For a Civil, SecularState: 106 Groups Unite in the Union of Free Syrians

The article below reports an extremely important development in Syria. Within days of the announcement of the formation of the “Islamic Front” by six major Islamist (non-jihadist) groups (some of which are themselves coalitions, like the Islamic Army, which includes one major and 40 minor militias), we have this formation of what is basically its secular equivalent, a bloc of 106 revolutionary military and civil groups with an explicitly secular, democratic program.

As the Islamic Front itself is made up mostly of groups that have a good working relationship with the secular FSA, and are hostile to the main global-jihadist group (ISIS), these two new large coalitions should not be seen so much as rivals but as allies, who however have ideological differences. Arguably this clearer coalescence around two large clearly defined allied formations will be a strength for the revolution.

This formation, with the impressive list below, clearly makes minced meat out of the imperialist propaganda, first spread by the New York Times back in April (but then lapped up and spread further by pro-Assad leftists who thought they were being anti-imperialist), that there were no secular armed groups in Syria, only varying shades of Islamists. I have already dealt with the issue of the FSA and secular armed resistance a number of times (eg, https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/empowering-the-democratic-resistance-in-syria or https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/report-on-relative-strength-of-armed-rebels-in-syria), while this development spells the facts out yet again.

 That is not to say that the secular armed resistance hasn’t weakened in relation to the mild Islamist resistance and the hard-line jihadist groups. This has occurred, largely due to the better funding of Islamist groups, whether from governments or wealthy private individuals from the Gulf, whereas to date, “the West,” which claims to support “moderates,” has supplied the FSA with some night goggles, some flak jaks, ancient radios, and some inedible “ready meals,” and a few tents. As none of these are very useful against either the massive heavy weaponry and high tech slaughter by the regime, or even against the middle-range weaponry of ISIS which spends most of its energy attacking the FSA in the back rather than fighting the regime (and vice versa), there has naturally been a trend, rooted in material reality, for fighters to join better equipped and resourced middle Islamist outfits.

 Vast amounts of evidence suggests that this does not, for the most part, indicate a change in the basic motivations of the fighters, rooted mostly in poor peasant and poor working class families, whose aims remain fighting for the original democratic goals of the revolution. There will of course be contradictions in many cases between such goals and the goals of some of the leaders, but more so in the more clearly jihadist fringe. But it is wrong to judge every “Islamist” outfit in an Islamic country as crazed fundamentalists, terrorists and sectarians in full Orientalist fashion; at this stage of the revolution, they largely represent the more traditionalist urban and rural poor who never really took part in the secular project of the bourgeois nationalist regime, and even less so in its neo-liberal period since 2000.

 All that said, however, it remains important to know that he more explicitly secular resistance, both civil and armed, remains a major factor in Syria and is now trying to organise on the ground better.    

 

For a Civil, Secular State: 100+ Groups Unite in the   Union of Free Syrians

by Not George Sabra

[Translation by Ahmed El-Khatib and Sam Charles Hamad.]

http://notgeorgesabra.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/for-a-civil-secular-state-100-groups-unite-in-the-union-of-free-syrians/

On October 13, 2013, about 106 military, media, and civil formations have assembled at Anatolia café in Elrihania city on the Syrian-Turkish border to form a conglomerate that is considered the biggest of its kind- according to some participants – to form what is called (Ahrar Syrian Union [Free Syrian Union]). The thing that is so special about this union is that it includes military units, civilian organizations, media people, and rescue squads, so it includes all aspects of revolutionary work. The members of the union say that they acknowledge the revolution’s flag that the protesters held in the beginning of the revolution. They believe that the 1950 constitution is the suitable one for the new Syria and they will do their best to adhere to the laws and international treaties after the breakdown of the regime. They also talked about the separation of legislative, executive, juridical authorities.

Oh free sons of Syria:

We announce the formation of our union (Ahrar Syrian Union) that is the fruit of recent continuous efforts amongst many of our politicians, media people, revolutionists, and military fighting formations in the struggle. The summary of our deep discussion concerning the revolution and the current situation was that they all shared a common vision to announce a new formation to contribute with other revolutionary forces to achieve the revolution’s objectives: to end the criminal regime of al-Assad; to work on building a nation of dignity, freedom, law, fair, and justice among its all people based on a modern constitution that grants the freedom and justice to all Syrian people regardless of their national affiliation or religion; to establish the separation of the legislative, executive, and juridical powers; to create a Syria that is dedicated to ensuring civil peace and security to all citizens; to develop Syria economically, scientifically, and culturally; and to keep regional and international peace.

