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.

 

Comments (19)


1. Norman said:

Syria does not need fragmentation, Only the Syrian Arab Army represents Syria and it’s national interest, Iran is a friend but Syria is not a puppet or a follower to Iran or anybody else, Anybody who wants to fight , join the Syrian Arab Army. enough hallucinations and self destruction, Syria did not abandon it’s Arab identity

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October 11th, 2014, 1:28 pm

 

2. ALAN said:

1. NORMAN
Three years ago, some commentators here have used some of that destructive terminology, Such as defragmentation and sectarian engineering. Then some comments appeared about the need not to be dragged behind that destructive terminology.because they are a part of Bernard Levy technology directed to destroy the states. Then the opposition touched a huge number of anti-Syrian regime line-up countries and the opposition raised the ceiling of demands with great hyperbole. Now you return to square zero.
As for the Arabism, honestly tell me (when the Arabs will stop for treason and treachery)?
The level of treason and treachery has reached unprecedented level!
And the Arab nation exceeded all what can be called red lines. It actually became a cursed nation.

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October 11th, 2014, 3:29 pm

 

3. Ghufran said:

There is no need for new militias with sectarian agenda and sectarian slogans, Syria is under threat of getting partitioned and the answer to that is to support one army and any effort to rebuild Syria and bring back the refugees. Shia militias linked to Iran and Iraq are not interested in ending the war or keeping Syria in one piece, most Syrians want both.
Jobar is standing on its last toe and Douma is a mere 1.5 mile away from being entered, it is now obvious that the Islamist opposition and the rebel force look at Isis and a Turkish- Israeli alliance as their only hope to stop their losses, that means that rebels are not a national force but are tools for foreign nations, they allied themselves with syria’s old enemy, israel, and syria’s new enemy , Islamist government in Turkey.
As for the GCC , they get their orders from Washington, when uncle Sam wants them to stop they will stop, that is why the Saudis for example are desperate to ” look moderate” now after making big daddy angry, the sheikhs in the GCC need permission from the US to use the bathroom and without US support their rule will not last for more than 3 months.

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October 11th, 2014, 4:56 pm

 

4. ALAN said:

3. GHUFRAN
Are GCC interested to stop the war in Syria?
Is the US interested to stop the war in Syria?
Are the blown Western Syrians want to stop the war in Syria?
It is just a malicious low intensity War (21th century model) , where the terrorism used effectively with great momentum and participation of a large number of players.
Syrian Arab army needed an effective and collective actions by it allies to achieve victory over terrorism in this so dirty war. There is no room for floral dreams with a magic wand to achieve the aspirations of the Syrians urgently.

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October 11th, 2014, 6:04 pm

 

5. ALAN said:

Why Oil Is Plunging: The Other Part Of The “Secret Deal” Between The US And Saudi Arabia

Two weeks ago, we revealed one part of the “Secret Deal” between the US and Saudi Arabia: namely what the US ‘brought to the table’ as part of its grand alliance strategy in the middle east, which proudly revealed Saudi Arabia to be “aligned” with the US against ISIS, when in reality John Kerry was merely doing Saudi Arabia’s will when the WSJ reported that “the process gave the Saudis leverage to extract a fresh U.S. commitment to beef up training for rebels fighting Mr. Assad, whose demise the Saudis still see as a top priority.”

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-10-10/why-oil-plunging-other-part-secret-deal-between-us-and-saudi-arabia

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October 11th, 2014, 6:30 pm

 

6. Norman said:

Alan,

Syria is still committed to the Arab nation and does not see what the puppet Arab leaders to represent the Arab people well, About Saudi Arabia pushing the price of oil down, I agree, they are doing what they did to Iraq after the first Gulf war to make it difficult for him to rebuild and pay debt , Saudi Arabia and the US are doing that to deny mostly Russia and Iran oil revenue, so the Russian economy that is dependent on oil revenue collapse, I just want Syria to return to be whole and improve the System that it has,

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October 11th, 2014, 8:36 pm

 

7. Ghufran said:

Read Abdullah Gul’s interview , do not believe every thing he said, he is a politician, but one can not escape the fact that the failed leaderships in Syria and Iraq was instrumental in the sad outcome both countries achieved.
Despite everything, Gul is still thinking that Syria needs a political solution, he dodged the issue of whether he thinks Assad should stay or leave by saying that a country is more important than a person, he added that the system of governance that comes afterward is what matters. The interview is a good read.

