The Merger of Jihad Franchises in Syria: A War of Islamisms

22 11 2013

Syrian Rebels

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) accidentally beheaded one of their own commanders recently. Meanwhile, jihadist rebel groups have been fighting against the secular or more moderate Free Syrian Army forces, as well as against Syrian Kurds. Now, a group of Islamic rebel forces has announced a merger: “A statement posted online said Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham and the Kurdish Islamic Front had agreed to a ‘gradual merger’. It said the new Islamic Front will be an ‘independent political, military and social formation’ to topple the Assad regime and build an Islamic state” (BBC News, Nov. 22, 2013).

Throw into that mix Shia fighters in Assad’s camp, including Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other pro-Shia Islamist militias, and now we have a full-fledged complex multidimensional sectarian war vying for a dominant Islamism to take hold of Syria.

The announcement of the new Islamic Front “may also challenge the growing influence of the two al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist rebel groups, the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), although they have co-operated with some of its component groups in the past.”

In sum, Syria embodies multi-layered “spiders web-like “ networks of Sunni and Shia militias and paramilitary forces, and this can only continue to plunge Syria into violence and chaos not unlike the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), although Syria’s war is at least a hundred times worse and intense and potentially will last a lot longer.

The supporters of these proxy rebel groups, like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other GCC states on the Sunni jihadists’ side, and Iran on the Shia side, have no regard for the innocent civilians suffering horrifically in Syria and also as refugees in neighboring countries. These proxy supporters are as guilty of atrocities as Bashar al-Assad. All sides are guilty of war crimes.

More crucially, this merger of jihad franchises in Syria encompasses a “war of Islamisms,” wherein even after Assad’s downfall, these religious rebel groups will continue – and possibly intensify – the war in power struggles, in order for their own Islamist ideology to win. We have seen this pattern of the war of Islamism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In particular, once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan (1989), the multitude of Islamic fundamentalist/militant warlords and militias proliferating throughout the Af-Pak region turned their guns against each other. Within that scenario the Taliban arose and engaged these warlords in the Afghan civil war. We know the rest of the story, once the Taliban succeeded in taking Kabul and creating the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

I have called the Syrian civil war the “Afghanistan of the Middle East.” I would love to be proven wrong about that, but this merger of Islamic rebel groups and the power struggles between the Islamic Front and the Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups portend a similar outcome to Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. The war of Islamisms is nothing new, especially in terms of the sectarian rivalry between Sunnis and Shias. That’s as old as Islam itself. Now, we see the power struggles in the post-Arab Awakening Middle East and North Africa consist of all shades of Islamists trying to climb over each other for the seats of power. This is all at the expense of civilians, both Sunnis, Shias, Christians, and secularists.

To quote U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Those waging the war of Islamisms seem to fail miserably in grasping that concept.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.
The views expressed are personal.


Syria, the Big Russian Bear, and Iran

8 02 2012

When I lived in Damascus, at the time the TV had only two channels.  One of them used to broadcast Russian ballet performances quite regularly.  Also, Iranian pilgrims were everywhere.  An entire segment of the Syrian tourist industry has been set aside just for Iranian pilgrims visiting important Shia shrines.  I saw busloads, and I even learned that certain hotels were exclusively serving Iranian patrons.

So, the official public UN stance of Russia in vetoing the resolution last week, along with the Iranian regime’s less public military and security support for the Assad regime, all come as little surprise to me.  But, both Russia and Iran are playing a most heinous and ominous role in the destruction of the Syrian people, including countless unarmed civilians, women, men, and children alike.  Michael Weiss published an article in the Telegraph that explicitly describes what’s happening in Syria, and the complicity of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in the slaughter of thousands:

For those who haven’t had lunch today, I encourage you to see up-close what Russian weapons and Iranian and Hezbollah ‘military consultants’ have helped accomplish in Syria. This video is of a young boy in Homs. His entire lower jaw has been removed from his head and I’m told that this is more watchable version of the footage; an earlier reel went round where he hadn’t been anaesthetized yet.”

(NOTE:  You can find the hyperlink to the video inside Michael Weiss’s article:  It’s very graphic).


“Vladimir Putin’s copper-bottomed support for Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council can be taken in one of two ways. There will be those who claim that here was one organized crime lord pledging solidarity with his human ferret counterpart. The two men really do understand each other and are even beginning to replicate each other’s CVs.  Assad is doing to Syria what Putin did to Chechnya a decade ago and under the same pretext of combating “terrorists”.  Moscow had its dodgy apartment bombings in 1999, blamed with credible evidence on the FSB, to justify the razing of Grozny. Damascus has had its spate of “suicide bombings” lately, blamed by the regime on the following actors: al-Qaida, the United States, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian opposition and loyalists of former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam. Footage showing the mukhabarat’s theatrics before and after these incidents matters not at all because the Assad regime, with a little help from Russia Today and other Kremlin mouthpieces, has also blamed “foreign media” for presenting a mere domestic misunderstanding as a full-blown humanitarian crisis.  Taken another way, Putin’s support for Assad is a foreign policy “victory” that comes at just the right time for Russia, weeks ahead of a presidential election. 

…If certain comment editors have difficulty finding Syrians on the ground who want NATO fighter jets overhead, I’ll be glad to introduce them to several.

Here is al-Sheikh: ‘As an activist and a coordinator for the Khaled Bin Waleed brigade, I state that we in Homs, Idlib and Damascus suburbs call for unilateral American and British intervention. We also want to improve our relations with the US administration and people after the revolution, but we need you to save us. We are getting slaughtered, save us’.”

You don’t need me to point out that the United Nations has miserably failed the Syrian people.  The UN is broken and is far from democratic.  If anything, this whole incident underscores the need for a UN overhaul; at a minimum, there should be provisions for those countries that wish to implement the R2P mandate in cases such as Syria to override Security Council vetoes.  I am a diehard believer in state sovereignty, but I am a human rights activist first and foremost.  Russia, Iran, and China have done a tremendous disservice to humanity.  Now, Assad is having a field day in exterminating his own people:  protesters and by-standers alike, civilians making a run for it to grab some bread (now in dire short supply), families huddling in their homes, and individuals picked off by snipers.

This reminds me of the bloody, ruthless killings in the former Yugoslavia.  The Yugoslavia analogy is not off base… remember how long it finally took Western powers to intervene in Bosnia and stop the massacres?!!  You’d think that we all have learned from lessons past.

The Syrian people have the right to live without fear.  Most of all, they have the right to live.  What the hell happened to the “Responsibility to Protect” civilians, that was so potently invoked in the case of Libya?  I write this with a very heavy heart for Syria, and wish that ballet performances would have been the extent of Syrian-Russian relations.  Sadly, it’s not.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.