Sunnis in the Syrian army and government

For more than four years (since the start of the Syrian civil war) we have been hearing the same odd and dishonest mantra again and again:
The Syrian state and army are sectarian…The state hates Sunnis…The rebels are fought because they are Sunnis…The CIVILIANS are deliberately killed, simply because they are Sunnis…THE GOVERNMENT AND ARMY (+ LOYALIST MILITIAS) ARE „ALMOST ENTIRELY“ ALAWITES WHO HATE SUNNIS, etc.

Let´s first debunk the nonsense that the Syrian army, militias and security services are „almost entirely“ Sunni:

„As for General Swaidan’s soldiers, they arrive to salute their commander and are invited to talk to me: a group of conscripts who give their full names and their civilian jobs – one was a tailor, another a carpenter – and cheerfully say they are Sunni Muslims. Assad, of course, is an Alawite, but the general is careful of percentages, saying that 60 to 65 per cent of the 4th Brigade are Sunnis. „There is no sectarianism in this army, not in our brigade, and if you tour the checkpoints around the city, you will find most of the soldiers are Sunnis.“

The rebel forces in Syria, of course, are almost all Sunni Muslims, and that was the general’s point: Syrian Sunnis also fight for the army. And when I did stop at the general’s checkpoints and rather cruelly demanded to know their religion, almost all of them were indeed Sunni, some conscripts, many regular soldiers–the-generals-view-9206169.html

Sunnis are the backbone of the Syrian army–and-life-goes-on-9836912.html

„There are a lot of senior Sunni officers who are still in the Syrian army and security institutions…the majority of the Syrian army (around 60%) are Sunni.“

„The Syrian army is largely made up of Sunni conscripts, while many willing Sunni volunteers in the paramilitary groups that support regular government forces fight alongside foreign Shia militias, like Hezbollah, against a plethora of rebel groups that are all exclusively Sunni Muslim of varying extremes – both local and foreign.“

„The perception of the opposition as a rural-based movement led by religiously conservative, poor, and unsophisticated villagers has alienated wide segments of urban Sunnis, who have little in common socially with their co-religionists…Sunnis and, more specifically, Sunni Arabs, continue to make up the majority of the regular army’s rank-and-file membership…Estimates indicate that Sunnis account for between 60 and 65 percent of the regular army…Sunnis continue to be well represented in Syria’s security institutions in various capacities, including leadership and other specialized roles…Sunnis, for example, are well represented in NDF units based in Aleppo and elsewhere…has also bolstered the NDF’s ranks with loyal Sunni Arab tribesmen who act as crucial proxies for the regime to different degrees in provinces as diverse as Al-Raqqah, Al-Hassakah, Dara’a, and Deir al-Zour“

And now, let´s take a look at the government itself:

The Vice President, the Prime minister, the Foreign minister, the Defense minister, the Interior minister, the heads of the security services and many more influential and first level functionaries are Sunnis. Even the wives of Bashar al Assad and his brother are Sunni women:



Syria: Nusra Fronts recent massacres should open some eyes

Recently some western and Gulf Arab circles have been bringing up the idea to „reconsider“ the Nusra Fronts (Jabhat al Nusra) status as terrorist organization. They attempt to sugarcoat Nusra as „moderate Islamists“ who are supposedly the arch enemy of ISIS and therefore sort of „not that bad“.
The argument is totally flawed as the Syrian army is also fighting ISIS in places such as Qalamoun, eastern Homs (Palmyra), Deir al Zour and Hasakah to name some of the battlefronts, not to mention that ISIS is fighting pro Assad factions in the Yarmouk camp of Damascus, where – interestingly – it was al Nusra who let ISIS enter the camp.

To destroy any myths about Nusra being „moderate“ or otherwise „non-terrorist“ I refer to this comprehensive article, but it´s noteworthy to read some very recent news about al Nusra AFTER the Al Jazeera interview with the groups leader al Jolani. The aim of the interview was to advertise for Nusras „rebrandishing“ by allowing al Jolani to portray the group as one that not only has no plans to attack the west but also respects minorities, is non-sectarian, almost liberal one should think…

Here are some stories featuring the Nusra Fronts actions in the last weeks:

„“There was a garrison of 40 of our men in one battle in Idlib province, and 14 were killed in the fighting and the other 26 were captured,” General Ghassan says. “They executed them one by one, going from one man to the next to shoot him in the back of the head so that the others in the row would know what was about to happen to them.“

the Islamist gunmen picked off the Syrian checkpoints around Jisr al-Shugour, firing at ambulances taking the wounded to hospital, creating panic among civilians who poured into the centre of the town – much as the Muslims of Bosnia had fled for their lives under Serb attacks into the towns of the Drina Valley almost 25 years ago. 

„Some men who showed they were alive were immediately shot.“

„At least 20 Druze villagers have been shot dead by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in north-western Syria“

With regards to the killing of the members of the Druze minority, especially this part of the BBC article should draw attention for many reasons:
„Wednesday’s shooting occurred after a Tunisian al-Nusra commander tried to confiscate a house belonging to a Druze man who he claimed was loyal to the Syrian government…the al-Nusra commander accused the Druze of being „kuffar“ (infidels) before ordering the mass shooting.“

This is exactly the point: Nusra harbors key non-Syrian radically sectarian elements, going from the Chechen commander Muslim Shishani to the Saudi Salafi „field ideologue“ Abdullah al Muhaysini.
There have been dozens of cases of similar mass executions of „non-aligned“ civilians, including many Sunnis, by simply declaring them „loyal to the Syrian government“, as if this in itself is a grave crime.
The international media has for years been very receptive and tolerant for Syrian rebel crimes as soon as the victims were defamed as „Shabiha“ or otherwise dehumanized. „Shabiha“, „Assad supporter“, „regime loyalist“, these and other negatively colored terms have been the standard vocabulary of Syrian rebels and their media mouthpieces when it came to justify terrorism and crimes against humanity.

Finally, the following article about Nusra and whether they really deserve reconsideration and „rehabilitation“ is highly recommendable:

Some excerpts:
„The Nusra Front, concluded HRW, was „responsible for systematic and widespread violations including targeting civilians, kidnappings, and executions„.

Like ISIL, the group has „committed systematic rights abuses, including the intentional targeting and abduction of civilians“ with „repeated claims of responsibility for lethal car bombing attacks that have targeted civilians in Syria„.

The Nusra Front, HRW added, has – again, like ISIL – „imposed strict and discriminatory rules on women and girls and they have both actively recruited child soldiers„.

So, a moderate or pragmatic group then? Not by any stretch of the imagination….

This notion that JN [the Nusra Front] isn’t as violent as [ISIL] is wrong; both groups follow the extremism of bin Ladinism, though the former uses a bullet while the latter prefers a blade – or worse“