[Marxism] Syria: Reply on Idlib, SDF, Radio Fresh etc

Chris Slee chris_w_slee at hotmail.com
Thu Oct 25 19:45:16 MDT 2018

Response to Michael Karadjis.

1) ISIS in Idlib 2014:

Michael claims that ISIS was no longer present in Idlib province in November 2014 when the Syrian Revolutionaries Front was crushed by Jabhat al-Nusra.  Therefore the claim by Abu Omar al-Idlibi, leader of the Northern Democratic Brigade, that his group (which was at that time called the al-Qa'qa' Brigade) was driven out of Idlib because of its opposition to ISIS is "pure fantasy".

In a previous message I quoted Aron Lund, who explained that there was a wave of recruitment to ISIS throughout Syria and Iraq after its capture of Mosul in June 2014.  An example was that the Dawud brigade in Idlib province joined ISIS.

Michael says that after the Dawud brigade left Idlib for Raqqa, there was no more ISIS in Idlib.  However Lund says that ISIS supporters continued arriving in Raqqa from Idlib up to the time of writing his article (December 2014).  Thus there were still some ISIS supporters in Idlib at least until that time.

Michael says that all rebel groups in Idlib, including Jabhat al-Nusra, fought against ISIS.  However Abu Omar al-Idlibi says there was a change of policy by Turkish-backed groups at some time during 2014 (he does not specify an exact date).  Some groups which had previously fought ISIS ceased to do so, due to Turkish pressure.  Instead they attacked Abu Omar al-Idlbi's group  and other groups that continued to oppose ISIS.

Cooperation between ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and some other groups is confirmed by a November 13, 2014 Associated Press report by Deb Riechmann.  She says:

"Militant leaders from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida gathered at a farm house in northern Syria last week and agreed on a plan to stop fighting each other and work together against their opponents, a high-level Syrian opposition official and a rebel commander have told The Associated Press....

"The Associated Press reported late last month on signs that the two groups appear to have curtailed their feud with informal local truces. Their new agreement, according to the sources in rebel groups opposed to both IS and Nusra Front, would involve a promise to stop fighting and team up in attacks in some areas of northern Syria....

"According to a Syrian opposition official speaking in Turkey, the meeting took place Nov. 2 in the town of Atareb, west of Aleppo, starting at around midnight and lasting until 4 a.m. The official said the meeting was closely followed by members of his movement, and he is certain that an agreement was reached. The official said about seven top militant leaders attended.

"A second source, a commander of brigades affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army who is known as Abu Musafer, said he also had learned that high-ranking members of Nusra and IS met on Nov. 2. He did not disclose the exact location, but said it was organized by a third party and took place in an area where the FSA is active.

"According to Abu Musafer, two decisions were reached: First, to halt infighting between Nusra and IS and second, for the groups together to open up fronts against Kurdish fighters in a couple of new areas of northern Syria....

"According to the opposition official, the meeting included an IS representative, two emissaries from Nusra Front, and attendees from the Khorasan Group, a small but battle-hardened band of al-Qaida veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also reported present at the meeting was Jund al-Aqsa, a hard-line faction that has sworn allegiance to IS; and Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative Muslim rebel group.

"The official said IS and the Nusra Front agreed to work to destroy the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, a prominent rebel faction armed and trained by the United States and led by a fighter named Jamal Maarouf. They agreed to keep fighting until all of the force, estimated to be 10,000 to 12,000 fighters, was eliminated, the official said."


Similarly the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on November 1, 2014:

"Reliable sources informed SOHR that some IS fighters reached individually to the village of al- Barah, town of Kensafrah and the eastern countryside of Ma’arret al- Nu’man to support al- Nusra Front and Jund al- Aqsa Organization in their clashes against the Syria Revolutionaries Front."


This is not surprising.  Turkey's priority was to crush the Rojava revolution.  To achieve this goal Turkey collaborated with ISIS.  It also pressured the other groups it supported to fall into line.

2) Radio Fresh:

When I said I didn't know anything about Radio Fresh apart from what was reported in the fund appeal, what I meant was that I don't know what political line (if any) it takes on issues such as the Turkish invasion of Afrin. 