Members announced that the union was born due to difficult circumstances and the necessity of having a new formation that contributes with other formations to all aspects of the revolution toward the break down of the regime.

The heads of the conference have agreed to a statement called “The Founding Statement for the Free Syrian Union”:

Oh free sons and daughters of Syria:

Our national revolution was launched under the flag of peace to build a state of justice and equality. The al-Assad criminal gang insisted on standing against the nation’s will and used inhuman tools to stop everything. The result so far has been hundreds of thousands of martyrs, detainees, and injured people and more than seven million became homeless and refugees.

It was very clear to all countries of the world that the ruling terrorist gang is practicing genocide against our people, relying on external allied forces to break the nation’s will and attack the revolution in spite of all the Arabic and national attempts and efforts and the insistent will of the Syrian peaceful to find a peaceful solution that achieves the revolution’s goals and saves Syria from the international interference that will destroy the remaining building blocks of the country.

The commitment to all international agreements and treaties is not opposition to national sovereignty. In the current situation we believe that our commitment to the revolutionary force that raised the independence flag that is it is acceptable to rely on the 1950 constitution until the preparation of a new constitution that reflects the whole of Syrian society.

Oh free Syrian people, oh revolutionists in the battle field:

We swear to Allah and promise you that we are committed to the revolution and honor our pure martyrs’ blood. We urge you to work together for the sake of our union with all means and powers through widening the political, media, military, and revolutionary base and the submission of all forms of support to achieve our revolution’s goals of freedom and respect.

Mercy to the souls of our martyrs.

Freedom to the arrested and the recovery of the injured.

For the return of our sons to their families and homes.

Victory to our people and its blessed revolution.

In a private meeting with media activist Khalid Abo Elfida – one of the participants in the union – said:

“Thank Allah we have just finished uniting 106 brigades all from the inside of different Syrian cities. Where they are agreed to be one hand and hold one line working for the breakdown of the criminal regime in Syria and building the new independent Syria. And a founding statement has been declared that explains the principles that unites all revolutionary figures. We hope Allah guides us regarding the goal we are all agreed upon.”

He added: “some of the most important forces that participated in this union are:

  • Division 77 — Northern Region
  • Third Division — Qalamoun
  • Brigade Lightning Victory — Rural Idlib, Hama
  • Brigade 90 — west of Damascus
  • Brigade Dawn — Gota Bank
  • Brigade Saif al-Sham — Gota Bank
  • Brigade Umayyad — Damascus and its countryside
  • Brigade Martyrs Badia — Idlib
  • Brigade Peace in the Levant — Idlib
  • Brigade Soldiers Rahman Idlib and Abu Aldhor
  • Brigade Raya — Abou Aldhor
  • The Banner of Jesus Christ — Damascus
  • Brigade Omar Mukhtar — Idlib countryside and mount corner
  • Brigade Beloved Prophet; Brigade Billah –Idlib
  • Brigade Abu Bakr — Aleppo
  • brigade Hussein Harmoush — Lattakia
  • Brigade Sincere Promise — Lattakia
  • Brigade The Martyrs of Islam and the Al-Sham — Aleppo and Homs fronts (one of which was destroyed at Wadi Barada)
  • Unity and Liberaton Front including six brigades in al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor and EZ
  • Brigade Muawiyah — Rastan
  • Brigade Martyrs of Islam — Qalamoun to Oaabdal Sham destroyed and Wadi Barada
  • Brigade Hamzah — BaradaValley
  • Brigade Martyrs of Dignity — BaradaValley
  • Brigade Martyr Samir Aldhak — Rastan
  • Brigade Eagles
  • Brigade بيارق Islam
  • Brigade Saifullah Maslool
  • Brigade Dawn of the Mujahideen
  • Brigade Hittin
  • Brigade Flag — Khanasser
  • Brigade Soldiers Rahman — Aleppo countryside
  • Brigade Martyr Mazen Missile Defence
  • Brigade Martyrs Secretariat — Hama
  • Brigade Martyrs Dignity — Khan Shaikhoun
  • Brigade Victory in God — Khan Shaikhoun
  • Brigade 533 Commando — Hama Northern
  • Brigade 633 Infantry — Khan Shaikhoun
  • Brigade Caliph — Ma’arrat Nu’man
  • BrigadeHawksMountain — MountHhacbo
  • Battalion Hill Pottery — Aleppo countryside
  • Battalion Tasks — Damascus Madaya
  • Brigades Punishment — Qalamun
  • Brigade Rebels — Khan Shaikhoun
  • Regiment 465 Martyrs — Khan Shaikhoun
  • Brigade Martyrs — Mount Hermon
  • The Banner of Free Rural Western Brigades, Revolutionary Military Council — Damascus”

