Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Who’s who: Syria’s terror list

Russia wants to put together a list of extremist groups operating in Syria. But the Syrian opposition is wary of the proposal, Bassel Oudat reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

When the foreign ministers of 17 countries met in Vienna on 30 October, they agreed, among other things, that “Daesh [Islamic State] and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants, must be defeated.”

With this rallying cry in mind, Russia’s chief diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, is now pressing for preparation of a list of all terrorist groups operating in Syria, so that the country may be rid of them through concerted international action.

When the same ministers convened again in Vienna, on Saturday, 14 November, the idea had gained some traction.

“It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometre in which to hide,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The Russians are now pressing for two lists to be prepared: one for terrorist groups that must be annihilated, and one for friendly groups that can take part in the fight against the former. Jordan has been asked to prepare the list of terrorist groups.

But Syrian opposition groups are wary of the Russian approach. They fear that what Moscow is trying to obtain is not a list of groups involved in human rights abuses, but a list of groups opposed to Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Sifting through the 800 or so armed groups operating in Syria today the Russians identified only 40 groups that they consider to be “moderate”.

However, opposition figures told Al-Ahram Weekly that there are many more groups that have never been accused of human rights violations, never hired foreign fighters and never committed atrocities. These groups have for the past four years fought against both Islamic State (IS) and the regime.

Many of these groups are small, often operating within the perimeters of their villages or towns. They operate mostly in self-defence, and many have sworn to abide by the international laws of war and human rights principles.

At the recent meeting in Vienna, it was clear that neither Russia nor Iran is willing to discuss the fate of President Hafez Al-Assad. Indeed, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif threatened to pull out of the Vienna talks if Al-Assad’s fate was placed on the agenda.

So, without tackling this thorny issue, the foreign ministers came up with an 18-month plan, starting from early next year, to form an interim government and hold elections.

UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura described the plan as “challenging but possible.”

According to the plan, delegates from the government and the “whole spectrum of opposition forces” should meet no later than 1 January 2016 to discuss the formation of an interim government. This interim government, the ministers agreed, will draft a new constitution and hold new elections within the next 18 months.

This will be a “Syrian-led process”, Lavrov said during the talks, which were infused with a sense of urgency in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

Mohamed Sabra, chief of the Syrian Republic Party, took issue with the Russian proposals. “The Russian proposal is based on dividing combatant groups into those who agree to a political deal and those who oppose it,” he told the Weekly.

“Once the UN Security Council endorses [the terror lists], this would allow the shelling and extermination of those armed groups that Moscow seeks to destroy,” he added.

According to Sabra, Moscow is also trying to isolate Islamic groups that disagree with the principles of a democratic and secular state, and thus exclude them from the political process.

“This will lead to a realignment of forces, change the essence of the military conflict in Syria, and sow the seeds of civil war in the country,” Sabra remarked.

Among the many armed groups working in Syria today are some that have Gulf backing, others that are supported by Turkey, and some that are homegrown. Kurdish groups have taken up arms, as have the Turkmen, Assyrians, Druze, Christians, Sunnis and Shias.

Then there is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is an alliance of all of the above. Some of these groups have no more than 100 members, while some have tens of thousands of men under arms.

Deciding which of these groups is terrorist in nature is not going to be an easy task. Sayeed Muqbil, a prominent Syrian opposition figure, said that well-defined criteria must be set to differentiate between terrorists and non-terrorists.

“Before preparing the lists, we must bear in mind that the Syrian regime is responsible for 96 per cent of civilian casualties,” Muqbil said, adding that the remaining four per cent were killed by other armed groups, including IS.

“So the forces of the regime and its affiliated militia should be subject also to the same norms. Also, the Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian outfits fighting in Syria must be brought under the same scrutiny,” said Muqbil.

In the flurry of diplomatic efforts to find a quick fix for the war in Syria it must not be forgotten that officials in the current regime have ordered massacres to be carried out, barrel bombs to be dropped from planes, and chemical weapons to be used against civilians.

Armed groups affiliated with the regime have killed and abducted its opponents and pillaged areas deemed hostile to the regime. These groups include the National Defence Militia (Milishyat Al-Difaa Al-Watani), Baath Battalions (Kataeb Al-Baath), People’s Committees (Al-Ijan Al-Shaabiya), Tempest Eagles (Nosour Al-Zawbaah), Orchard Society (Jamiet Al-Oustan), Hatay Liberation Movement (Harakat Tahrir Iskandarun) and Syria’s Hezbollah.

Iraqi groups affiliated with Iran have also committed atrocities. These include the Brigade of Abul Fadl Al-Abbas (Liwa Abul Fadl Al-Abbas), Fatimids Brigade (Liwa Fatimiyun), Zeinab Followers Brigade (Liwaz Zeinabiyun), Mahdi Army (Jeish Al-Mahdi) and Iraq’s Hezbollah.

Palestinian factions fighting alongside the regime have also committed human rights abuses, including documented massacres. These groups include the Popular Front Militia (Milishia Al-Jabha Al-Shaabiya), Quds Brigade (Liwa Al-Quds), Thunderbolt Forces (Quwat Al-Saiqa) and Palestine Liberation Army (Jeish Al-Tahrir Al-Filastini).

The IRGC (the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have also been implicated in war crimes.

Members of Syria’s opposition that the Weekly spoke with say that the international community must examine all these groups. If terror is to be isolated, it must be done using clear criteria — criteria that is applied to all parties in the conflict.

add comment

  • follow us on