This was the reason I was cautious rather than effusive about Radio Fresh (I just said it "sounds OK"). 

This does not mean I insist they have to vigorously denounce the invasion of Afrin (which might get them killed).  But if they were to actually support the invasion that would be a major concern.

Chris Slee

From: Marxism <marxism-bounces at lists.csbs.utah.edu> on behalf of mkaradjis via Marxism <marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, 24 October 2018 2:00 AM
To: Chris Slee
Subject: [Marxism] Syria: Reply on Idlib, SDF, Radio Fresh etc

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Chris Slee [in the thread "Sochi didn’t succeed, it’s just that the
weapons are hidden” (ANF)"] disputes my assertions that that the SDF
commander Ebu Omer Idlibi is fantasising, where he talks about his
little group getting kicked out of Idlib by other rebel groups
(collectively called “terrorists” acting “under Turkey’s orders” in
Apoist discourse) because his group “continued to fight ISIS.”

My two main points were, firstly, that ISIS had been driven from Idlib
(and all of western Syria) root and branch by the rebels in early
2014, so there was no ISIS to be fighting later in 2014 when these
events allegedly occurred, and that in any case, all rebel groups –
FSA, Islamists of all stripes, and Nusra – fight ISIS.

Chris claims to have discovered ISIS in Idlib later in 2014:

“In reality, there was a temporary revival of ISIS in Idlib in the
second half of 2014, as a result of the greatly increased prestige and
resources it gained through its capture of Mosul in June 2014.”

He quotes Aron Lund: "The Islamic State’s whirlwind successes in Iraq
in June 2014 sparked a flood of new defections. … In the northwestern
province of Idlib, the so-called Dawood Brigade (which was already
very close to the Islamic State) also decided to jump on the bandwagon
and sent a large convoy of fighters to the Islamic State capital of
Raqqa. Stray groups of rebels are in fact arriving to Raqqa from Idlib
even now, months later."

Chris concludes that “Given that ISIS was present in Idlib in the
second half of 2014, there is no reason to doubt that Abu Omar
al-Idlibi's group fought against it at that time.”

Really, Chris? Lund’s article says nothing about any fight against
this little defection to ISIS in Idlib, not because every group would
not have fought it, but because he seems to suggest that as soon as
they defected, they fled from Idlib to the ISIS capital Raqqa. Even if
Chris’ little grouplet, and everyone else, did fight it as soon as it
appeared, this would have lasted days at the most – it does not leave
much scope for “continuing to fight ISIS.”

Still less would “continuing to fight ISIS” be a reason for the
alleged crackdown by the other rebels on the groupsicle, since there
were no groups that did not fight ISIS. In fact, Chris’ stress that
the commander did not say his group “alone” continued to fight ISIS,
but also “some forces like us”, puts him in a difficult position,
because I don’t think the SDF, or its global backers, see themselves
as being “like” the Islamic Front, who were responsible for expelling
Dawud from Idlib:

“… the Islamic Front, an umbrella group of Islamist fighting forces,
had arrested and executed eight Islamic State agents, and that this
drove Hassan Abboud, the brigade’s [ie, Dawud Brigade] leader, to head
to Raqqa.”

Back to the SDF commander:
"We and some forces like us fighting under different names were
removed from Idlib in 2014 by terrorist forces. Jabhat Al Nusra
attacked us as we were fighting the regime and ISIS" claims the SDF
commander. But Nusra crushed the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF),
the largest FSA coalition in Idlib, in November, long after the brief
June appearance, and expulsion, of the Dawud defection. The claim that
they were then “fighting ISIS”, and even more, that this is the reason
they were expelled, is pure fantasy.

By the way, I cannot find any reference to “Liwa Shimal Demokratik” in
Idlib, in fact, the only reference at all, in English, is to this very
article. Regarding the FSA situation around Idlib/northwest in 2014,
no such group was among the constituents of the Syrian Revolutionaries
Front (http://carnegie-mec.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=53910), or Harakat
Hazm (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-lister/american-anti-tank-weapon_b_5119255.html)
or the Fifth Corp
the three main FSA coalitions.