The original Arabic statement below was taken from All for Syria.

 

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Assessment of new Islamic Front alliance

An assessment of the formation of the new “Islamic Front” by six major
Islamist militias in Syria by Scott Lucas, who appears very
well-informed and worth listening to. Basically, the new front is an
amalgamation of much of the old Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF),
the more mainstream/soft Islamists, and the more hard-line, but
non-Al-Qaida, Syrian Islamic Front (SIF).

It appears to be directed both against the regime, given its recent
victories have been partly blamed on rebel disunity (see for example,
the statement by FSA head in Aleppo region, Colonel Abdul Jabbar
al-Okaidi, who resigned and blamed a recent Assad victory in the region
on not only the refusal of western powers to supply anything other than
inedible “ready-meals”, but also on rebel disunity
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24858520); and against ISIS,
the most reactionary and violent (and larger) wing of Al-Qaida, which
has been both attacking the Syrian anti-Assad forces in the back for
months, and when it does pretend to engage the regime, engages in
precisely the kind of bloody sectarian violence that Assad loves to
present the whole struggle as being about.

What does this mean for the mainstream secular FSA? It does not appear
directed against the FSA at all, rather is just the abolition of unnecessary

divisions between relatively like-minded Islamist groups. It
doesn’t incorporate the secular FSA because of ideological differences,
but clearly sees them as allies. For example, reports in the last few
days show strong cooperation between one of the components of the new
group, Jaish al-Islam (the new “Islamic Army” in the south) and the FSA
in the working-class greater-Damascus periphery in the big battles with
the regime down there; likewise, the main Aleppo-based group in the new
front, Liwa al-Tawhid (whose highly respected commander was last week
killed by a regime missile), has a very strong record of cooperation
with the local FSA up there, as well as a very good reputation for
defending local Christians from the threat of jihadist sectarians
(http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Sep-21/232025-christian-hostel-in-aleppo-has-own-view-of-jihadist-rebels.ashx#axzz2gfb4z1J2).

Both these groups, as well as another major component (Suquor al-Sham in
Idlib), are the major components of the mainstream-Islamist SILF,
whereas the other large group among the six, Ahrar al-Sham, is the major
component of the national-jihadist SIF. While arguably the influence of
the latter is negative, it is notable that the top three positions of
the new Front have been filled entirely by leaders of the three large
SILF groups (see first short article below); in any case, even Ahrar al-Sham has
tended to focus on the regime rather than sectarian attacks Al-Qaida
style. While it has opportunistically collaborated with the global
jihadists at times (eg, in Raqqa), it may have learnt its lesson from
the recent beheading of one of its militants by ISIS.

All in all therefore, I tend to agree with Scott Lucas’ conclusion that
the formation of the Front “is pretty good news for the Syrian
insurgency”, as well as seeing the rest of his analysis below as quite
sharp.

The two articles below, which this introduction refers to, are from the excellent EA World View:

Leading Insurgent Factions Form “Islamic Front”
In a major re-alignment of the insurgency in Syria, leading factions
have formed the Islamic Front.

Factions involved include the Ansar al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqoor
al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam – itself a merger of more than 40 groups in
Damascus Province – Liwa al-Tawhid, the Islamic Kurdish Front, and Liwa
al-Haq.

Ahmed Abu Issa of Suqoor al-Sham and the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front
has been named commander, with Abu Omar Hureitan of Liwa al-Tawhid as
second-in-command and Zahran Alloush of Jaish al-Islam as head of
military operations.

