias, including a number of Iraqi formations like Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein, Liwa Dhu al-Fiqar and the Rapid Intervention Regiment. The Sayyida Zainab area is also the main base for the Syrian Shi’i militia Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi, which is affiliated with the 4th Armoured Division and has primarily served to maintain checkpoints. Somewhat similar in nature to Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi is Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib (“The Sword of Truth Brigade: The Conquering Lion of God”). The latter part of the group’s name is a reference to Imam Ali. The imagery is reinforced by the inclusion of the Dhu al-Fiqar in the emblem.

Like Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi, Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib is a Syrian militia with its base in the Sayyida Zainab area. However, its affiliation is not with the 4th Armoured Division, but rather the elite Republican Guard. This point is corroborated in open source data and the testimony of one Abu al-Layl al-Sadri, a fighter with Liwa Dhu al-Fiqar who resides opposite the militia’s base. According to Abu al-Layl al-Sadri, Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib’s base is located in the vicinity of the Mudhafa Fatimiya (‘Guest-House of Fatima’) in the Sayyida Zainab area. For context, the Mudhafa Fatimiya has also served as a conference venue, featuring one in November 2014 on the rebellion of Imam Hussein organized by Ayatollah Khamenei’s office in Syria and attended by the Social Committees Commission in the Sayyida Zainab area. More recently, the venue hosted a solidarity event with Hezbollah in March 2016 following its designation as a terrorist organization by Gulf Arab states. The event was notably attended by pro-regime Palestinian factions and militias, such as the PFLP General Command.

Though the group’s emblem suggests that Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib is a Shi’i militia, Abu al-Layl al-Sadri noted that this impression is not quite the case. Whereas Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi is described as a militia composed of Syrian Shi’a, he clarified that the members of Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib “show affection- you can say- and believe in the traditions of the Shi’a, following and participating in the occasions.” This may reflect a trend whereby some pro-regime factions, on account of the important role played by Iran and foreign Shi’i militias in supporting the regime, display affinities with Shi’i Islam even if there is no outright conversion, which has taken place in the case of Liwa al-Baqir, a militia of Shi’ified Bekara tribesmen in Aleppo.

The trend of affinity with Shi’i Islam can be influenced by recruitment of Syrians into the ranks of the foreign militias and close cooperation between those militias and the native formations. For example, a video uploaded by Liwa Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, one of the components of the Dir’ al-Watan (‘Homeland Shield’) collection of Syrian militias led by Hayder al-Juburi (leader of the Iraqi Shi’i militia Liwa Dhu al-Fiqar), features the song ‘Ya Zainab’ by the Iraqi Shi’i munshid Ali al-Mawali. In a similar vein, Muhammad Suleiman Harura, a declared ‘martyr’ for the Palestinian militia Liwa al-Jalil (which seems to be inactive at the present time), posed with insignia and banners of ‘Labbayk ya Zainab’ (‘At your service, oh Zainab’). Yet another example of Zainab sloganeering can be found in the militia Fawj Abu al-Harith 313 (also known as Saraya al-Areen), which appears to be based in Latakia and has fought on that front in addition to Aleppo.

Abu al-Layl al-Sadri added that the group’s formation dates back to two years ago. Under the leadership of one Ghalib Abu Ahmad (whose son Ahmad is actively involved in fighting, distinguishing himself in the Qalamoun mountains), Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib’s main engagements to date appears to have been in Damascus and the wider countryside area. For example, in January 2015, the group posted photos of its fighters in the snow-covered Qalamoun mountains. In March 2015, the group posted a photo of a group of its fighters near the locality of Falita in Qalamoun. In May-June 2015, the group claimed participation alongside Hezbollah and the Republican Guard in fighting against rebels in the Jaroud al-Qalamoun area. Later in the year, the group claimed to be fighting on the periphery of Dahiyat al-Assad and the Harasta area to the northeast of Damascus alongside the Syrian army, in addition to maintaining frontline positions in the Qalamoun mountains and participation in efforts to reopen the Harasta highway.

