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

mkaradjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Wed Oct 31 07:09:23 MDT 2018

Chris and I can keep going back and forth regarding details about what
happened several years ago, but none of these details change the fact that
the propaganda line presented by the YPG/SDF – basically that Syrian
politics is centred on anti-“terrorism” and anti-“jihadism,” and the idea
that these evil “terrorists” and “jihadists” are associated both with
Turkey and the vast majority of Syrian rebels (“Sunni-sectarian rebels”
according to Chris) – is a fantasy, built on selective use of half-truths.

That’s what matters to me here. And the point of this Apoist propaganda is
to justify their abstention from the anti-Assad uprising from Day 1.

Let’s remember the line being presented about the events in question: the
commander of the small micro-sect ex-rebel group (the ‘Northern Democratic
Brigade’), now in the SDF, claimed that Turkey brought “terrorists” into
Idlib, that his little group “and some like them” insisted on continuing to
“fight ISIS” throughout 2014 – despite ISIS having been expelled from Idlib
entirely in January 2014 by the combined rebel forces – and due to this
stubborn persistence in fighting the ghost of ISIS, all the other
“terrorists” in Idlib, backed (if not owned) by Turkey pushed this little
group out of Idlib. This fits with the SDF sectarian position that the only
existing “democratic-secular” elements of what was the FSA are those few
non-Kurdish micro-components of the SDF; all other FSA are essentially part
of the great Turkish-jihadist-terrorist swamp.

Let’s review Chris’ new evidence, and see if it helps this discourse.


First, Chris notes that Arun Lund not only spoke of the Dawud Brigade in
Idlib defecting to ISIS (and thus leaving for Raqqa), but also 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.”

Chris’ point is unclear. Yes, others defected to ISIS and therefore, like
Dawud, fled from Idlib to Raqqa. As soon as there were any ISIS supporters
in Idlib, they got out. This does not leave much scope for the brave heroes
of the Northern Democratic Brigade (NDB) to engage in “continuing to fight
ISIS”, since ISIS was not there.

Perhaps Chris likes to imagine that the minute these defectors appeared,
the NDB and some “like them” immediately pounced on them, forcing them to
leave, and for this crime, all the Turkish-backed terrorist-jihadist swamp
pounced on the NDB, since they were all opposed to “continuing to fight
ISIS” (ie, the bulk of the FSA and Islamist forces who drove ISIS from
Idlib and all of western Syria, root and branch, at the cost of 7000
fighters, now decided that they liked ISIS after all).

But as I already showed in my last message, if anyone acted to help Dawud
make the decision to flee to Raqqa, it was the Islamic Front (a then
existing, long-defunct, coalition that included Ahrar al-Sham – the most
solidly Turkish-backed group in Idlib). As I quoted, they “arrested and
executed eight Islamic State agents” and this forced Dawud to flee.

But according to SDF discourse, ISIS, Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the rest of
then Islamic Front, and most of the FSA who did not join the SDF, are all
part of the Turkish-backed terrorist swamp. How strange that it was the
*most unequivocally Turkish-backed group* - not groups like the NDB – that
played the main role in expelling what the SDF imagines to be
“Turkish-backed” ISIS, if Ahrar are allegedly part of a Turkish terrorist
plot to stop fighting ISIS.


Second, Chris says that while all rebel groups in Idlib, including Nusra,
may have earlier fought ISIS, “there was a change of policy by
Turkish-backed groups at some time during 2014 … 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.”

To justify this wild statement, Chris quotes an article about a alleged
November 2014 meeting between ISIS and Nusra aimed at ending their feud and
even “team(ing) up in attacks in some areas of northern Syria”, and in
particular “together to open up fronts against Kurdish fighters in a couple
of new areas of northern Syria.”

One particular decision was to jointly destroy the Syrian Revolutionaries
Front (SRF), the largest FSA coalition in Idlib.

According to the report, even Ahrar al-Sham attended this meeting.

There was also a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (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."

On the possibility of the meeting itself – this does not surprise me. Nusra
cares about Nusra. As I wrote at the time of Nusra’s crushing of the SRF, Nusra
was only ever a “fair-weather friend” of the rebels
sometimes it fought ISIS, other times it called for peace. Around the
country, Nusra mostly fought ISIS, but here and there they collaborated
(eg, when Nusra let ISIS into the Yarmouk camp in 2015). But that is
because Nusra cares about itself, not because it wants to defend ISIS; and
Nusra – the only rebel group to immediately reject Turkey’s suggestion for
a safe zone in northern Syria, and which rejected Euphrates Shield from the
outset – is certainly not controlled by Turkey!

Oddly, Chris concludes from this:

“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.”

I’m baffled how this conclusion relates to the report.

Yes, the report says that one aim of the alleged Nusra-ISIS rapprochement
was to jointly attack Rojava. But statements are well and good. I am not
aware of any joint ISIS-Nusra attack against Rojava or the YPG around or
after that time. One simple problem was geography – ISIS, Nusra and the YPG
were nowhere all three in the same region. ISIS then in the northeast was
advancing against Kobani. While Turkey may have manoeuvred with ISIS at
that point due to common interest, there is no-one who seriously thinks
that a maniacal group like ISIS was acting on Turkey’s orders! Furthermore,
there was zero Nusra presence there, because the last rebels/Nusra joint
position in the east – in Deir Ezzor – had been conquered by ISIS in July,
and the fighters had fled to Idlib (thus the main reason Nusra had suddenly
become strong enough in Idlib to challenge the SRF was because they had
been expelled by a brutal ISIS siege, and fled to Idlib).