The official announcement:

http://eaworldview.com/2013/11/syria-forecast-2/

Syria Analysis: Why and How Insurgent Formation of an Islamic Front
Changes the Conflict

A source close to Syria evaluates Friday’s news of the formation of the
Islamic Front by leading insurgent factions:

This is quite the middle spectrum of Islamic groups and forces in Syria.
All of these are brigades actually fighting the regime, rather than
being overly engaged in other activities like seeking funds or
in-fighting. They fight side-by-side -or hand-in-hand – with smaller and
not-so-prominent units formed by Christans, Druze, Kurds, and even
Alawites.

Since Syria is an Islamic country, one shouldn’t overplay the adjective
“Islamic”. Westerners should also note that the Syrian people have
learned to rely on, first, God and, second, themselves – since the world
has abandoned them.

Of course this is both a military and a political joint venture. At the
moment, the military aspect counts most, because the new central command
will solve a lot of issues from which insurgents suffered in most
battles of the past.

Politically, the Islamic Front could in theory try to represent the
biggest piece of the cake in the Syrian National Coalition – if they
bother with an entity which is not exactly relevant and without a
presence on the ground at all. More importantly, there is a major
political player inside Syria now, laying the foundation for assembly of
many groups and local committees – most probably soon acting alongside
the Local Coordination Committees and others within the country. Sooner
or later, they will be a partner in talks with outsiders, too.

As for the outsiders, they may try to stick with the Syrian National
Coalition and the Supreme Military Council. That will be totally
irrelevant, since the SMC is dried-out anyway. The Coalition and its
interim government lacks support in Syria, and only addresses the very
tiny percentage of Syrians who actually know such a body exists
somewhere in Syria’s outer space. Even the humanitarian aid routed
through Coalition entities is not seen as coming from them, because it
gets distributed by local volunteers and is not labelled “Made in USA”
or “With love from Britain via the Syrian Coalition”.

Does the lack of Western support have any impact on the Islamic Front?
Not at all. Frankly, not having to sail around silly demands expressed
by clueless Western powers who are not even trying to understand the
situation on the ground and waiting for those so-called friends to
fulfil their empty promises – which never happens but might, perhaps,
maybe, hopefully, some day in the future, inshallah – makes things way
easier. All the forces which built the Islamic Front exist and do more
or less quite well without Western support now. Together they’ll be even
stronger.

Whether or not Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree Qatar might step in
with increased support remains to be seen. The clear signal of the
founding message is “No Extremists” – but de facto Jabhat al-Nusra is in
(as a brother on the battlefield but not on the members list), while the
Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham is out. That establishes a platform
Gulf States can openly support, without worrying about American
reaction.

As for the Supreme Military Council’s Free Syrian Army, they are not
dead. The founding of the Islamic Front will not change reality, like
cooperation on the battlefields, and if General Idriss’ followers can
establish a sort-of-central command structure some day, military
alliances will work even better.

The unification will have another effect. Now small brigades can and
must chose between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, or get
eaten one by one by the greedy ISIS Pac-Men. I guess most small/local
brigades will join one of the bigger forces/alliances soon, leaving lots
of plain criminal gangs as ISIS prey.

When you look closely at ISIS participation in battles with the regime,
you will notice that they usually operate outside the command structure.
Too often they have joined battles with rather small units, just to
claim victory afterwards. Now they mourn their casualties and blame the
major brigades for not telling them of tactical movements. With their
escapades they have managed to move themselves into the role of cannon
fodder. Sadly, that will lead to them having more time and resources to
oppress the liberated hinterlands, and it will be a major effort to
remove them if Assad is overthrown. But one problem at a time, say the
pragmatic leaders of the major Islamic forces.

So the bottom line is that the Islamic Front is pretty good news for the
Syrian insurgency, and very bad news for those who do not care about
Syria, as well as for its enemies.

http://eaworldview.com/2013/11/syria-analysis-significant-insurgent-formation-islamic-front/

Saudi Arabia and the ‘Islamic Army’ in Syria: What’s New, What’s Not?

Syria watchers will know of the recent setting up of an “Islamic Army” in the south Syria/Damascus region and its alleged sponsorship by Saudi Arabia. This came shortly after a declaration by 11 Syrian rebel groups, which cut right across the spectrum of established rebel coalitions, rejecting the authority of the exile-based opposition leadership, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and the defection of one Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade, consisting of some 700 troops, in eastern Syria to Jabhat al-Nusra, the more “moderate” wing of Al-Qaida in Syria.