But it’s not really the point. The problem is the tendency to want to
grab onto some “real revolutionaries”, to want to find “the left” in
such catastrophic situations, and, while that may be understandable in
the abstract, to then go on and hang off every word they utter, no
matter how self-evidently false and self-serving.

The YPG/SDF may have done a lot of good things in Rojava (actually I
never said any different, just that I was also willing to recognise it
when the opposite was also true), but surely anyone can see that the
wooden and self-serving language of the Apoist media is the same old
language of Stalinism. Everything revolves around the sect, around the
“true revolutionaries”, around … the party (ie the one behind it all,
the PYD), everything is good and bad in relation to it.

Thus if a microscopic grouplet claims it and perhaps a few other
little groups like it, that no-one has heard of, was expelled by
“terrorists” in Idlib because their little grouplets alone “continued
to fight ISIS”, long after ISIS had been driven from Idlib by the
other “terrorist” groups, driven out by groups which everyone knows
also fight ISIS when it appears, if this all sounds like fantasy,
that’s OK, because it is all about the “true revolutionaries.”

I’m sorry to put it that way Chris, but I’m not sure why this language
and method is unfamiliar to you. In another post, you highlight the
campaign to keep Idlib’s pro-rebel Radio Fresh operating, after the
Trump regime cut off all the funding to civil projects in opposition
areas in Syria. You say you don't know anything about this radio
station, but from what is reported there, “it sounds OK.”

Yes, civil revolutionaries who have been operating against the Assad
regime (and ISIS when it was there, and still against HTS) for years
and years in Idlib, “sound OK”, but presumably not to the Rojava
standard. OK, that’s not fair – not everyone knows about everything
happening. But I’ll put it to you like this comrade: the DSP’s and
Green Left’s orientation for 4-5 years now on Syria has been so
overwhelmingly mono-focused on Rojava that it is understandable that
you know little of the vast array of radical activism in Idlib and
other liberated regions of Syria; this orientation actively
discourages knowing about Idlib or anywhere but Rojava; Idlib is run
by “terrorists” and “jihadists” is what we need to know.

Raed Fares, who is quoted in the article and who is associated with
Radio Fresh, is a household name among those who have followed the
Syrian revolution in a more embracing way, rather than being only
focused on where the PYD dominates. He is responsible for the
colourful slogans that liberated Kafranbel has long been responsible
for, which I’m sure you have seen.

It is the widespread existence and prominence of things like Radio
Fresh, elected civil councils, women’s groups, LCC’s, massive
demonstrations, and their necessary armed expression, at least for
protection, among the FSA groups, all over Idlib, and before being
crushed by fascism, East Ghouta, Daraya, East Aleppo, Daraa in the
south, Qalamoun, Homs etc, that is the revolution we speak about, not
reactionary groups like HTS in Idlib or Jaysh Islam in former east
Ghouta, who are/were simply unable to crush this ongoing revolutionary
situation. So while much of the mainstream and “left” media, and I
suggest Apoist media, likes to call Idlib a “terrorist stronghold” and
laughably pretend that groups like HTS are all powerful there in the
same way as the Assad tyranny is in its regions, gems such as Radio
Fresh prove otherwise.

Actually, you Chris seem to be aware of this, congratulations on your
recent GLW article which described the outpouring of 10s of 1000s of
people all over liberated Greater Idlib, refusing to cower down to
Assad’s threats, raising the original slogans of the 2011 revolution
(and of course, there was no great “jihadist repression” from HTS to
stop it either, despite a few feeble attempts). This was a major
achievement for GLW and the DSP, and if you internally had something
to with this move to a less sectarian (politically) view of the Syrian
situation, well done. Not long ago, Louis Proyect showed that while
there had been literally 100s of articles on Rojava, there had not
been even one word on Ghouta for 5 years, since the nasty article that
said 1400 people had been extinguished in Ghouta by chemical weapons
fired from an “unknown” source! So I was very glad to see your
article, and hope this new orientation continues.

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