In the fighting on the periphery of Dahiyat al-Assad, the group claimed at least three ‘martyrs’. During the Harasta operations, a ‘martyr’ was claimed for Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib in one Haitham Hayel Saleh. Originally said to have been from the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabina in Damascus, he was buried in the Martyrs cemetery in the Sayyida Zainab area.

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‘Martyrdom’ portrait for Haitham Hayel Saleh. Note the inclusion of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Palestine flag covering the entirety of what is the Israel-Palestine area today.

Most recently this month, Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib’s leader announced the loss of a field commander by the name of Nour Abdullah Muhammad, said to have been killed fighting on the East Ghouta front.

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Coffin for Nour Abdullah Muhammad. Note the ‘Liwa Sayf al-Haq’ inscription.

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Ghalib Abu Ahmad’s son advertising his presence as being in the Ghouta area, late August 2016.

Social media content for Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib also points to social outreach activities. For example, the militia’s leader has participated in events to commemorate ‘martyrs’, including the annual occasion of Martyrs Day in May.

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Ghalib Abu Ahmad (centre) at Martyrs Day commemoration: “Religion is for God and the homeland is for all [a saying attributed to Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, the Druze leader of the Great Syrian Revolt in the 1920s], in the presence of the sheikhs al-‘aql of the Bani Ma’arouf [Druze]: they had a distinguished presence.”

Liwa Sayf al-Haq Assad Allah al-Ghalib, like Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi, presents an interesting case of a militia with a religious image attached to an elite Syrian army division: an image no doubt influenced by the presence of the group’s base in the Sayyida Zainab, the main hub of Shi’i militancy in Syria. This phenomenon undoubtedly contributes to sectarian perceptions of the Syrian civil war along the Sunni-Shi’i line.

Comments (15)


1. ALAN said:

Syria’s “moderate rebels” threaten to kill US Army soldiers in northern Aleppo
https://youtu.be/RIfC0WaLD4o

US Air Force accidentally bombs own rebels in Aleppo
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-air-force-accidentally-bombs-rebels-aleppo-al-amaq/

Russia’s UN envoy: Without veto power, UNSC would become America’s mouthpiece
https://www.rt.com/shows/sophieco/359512-un-veto-power-balance/

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September 16th, 2016, 3:50 pm

 

2. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Let´s try to use our brain. ISIS was the creation of all of Assad security men, Iran and Russia. They gave Mosul to ISIS, they created and financed ISIS from Raqqa to Mosul in order to create the monster that let Assad appear as the saviour of the Middle East.

If anyone does not agree can you please explain why in the map Assad and ISIS common borders are absolutely peacefull while all, I mean ALL of FSA, Turkey, US and Kurds fight permanently against ISIS?

http://syria.liveuamap.com/

Please dont tell me that even ISIS has realized that Assad is a nice charm cool guy better than the rest.

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September 16th, 2016, 4:48 pm

 

3. SANDRO LOEWE said:

ALAN,

Syrian rebels seem to be much more nationalists than the empty head Assad who survives thanks to Russia, Obama and Iran. All imperialists powers try to destroy Syria using the retarded Assad while rebels do act as real nationalists.

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September 16th, 2016, 4:51 pm

 

4. SANDRO LOEWE said:

AYMEN JAWAD AL TAMINI,

This collection of serial killers militias is really disgusting.

By the sake of God isn´t in the US anyone who has anything more intelligent to say about the syrian war?

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September 16th, 2016, 4:54 pm

 

5. Passerby said:

IS/ISIS/Al-Qaeda in Iraq/Zawahiri was created by Saddam Hussein to plant in the UN no-fly zone, to torment the Kurds, and punish the UN for not letting him run his entire country. They have always been controlled and staffed by the Saddam Regime.

When GW invaded, after some struggle, with the help of the Iraqi people, they were destroyed.

Then Obama walked away, and the greedy Shiites in Iraq persecuted the Sunnis and they were resurrected from the dead. Oh well.