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October 11th, 2014, 10:27 pm

 

8. Hopeful said:

# 7 Ghufran

Turkey is fortunate to have a system that enables people like Gul to lead the country and then retire in peace. Syria and Iraq have plenty of people of his caliber but their systems need to change to enable these people to take charge of leading the countries. In Syria the current system ensues that people like Gul are either killed, imprisoned for life, or exiled, so that the Assad family and its cronies remain in charge perpetually.

This is why the revolution was only a matter of time. Gul is right in his interview. Assad did not heed Gul’s advise because he was not interested in reforms, but in making sure his family remains the sole owner of Syria.

I did enjoy reading the interview.

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October 12th, 2014, 12:43 am

 

9. Hopeful said:

#5 Alan

If the US is capable of bringing down oil prices, care to explain why it allowed them to go up in the first place, at the time when the US economy desperately needed low oil prices and Russia was flooded with cash and buying America and European distressed assets?

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October 12th, 2014, 12:47 am

 
 

11. Hopeful said:

#10 Alan

You probably haven’t heard that IS seized US weapons, supplies and training camps from the Iraqi Army a couple of months ago.

Of course you know that, but you either choose to ignore the facts, or you are in the business of spreading lies and propaganda.

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October 12th, 2014, 6:21 am

 

12. ALAN said:

Obama:
Those (moderates) who’ve trained boast about their manhood in front of young Kurdish girls! We feel that you are a brave man!

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BzvaxmQCUAAieD2.jpg

11. HOPEFUL

/You probably haven’t heard that IS seized US weapons, supplies and training camps from the Iraqi Army a couple of months ago./
Stop underestimating people’s minds, you like to talk about the open part of the subject and do not talk about the hidden! You can consume this part of the comic as you want, but you can not fool people. There are other parts that you do not want to talk about.
Just want us to know suddenly about Khorasan and other American intelligences rubbish, As if we were automatic receivers. United States has provided Daesh through its channels with all information,diverse support, plans, tactics, sources of weapons and money, gold, oil fields , and dance snakes etc… All this for a violation of Syrian and Iraqi sovereignty,and for military intervention colored American-Israeli- pigs.

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October 12th, 2014, 8:12 am

 

13. Uzair8 said:

Guess what Syrian Commando is back on twitter. The other day I went over and saw he had been tweeting in recent months. I read through all his tweets back to june when he had resumed tweeting after almost exactly a year of silence. His return seems to coincide with the regime ‘election’.

Since his return his tweets focus much on the spill over into Lebanon and the Ukraine situation. Seems he isn’t happy with Putin over lack of support. He refers to the Russian leader as #Gasputin.

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October 12th, 2014, 10:30 am

 

14. Jasmine said:

Aymenn
I have no intention to degrade your article,but I failed to find any journalistic value in it.
I am very saddened to read an article written by a Palestinian with the aim of stirring more sectarian trouble ,like if we don’t have enough of it in the Sunni branch .
More photos of the dead,why?

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October 12th, 2014, 11:05 am

 

15. ALAN said:

The facade of the new US-led campaign to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS/ISIL
….
If you truly want to know how ISIS came to infest Syria (or Iraq for that matter) just ask Hillary Clinton about her little project called, ‘Friends of Syria’. Funny how she jumped ship from her Secretary of State position just months before the West nearly declared war against Damascus in September 2013. Under Hillary’s nurturing care, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and ISIS – were somehow funded, manned, armed and encouraged to run wild through Syria because the Great and the Good thought they’d help to displace the regime of Syria’s maligned leader Bashar al-Assad.

http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-facade-of-new-us-led-campaign-to.html

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October 12th, 2014, 12:17 pm

 

16. Ghufran said:

(Moderate ) rebels beheaded Syrian soldiers and dumped their bodies according to Irish UN peacekeepers :
Irish News »
Beheaded Syrian soldiers ‘dumped’ in Irish UN zone.

The term “moderate rebels ” is a an oxymoron.

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October 12th, 2014, 1:24 pm

 

17. ALAN said:

16. GHUFRAN
Please enclose some pictures to the attention of the brave Obama.

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October 12th, 2014, 1:34 pm

 
 

19. ghufran said:

I hope this is true and the ISIS terrorists are defeated by the Kurds:

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press the Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have not been able to advance in Kobani since Friday but are sending in reinforcements. The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said the group appears to have a shortage of fighters and has brought in members of its religious police known as the Hisbah to take part in the battles.
Sources told Fox News that an intensified wave of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in Kobani may be finally having an effect in the fight. The militants appeared to be slowing down in their intensity and the rate of attacks.
A source close to the Kurdish fighters also told Fox News that the militants have not advanced in the town since Friday. He added that the airstrikes have become “more serious” in the last five to six days.

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October 12th, 2014, 7:13 pm

 

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