All these events took place after the launch of the current US-Russian deal with the Assad regime over its chemical weapons, the abandonment of the brief US threat to launch “punishment strikes” on Syria, the more or less complete abandonment of even the fiction of US and western support to the FSA, and the renewed momentum, sponsored by the US and Russia, for a Geneva peace conference involving Syrian regime and opposition to attempt to find a “political solution.”

The background to all these events would require a substantial analysis (which readers can expect to see here soon), but for the moment, the rash of articles about this new Saudi strategy, and the more prominent role of Saudi Arabia now as it publicly feuds with Washington, requires some commentary.

When an article on this new “Islamic Army” and Saudi plans to spend “millions” on supporting it (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/07/syria-crisis-saudi-arabia-spend-millions-new-rebel-force) was recently sent to a left-wing discussion list I participate in, one reader posted back the comment:

“Well, that cinches it. I mean, how could it NOT be a “revolution” if it’s the child of the progressive Saudi Arabian state?”

Now of course it would be quite easy to leave one simple sarcastic comment from one poster aside. But given the prominence of this issue, and the prevalence of the point of view this poster was implying among a wide section of the left, I am using it here as a catalyst to make some points about this issue.

Let’s first see what’s wrong with, or what implications flow from, the question “how could it NOT be a “revolution” if it’s the child of the progressive Saudi Arabian state?”

1. The comment suggests it is the first time the person ever heard that Saudi Arabia (and its rival Qatar) has been backing elements of the Syrian uprising. Most know that, following the initial Saudi, Qatari and Turkish robust backing of Assad in the first few months of the uprising in 2011, by about July-August they had given up on Assad being able to quell the uprising, and the first two became the states known to be arming sections of the insurgency (and Turkey facilitating it). So if that is the issue, then, based on the logic of the statement, then it has not been a revolution since July 2011, nothing new here.

2. According to this logic, every time a state that is in any way reactionary (ie, most states in the world are capitalist) sends any military aid to any movement (which they often do for their own reasons in order to try to subvert it and try to bend it in their direction, without this meaning they are successful), no matter how else we judge that movement, such a movement ceases to be a revolution, a liberation movement, or anything progressive whatsoever. I won’t provide a list; those wedded to this logic can do their own research and cross out all the movements they previously had any sympathy for.

3. What is “it” in the statement? The article talks about Saudi backing of one particular formation, the new “Islamic Army.” This formation is heavily dominated by one largish mainstream Islamist militia (Liwa al-Islam) and lots of tiny satellite militias already around it. Liwa al-Islam is a major group in the Damascus/south Syria region, where it has worked well with the secular FSA forces which are strong in the south. It is one of the four large components of the moderate-Islamist/semi-Islamist Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF, consisting of these four large groups and about 20 minor groups), which itself is one of the four major blocs of Syrian resistance, the other three being the secular/FSA/Supreme Military Command (SMC) bloc, the hard-line, national-jihadist Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), and the global-jihadist groups associated with Al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Thus, since the criteria for not being a revolution is Saudi support, the article only proves that one component of one main resistance bloc is not part of a revolution.

4. Since this statement of apparent surprise that Saudi Arabia, which everyone else knows has been sending arms for 2 years, is sending arms, can it be thus understood that we can abandon all the outright nonsense and lies that so many leftists have casually made over the last 2 years about US arming of the rebels? Since there has been zero evidence for US arming, but lots of evidence for Saudi arming, but even the latter is a surprise? OK, this at least is progress, now finally some understand that the US (and UK, France etc) have never sent even a bullet to the anti-Assad resistance.

5. Maybe we can take that one step further. Since the new Saudi strategy is part of its angry conflict with the US over the latter’s abandonment of its imaginary war threat, its overture to Tehran and its deal with Russia and Assad over the chemical issue, as well as months of Saudi frustration over the US attempting to block the Saudis from even aiding the secular SMC/FSA (see below), and indeed the Saudis turned down a UN role protesting both US abandonment of the anti-Assad struggle and unconditional US support for Israel, perhaps, based on the so-called “anti-imperialist” line, should we now welcome Saudi Arabia as part of the “anti-imperialist” agenda? Oh, hell, that makes things too complicated for the “anti-imperialists,” let’s leave that one for a while.