At that time, Nusra in Idlib and Aleppo was *not engaged in any hostilities
with the YPG in Afrin whatsoever*. Such clashes did begin by about the
middle of 2015 however, for some time sparingly. But there was zero ISIS
presence there. The rebels in northern Aleppo (Azaz-Mare-Tal Rifaat region)
were then on good terms with the YPG in Afrin (clashes did not begin until
late 2015), but stood in confrontation with ISIS further east in Aleppo
province (al-Bab region). In this confrontation with ISIS on that key
frontline, Nusra took part on the side of the rebels.

Thus the ‘fight Rojava’ part of the alleged ISIS-Nusra agreement was just
bluster, and does not justify Chris’ implication that the Nusra-ISIS
agreement was driven by Turkey (Chris implies that both Nusra and ISIS were
tools of Turkey, which in fact is a total fantasy in both cases), aimed
against Rojava.

Rather, where the alleged agreement rings true is in their joint hostility
to the FSA, ie, the call to crush the SRF. As is well-known, Nusra crushed
the SRF in November. However, it is difficult to fit that event into the
SDF propaganda line:

1.      Nusra carried out this attack; ISIS was not present to take part.
The SOHR’s note that “some” ISIS fighters “individually” found their way
into Idlib (from where??) to aid Nusra is neither very interesting nor
important. Of course if there were any stray ISIS elements they would have
supported Nusra against the FSA (and probably tried to shoot Nusra later),
but they were wholly irrelevant to the entire operation.

2.      Nusra did not attack the SRF because the SRF “continued to fight
ISIS” while all the “Turkish-backed terrorists” were opposed to doing so.
The SRF, in alliance with the “Turkish-backed” Islamist groups, had driven
ISIS completely from Idlib in January and of course would fight any
hypothetical attempt to return, but as seen this simply was not an issue.
Rather, the SRF was busy full-time fighting Assad. But Nusra aimed to
dominate Idlib and does not like competition; Nusra crushed the SRF not
because it wanted to end a non-existent fight against a non-existent ISIS
and was resisted by the SRF; rather, Nusra crushed the SRF for the sake of
Nusra itself, not ISIS!

3.      Nusra did not attack the SRF because the SRF was a supporter of the
Rojava revolution. If Turkey’s main aim was against Rojava, and if Turkey
had the amount of control this discourse alleges it has over various
disparate rebel and “terrorist” groups, then it is curious that it would
encourage them to attack the largest FSA coalition, with which Turkey was
on relatively good terms. The SRF was not actively hostile to the YPG in
Afrin, but neither was it especially warm – it had the same relationship as
the rest of the northern FSA and mainstream Islamists, live and let live
combined with active suspicion.

4.      Possibly the Northern Democratic Brigade was then part of the SRF;
if so, it was part of a small minority of SRF components which then joined
the SDF – the vast majority joined other FSA groups which remained in Idlib
and continued to direct all their fight against Assad (even alongside Nusra
which had just disbanded the SRF!), and some took exile in Turkey and later
joined Euphrates Shield!

5.      When the SRF was crushed, Maarouf – the SRF leader – went into
exile in … Turkey! Later, when some accused him of backing the ex-FSA
forces who had joined the SDF, he strongly rejected the claim, accusing
some “vengeful” ex-members of doing so, and advising the Idlib rebels to
keep attacking Assad’s forces to the south.

6.      Ahrar al-Sham, the most clearly Turkish-backed group, was alleged
to have been at that infamous ISIS-Nusra meeting. But when some rank and
file Ahrar troops took part in Nusra’s attack on the SRF, this was
condemned by the Ahrar al-Sham leadership!
<http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=57201> In fact, right
throughout the conflict, Ahrar tried to end the fighting
<https://twitter.com/charliewinter/status/527866467552071680>. Even a
section of Nusra, led by the leader of the former Deir Ezzor branch,
condemned Nusra’s attack.
I think we often like to imagine everyone we don’t like – ISIS, Nusra,
Turkey, terrorists, jihadists, Saudi regime, rebels who commit crimes, not
being secular etc – being all on one side. It would make life easy, it
feels comfortable. It very rarely has much connection to reality. See the
current alliance between the radical democratic/feminist SDF and the
theocratic tyranny in Saudi Arabia; I notice that Rojavists aren’t any more
busy accusing the FSA and rebels of being tools of the Saudi “wahabbism.”

On Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 12:45 PM Chris Slee <chris_w_slee at hotmail.com>

> 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."
> https://web.archive.org/web/20141116155833/http://news.yahoo.com/ap-sources-al-qaida-reach-accord-syria-190921017.html
> 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."
> https://web.archive.org/web/20141113083220/http://syriahr.com/en/2014/11/islamic-state-sends-some-fighters-to-support-al-nusra-front-in-idlib/
> 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.”
> https://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/article2603226.html#storylink=cpy
> 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
> (
> http://en.etilaf.org/all-news/news/merger-of-five-rebel-factions-into-the-fifth-corps.html
> ),
> 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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