As Russia burns Aleppo from the sky, 5,000 foreign invaders prepare to invade it on Assad’s behalf on the ground.
It is constantly proclaimed in Western policy circles that seeing that the Assad regime is armed mainly by Russia (as opposed to Western governments) there is not much Western countries can do to stop Assad, short of direct military intervention. In reality, this is not the case. Western policy since 2012 has helped maintain a lopsided playing field that has favoured the survival of the Assad regime and prevented its conclusive defeat – both in terms of weapons and manpower. In terms of weapons, Western policy – as ultimately determined by the Obama Administration in the United States – has ensured over five years that the Syrian opposition has received nothing near the military aid that the Assad regime has had (despite the presence of willing pro-opposition backers in the region) and it has more crucially and detrimentally ensured that the Assad regime’s daily bombings of civilians continued for 5 years in a row, a civil war record, via the US administration’s veto on the supply of anti-aircraft weaponry by regional allies to Syrian revolutionary forces. This unprecedented domestic use of an airforce is the overwhelming reason for the high civilian casualty count and refugee crisis.
Simultaneously, since the first signs of the depletion of manpower in the Assad regime’s “Syrian Arab Army” (SAA) appeared in 2013, Western governments have turned a blind eye to the unrestricted entry of tens of thousands of foreign sectarian militiamen filling the manpower shortages within the Syrian Army. The active fighting core of the Syrian Army had always been heavily drawn from minority communities and with the death of tens of thousands of minority soldiers as the civil war lengthened, the strain was heavily felt within these communities (the Alawite community in particular lost a third of its male youth to defend the Assad regime). Serious manpower shortages ensued, notably through conscription dodging in regime-loyalist areas. The manpower shortages became apparent from 2014.
Today foreign sectarian militiamen, coming from Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are no longer just a useful accessory to the “Syrian Army” – they have long surpassed it in importance and now constitute the overwhelming fighting force of pro-regime forces. The role of Iraqi militias – which are official substate actors under the Iraqi government – in particular is crucial. It has not escaped the attention of Syrians that the 2003 Iraq invasion which came to support democracy in the region put in place a sectarian regime which today is the largest provider of manpower to the Assad regime that is crushing the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and levelling the cities where these aspirations were voiced. It should be noted that Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all strong allies of both the United Kingdom and the Assad regime, as is the effectively Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese state.
TO THIS END – The UK government must place immediate and serious pressure for an end of the participation of foreign pro-Assad militias in the current regime ground offensive in Aleppo and the war in general, notably such as those from allied states, especially Iraq. Out of 6,000 fighters preparing to advance on Aleppo under Russian air-cover, 5,000 are estimated to be foreign militiamen, notably from Iraq.
– The UK government must immediately pressure the Iraqi government to withdraw its paramilitary groups from Syria – numbering between 20-30+ – most of which form the “Popular Mobilisation Units” (PMU) and all of which operate with official sanction from the central government in Baghdad. Prominent names include:
– Liwa Abul Fadl al-Abbas
– Asai’b Ahl al-Haq
– Harakat al-Nujaba’
– Kata’ib Hezbollah
– Kata’ib al-Imam Ali
– Kata’ib Sayid Al-Shuahada’
– Badr Organisation – Military Wing
Iraqi militias played a crucial role in the capture of Daraya in August and today are the core force of the Assad regime’s ground operation in Aleppo. One of the Iraqi militias currently on the Aleppo frontlines, Harakat Al-Nujaba’a, have called for a Sectarian Cleansing of rebel-held Aleppo’s population as has occurred elsewhere in areas recaptured by the Assad regime, such as Homs and Daraya.
The UK government must stop all weapon supplies, military and economic aid and coordination with the Iraqi government until the withdrawal of all Iraqi militias from Syria is achieved.
– The UK government must immediately pressure the Lebanese government to close its borders to the further entry of Hezbollah troops into Syria in aid of the Assad regime, and must stop all financial and military aid to Lebanon until Hezbollah fully withdraws to the boundaries of the Lebanese state.
– The UK government must immediately pressure the Afghani and Pakistani government to stop turning a blind eye and take steps to stop the rendition of its citizens by Iran and their transfer to Syria to fight for the Assad regime.
– The UK government must immediately pressure the Iranian government – with which it has now normalised diplomatic ties (including the reopening of embassies in London and Tehran) – to withdraw its forces stationed on Syrian territory, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and regular army troops, and to stop the sponsoring of Iraqi, Lebanese, Afghani and Pakistani militias fighting overseas in Syria. The UK government must immediately cease all trade contracts being agreed/negotiated between UK companies and firms with Iran until the full withdrawal of Iranian and Iranian-sponsored forces from Syria – in particular contracts pertaining to Iran’s military and aerospace industry.