6. Since the article makes clear that a very major concern of the Saudis is the growth of influence of their arch-enemy within the Islamist terrain, Al-Qaida, and that part of their swing to backing a major mainstream Islamist movement (after trying for a year to adopt what they thought was the US line of support for the SMC, only to find out the US was only joking), is precisely to try to reduce support for Al-Qaida, or if necessary confront it, can we now abandon the all the nonsense that so many leftists have casually dropped over the last 2 years about Saudi backing for Al-Qaida (including the witless repetition of the fantasy that the Saudis not only armed Al-Qaida with small arms but with chemical weapons, via some clumsy unknowing FSAers in tunnels)?

7. Just on that though, since all the left has continually told us that Al-Qaida is the worst enemy of humanity (in Syria at least, if not in Iraq or anywhere else), does this Saudi strategy to confront Al Qaida mean that the Saudis are now progressive? Oh, hang on, but Al-Qaida is a lot more consistently anti-imperialist than the Saudis have ever been, even in their current rage, or than the Assad regime has ever been, so does that make Al-Qaida the most progressive thing in Syria? Oh, no, having an “anti-imperialist” line becomes awfully complicated, doesn’t it?

Here’s some other things. The article states:

“I don’t see it producing any dramatic change yet. It’s a political step. These new rebel formations seem to be relabelling themselves and creating new leadership structures. It’s part of a quite parochial political game – and above all a competition for resources.”

A competition for resources, precisely. You see, the fact that the West, with its alleged preference for secular rebels, or “moderates,” whatever the US may mean by that, has never sent them a gun; and even in terms of other supplies, the US has only sent a few flak jaks, binoculars, some ancient radios, and some ready-meals (which, according to FSA Aleppo Colonel, Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, who just quit due to the West’s refusal to supply anything, his men refused to eat, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24858520); this does mean the rebels, outgunned by a regime with a massive array of heavy weaponry which is continually supplied and refurbished by “peaceful” Russia and Iran, do need to look around.

Now when the rebels get too close to Al-Qaida, or a least try to avoid confronting them and opening a second front, since Al-Qaida has constant supplies via its Iraqi Al-Qaida parent, and the FSA prefers Al-Qaida’s arms to be used against the regime if possible, then the VERY, VERY secular and VERY, VERY principled western left can denounce the FSA as “jihadists” and have an excuse to not support them and denounce them as the same as the regime (or worse).

But then when the FSA is anyway forced to confront Al-Qaida all over Syria, as it has been for at least the last 6 months, not because it wanted to, and not because it listened to the Americans who demanded that they do so, but rather because Al-Qaida attacked the FSA from the back while they were busy fighting the regime, or because the FSA simply stuck up for local people resisting Al-Qaida’s imposition of religious repression, and so therefore some of these outgunned FSAers, fighting on two fronts, expressed some naïve but understandable sympathy for a western intervention, or even those who didn’t but merely demanded western arms, well then the VERY, VERY anti-imperialist and VERY, VERY principled western left can denounce the FSA as “tools for imperialism” (while still not even mentioning their fight against the jihadists – indeed, the “left,” in its own fantasy world with no need for reality, can even denounce them as tools of both imperialism and the jihadists at the same time, because it is so much easier to be a leftist in the west with a computer than someone fighting an extremely murderous dictatorship and a murderous group of jihadists at the same time).

But so then, since the West gives them nothing at all, and the jihadists open another front against them, the secular SMC/FSA got arms from Saudi Arabia. Not much, but a little better than nothing. So then the VERY, VERY etc western leftists can denounce them as tools of the Saudi monarchy.

And now that a mainstream Islamist movement, a homegrown movement, cooperative with the secular FSA, and hostile to Al-Qaida, is getting Saudi backing, well that’s all you need to know about them, isn’t it? Obviously they are just theocratic tools of the Saudi theocracy. I reckon an organisation like “Jihad Watch” could probably employ some of these kinds of leftists.

Never mind that when the US was briefly jiving about “punishment strikes” on Syria after Assad’s chemical apocalypse, Saudi Arabia was strongly supporting the proposed attack, indeed is still angry it did not occur, whereas Liwa al-Islam, like all the Islamist and lots of the secular fighters, opposed it, even though they are fighters in the very suburbs that were attacked by chemicals. Liwa a-Islam released a statement that said in part:

“What matters to us is the question of: Who will America target its strike against? And why choose this particular time? … … The Assad regime has used chemical weapons dozens of times and the U.S. did not move a finger. Have they experienced a sudden awakening of conscience or do they feel that the jihadists are on the cusp of achieving a final victory, which will allow them to seize control over the country? This has driven the U.S. to act in the last 15 minutes to deliver the final blow to this tottering regime so it can present itself as a key player and impose its crew which it has been preparing for months to govern Syria” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/09/05/waiting_for_the_tomahawks_syrian_rebels_us_strikes).

