OPINION: Quagmire of Syrian Civil War Obscures Story on the Ground
By Karin Friedemann
Many good people sincerely believe that the Syrian revolution is a CIA-Mossad plot against Bashar Assad, who they think is against Israel. Other well-meaning people are convinced that ISIS is a CIA-Mossad plot to undermine the legitimacy of the Free Syrian Army.
“95% of ISIS weapons are from Russia who are likewise arming Assad and therefore Russia profits from both sides of the engineered conflict,” insisted an FSA supporter. “If FSA was supported by USA – then Assad would be gone, tried and sentenced to death for his war crimes against all of Syria 4 years ago and ISIS would not exist.”
In order to try and clarify the mystery of who’s who in the Syrian war, I talked to Ahmed, a Syrian-American opponent of the regime, whose family members recently fled the country. His family has suffered brutally under the Assad regime for decades.
He wanted me to be aware that the Syrian uprising began after 40 years of oppression. In 2011, some young kids in the south of Syria in the city of Dara wrote “Freedom! Freedom!” on a wall. They were arrested by the secret police. One child’s body was returned to his family after being tortured to death. The other child was returned alive with his fingers chopped off.
Protests against the government spread throughout the country over the next month. Law enforcement shot live ammunition at demonstrators. Townspeople started gathering to defend the demonstrators with personal arms such as AK-47s.
Within six months, low rank Sunni army personnel started mass defections from the military, because they did not want to shoot their own people. The high-ranking officers are all Alawite.
The ex-military Sunnis turned freedom fighters started gathering and made connections in border areas in Turkey and Jordan. The Syrian border with Turkey is mountainous and there are many villages, which makes it easy to escape. But the border with Iraq is desert and it is very difficult to exit Syria that way.
There was no Islamic movement the first year of the uprisings. Only small arms were used on both sides. The second year, in 2012, the Assad regime became increasingly unstable and started sending in tanks and doing aerial bombardment of civilian populations. At this point, humanitarian volunteers from Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq started pouring in for emotional and religious reasons. The local population welcomed them on an individual basis. There was no official organization. The people started grouping and making connections in nearby countries where they could travel and visit.
As the movement got bigger, the original freedom fighters who defected from the army went to retire in nearby countries for a number of reasons: There was no financial support for their families, and they were not people of high ideology who wanted to die for the sake of Islam. Neighboring countries hosted 2,000 high ranking Syrian ex-officers to keep as assets to use for future influence, when it appeared the regime would fall. However, these officers cannot leave. They are kept in some kind of camps or living quarters.
Then, the Syrian government asked for help from Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah to fight. As Shi’a allies that benefit from close ties to the Syrian regime they joined in to protect the state.
Many people mistakenly believe that Syria is defending Al-Aqsa, even though on the Israel/Syria border, nobody ever tried to attack Israel. This is Israel’s most stable border, protected by Assad. Iraq is under the influence of Iran. Iran doesn’t want Syria to be Sunni-influenced.
At this point, there are hundreds of fighting groups, said Ahmed, who says he truly believes that ISIS was started by foreign agents but lost control “just like the Taliban.” The majority of the leaders of ISIS are high-ranking Iraqi ex-army officials, who used to work for Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi army was the 4th largest army in the world. They are now working with foreign intelligence and serving in ISIS and getting income from foreign countries, plus plunder.
Ahmed said that the majority Syrian population does not want a conservative Islamic state. They are Islamic liberals. They like to have fun. They have no interest in fundamentalism or “radical Islam”. Western injustice and aggression leads to IS politics, he said.
I asked, “When there is no government and everything is destroyed, wouldn’t it be natural for the town to meet at the mosque, and if there is no law, wouldn’t it be easiest to use Islamic law?”
“People will go back to their natural religion when there is no infrastructure other than the madrasa,” stated Ahmed, who has spent significant time in Afghanistan. However, he did not feel that Syria was anything like Afghanistan.
In the 1970’s, Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia came to indoctrinate Syrians but people argued against them. Nevertheless, like Bosnia, Syrians will welcome those who help to control Syria and establish order and peace.
Ahmed said the West is pushing Syria to the point where they will say, “Please bring anyone, even another Alawite, to get rid of Assad” to stabilize the region. No matter what, it will take 25-50 years to rebuild the country to what it was.
Regarding the Free Syrian Army, he said there are three kinds: those who gave up and left the country, those who will fight for whoever pays more, and those who are controlled by third parties. He had a higher opinion of al-Nusra, whom he said number in the thousands, not hundreds. The majority of al-Nusra are Syrians, not foreign fighters. They have the best fighters. They have good individual support but also have influence with high rank people. Both Saudi Arabia and Jordan try to send their infiltrators to get high ranks to try and get influence or reward.
The “sincere fighters” don’t belong to any big party or private agenda. The majority of Syrian fighters belong to loose small groups.
Around Homs and Damascus, in the revolution areas, there could be 15-20 small groups of 100, 200 or 300 militia men for every local area. Some groups make Islamic council and unify with groups like al-Nusra or Ahrar al Sham.
Regarding the news that Iranian General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria along with six Hizbollah fighters in the Golan Heights, Ahmed said that on that same day, the Syrian opposition shot down a small plane that was filled with high ranking Iranian, Jordanian and Hizbollah officials. He theorized that the media gave Israel credit for the killing in order to downplay the powerful news of the Syrian resistance.