Yeah, Assad used them exactly like his fellow Baathist used them, to torment the Kurds and punish the UN for not letting him run his entire country. But he had help, everyone else, except the Kurds, saw it in their interest too. The fellow radicals loved them until they realized it was predatory Saddam goons running it, not fellow true believers. The Turks and Gulf States loved them, because anyone that opposed Assad, was good. That the ISIS religious viewpoint is identical to the Gulf States didn’t hurt. And of course the US, led by ole’ Red Line went along for the ride. No stomach for actually doing anything, it went along with it’s allies, who cared a lot. Didn’t start just supporting bloodthirsty bigots, it evolved into it. The US fault is weakness and not being involved more. (Contrary to the mantra from all sides here, “The US/Israel is controlling everything and helping the other side.”)

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September 16th, 2016, 11:12 pm

 

6. SANDRO LOEWE said:

PASSERBY,

Nice explanation. This is the official one and the initial developemnet of facts. But ISIS is a creation or a monster with different sides and different lifes. The intelligence behind them differs from the basis, the mastermind behind terrorist attacks, kidnapping and terror videos serves Assad, Iran and Russia.

All syrians I could speak to inside Syria or those who lived under ISIS and are now out of Syria repeat the same story: ISIS is Assad.

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September 17th, 2016, 3:04 am

 

7. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Any answer to explain why common borders between ISIS and ASSAD are completely peaceful ? No answers ….. so those pretending ISIS to be the enemy of Assad Loooooooooooooooose

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September 17th, 2016, 2:09 pm

 

8. Passerby said:

Oh yeah, they’ve always been in cahoots. ISIS is the best thing that ever happened to Assad. Nusra too, although they aren’t in cahoots, it’s the same thing. The unacceptable alternative to Assad.

So, all roads lead through destroying ISIS and Nusra. The question is whether the other rebels want to go down with them.

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September 17th, 2016, 3:52 pm

 

9. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Assad is an unacceptable alternative to the syrian people demands as Nusra and Isis are unacceptable alternative for US and RUSSIA to Assad. The problem is not the syrian population and its demands, even if they surrender to Assad, Rusia, US and Iran plan. The problem is that the plan foreign powers and Assad are trying to impose on syrians is out of reality and unsustainable.

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September 17th, 2016, 4:00 pm

 

10. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Any answer to explain why common borders between ISIS and ASSAD are completely peaceful ? No answers …..

Why no one advances in the border between Assad and ISIS?

Why there is a pocket of ISIS just in Arsal lebanese border for the last 3 years and nobody attacks them?

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September 18th, 2016, 3:26 am

 

11. Observer said:

http://www.lorientlejour.com/article/1007807/ahmad-beydoun-le-liban-un-modele-a-ne-pas-suivre.html

New book worth reading.

The tabulation of all these militias is another example of the failure of these regimes

I would think Dick Cheney is ver satisfied that the locals have taken the dream of destroying the ME to a level he and his group would never have dreamed of doing

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September 18th, 2016, 9:22 am

 

12. mcohen said:

syrian army must be wondering what comes next now that they have been warned not to block aleppo aid trucks

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September 18th, 2016, 5:59 pm

 

13. Akbar Palace said:

Observer,

Cheney and the GWB administration gave Iraq and Iraqis a unique opportunity.

I know it is easy to blame Cheney for the failure of Iraqis, but the truth of the matter is the USA poured hundreds of billions into Iraq so Iraq could both democratize and protect herself. The USA destroyed the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein in 3 weeks. Yes I know, you’re not impressed. And the USA could have done the same with Assad.

I fault Obama for destroying all that the GWB administration accomplished, and I fault the Iraqi government for incompetence. The Iraqis should have signed a long term agreement with the USA for permanent bases…. oh well, another missed opportunity.

The Middle East is a hell-hole where all acts of well-meaning governments never go unpunished. Will the cycle continue with Trump, assuming he wins? Or will Hillary continue the “good work” of President Obama and let the ME continue to bleed? Time will tell…

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September 19th, 2016, 8:11 am

 

14. New Observer said:

The slogan, “Religion is for God, and the nation is for all.” is not original to Al Atrash. It belongs to the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. The Wafd Party symbol was an intertwined cross and crescent.

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September 19th, 2016, 8:32 pm

 

15. Rita Galloway said:

USA needs to get out. We don’t understand the middle east we don’t need a lifetime of war. Let Russia deal with it. Bring our soldiers home.

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October 3rd, 2016, 7:52 pm

 

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