So that doesn’t make Liwa al-Islam sound much like a bunch of Saudi puppets, let alone Saudi creation. What does the statement mean by “its crew” that the US has been preparing for months”? Probably some of the people in the US/Saudi centre of operations in Jordan – for months the US has been training a small elite force there, in case they need someone to do their bidding at some stage; a small elite group precisely because the US does not support or trust any wing of the actual FSA fighting on the ground. The Saudis were helping the US train this group; Liwa al-Islam denounces them as American puppets out to steal the revolution from under the feet of the people. Once again, not exactly Saudi puppets. Rather, they are a genuine part of the Syrian revolution, a genuine part of the Syrian people, whose non-jihadist “Islam” represents the more traditionalist nature of much of the peasant and working class population of the vast Damascus suburbs, the base of the revolution, those left outside the “secular” bourgeois-nationalist program of the Baath regime, especially in its neo-liberal phase.

But to the simple-Simon wing of “the left”, I assume all this just makes this formation an imperialist/Saudi/al-Qaida tool. Whatever.

Incidentally, how did the Saudis arrive here? The Saudis are Sunni Islamists, yes; in fact they run the most puritanical theocratic regime on Earth. But the problem it is also a monarchy, that is it is run by, for want of a better word, a “secular” institution, not the Islamic hierarchy; the latter have control over social, educational and cultural life, not political, economic and military power; that’s the deal. As such, the Saudi regime hates the Muslim Brotherhood, not mainly because the latter’s Islam is a lot more moderate than the Saudis’, but also because this “moderation” is republican: the Brotherhood believes it can incrementally bring in “Islamic” laws via bourgeois democracy, anathema to the Saudi monarchy; it is also international in character; and in any case its is tied to their rival Qatar. On the other hand the Saudi regime also hates Al-Qaida, the global-jihadists, because it wants to replace the “apostate” monarchial tyranny with an openly clerical tyranny. Both in their own ways are therefore “revolutionary” in a certain sense, and international, and thus threaten the overthrow of the monarchy. When the Saudis instead tried backing Syrian “national-jihadists” the problem was that the latter had no qualms about working closely with the “global-jihadists” as long as they confronted the regime.

So around August 2012, the Saudis did a well-known turn towards supporting the secular SMC leadership, while also trying to bring on board other ex-Baathist defected officers in exile, and trying to get some arms to the southern secular FSA rebels inside Syria from Jordan to establish credibility and apply actual pressure on the regime. This was not out of love for the SMC/FSA secular politics, but because that is what existed, and thus out of a desire to mould these ex-Baathist officers (“power secularists” if you like, like the Mubarakist officers it supported in Egypt in their coup against the Brotherhood government) into something that could block both the Qatari-backed Brotherhood on one side, and Al-Qaida on the other, while defeating the regime allied to its Iranian regional rival, and hoping to have enough sway over the movement and via the ex-Baathist officers to subvert real democratic revolution. All of that is a big ask: it is difficult when you are the Saudis and you hate nearly everyone. But the stability of the Jordanian monarchy, threatened by both the Brotherhood (its main opposition) and jihadists, became paramount.

The Saudis’ quest to establish a 6000-strong “Syrian National Army” was part of this: to try to replace the SMC, which had little control over the FSA and other rebels on the ground, with a more disciplined unit incorporating other ex-Baathist officers not currently in the SMC. The idea was to be able to both establish more disciplined control over the revolutionary democratic forces at the FSA base better, while also establishing a force that could eventually confront Al-Qaida as a “Sawha” (“Awakening”) movement, the name of the US- and Saudi-backed movement to arm Iraqi Sunni forces to defeat Al-Qaida in Iraq in 2005-6. The importance the Saudis attach precisely to fighting against Al-Qaida in Syria, despite much western left fantasy, is also made very clear in the article.

The US is also in favour of such a “Sawha” movement, but with several differences. First, the US has been demanding for a long time that the FSA launch a preemptive war on Al-Qaida (http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/americas-hidden-agenda-in-syrias-war), to open a second front: the US aim, I believe, in making such a suicidal demand on the FSA, goes beyond a “Sawha”: the US aims for the democratic and jihadist forces to destroy each other. Thus the US refused to supply any arms to the SMC/FSA in the meantime. The Saudis believed you need a force with enough credibility in fighting the regime, and with some actual power, to then be a useful “sawha”; the US believes contrawise that the rebels have to establish their credibility with the US first by fighting a-Qaida before the US will give them a bone.

What this meant, remarkably, was that while the Saudis had turned “secularist” as they thought the US wanted, they found the US was only joking; despite conventional wisdom, the Saudi “theocrats” were supplying the secular SMC/FSA and the “secular” US was trying to block them. As reporter Joanna Paraszczuk explained in June:

“The US and the Saudis are involved in a multilateral effort to support the insurgency from Jordanian bases. But, according to the sources, Washington had not only failed to supply “a single rifle or bullet to the FSA in Daraa” but had actively prevented deliveries, apparently because of concerns over which factions would receive the weapons. The situation also appears to be complicated by Jordan’s fears that arms might find their way back into the Kingdom and contribute to instability there. The sources said the Saudi-backed weapons and ammunition are in warehouses in Jordan, and insurgents in Daraa and Damascus could be supplied “within hours” with anti-tank rockets and ammunition. The Saudis also have more weapons ready for airlift into Jordan, but US representatives are preventing this at the moment” (http://eaworldview.com/2013/06/23/syria-special-the-us-saudi-conflict-over-arms-to-insurgents/).

This is the background to the current US-Saudi spat, which intensified when the US formed its current alliance with Russia to basically keep Assad in power another year while he cooperates to get rid of his chemicals, in the meantime free to use all other conventional weapons of mass destruction, including the currently very popular unconventional one, starving people to death in Gaza-style sieges.

The well-known September 24 declaration by 11 rebel groups (including a number of large groups, which cut right across the main divides outlined above, even including some seculars) that they are not represented by the exile-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC), including rejection of the SNC’s acceptance of the US-Russia strategy for the Geneva peace talks, and the fact that the “soft” wing of Al-Qaida (Al-Nusra) was part of that declaration, set off alarm bells to the Saudis, indicating to them that the bulk of Islamist forces in Syria were tempted to align with their Al-Qaida arch enemy due to the flagrantly obvious betrayal of the US and the imperialist states.

Even though ISIS, the more violent wing of Al-Qaida, was not a signatory, and in fact the declaration’s opposition to “external” forces was implicitly directed against ISIS, with its Iraqi base and large body of foreign fighters and violent attacks on other rebel groups and popular forces, just as much as against the exile-based SNC; even though Al-Nusra itself hastened to declare that there was no “new alliance” at all as much of the western media suggested, but rather that it was merely a joint declaration against the SNC exile political leadership and its strategy; even though a number of large rebel groups, including Islamist groups, did not sign the declaration; it was still too much for the Saudis.

In particular, this declaration was against the main secular opposition leadership that the Saudis had spent a year trying to boost, and part of the reason was the SNC’s acceptance of the Geneva process for a “political solution” under powerful US and western pressure, while at the same time the same US and West had actively undermined the military capabilities of this very same opposition. The Saudis saw this as not just betrayal that led to boosting Al-Qaida; they also saw it, somewhat justifiably, as being laughed at in the face, all the more so when the US suddenly turned into Putin, and then opened negotiations with their Iranian rival.

This is the context in which the Saudis have now swung into support for an important mainstream Islamist bloc, although even the article notes that the Saudis still want to convince Liwa al-Islam to remain under the official authority of the SMC; the Saudis are not necessarily abandoning the SMC (which in any case Liwa al-Islam has been officially connected to via the SILF), but rather refusing to keep all their eggs in one basket. They are also trying to convince it to return to at least officially supporting the SNC: Liwa al-Islam in fact had been one of the 11 groups that signed the anti-SNC declaration together with Al-Nusra that got the Saudis so mad, another indication that it is far from a Saudi puppet; the fact that its new Islamic Army refuses membership not only to ISIS but also to Al-Nusra indicates its acceptance of this part of the Saudi line.

A longer, very detailed analysis of this and much is under preparation.