Syria: Do-It-Yourself Militias Bolster Beleaguered Assad

CapriUpdate with Iran paying Syrians to join its militias) Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad acknowledged that he lacked recruits enough to fill his army. Militias, some improvised local defense forces, others organized by the government itself, have stepped into the breach to hold territory or even go on the offensive.

Militias to the rescue.

As a result, Syria is developing a kind of warlord world familiar to anyone who followed the Lebanese civil war (1975-1989). The country is broken up into armed fiefdoms.

On the part of the government, the militia phenomenon goes beyond the “Shabiha” movement of armed gangs that arose in the early stages of the conflict. Allies include militias identified with localities or ethnic or religious groups and Shiite units from Iraq. Financial Times says Iran pays Syrians double regular army salary to join militias it sponsors.

For the rebels, dozens of factions, some radical Sunni jihadists like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, some less or non-Islamic oriented but anti-Assad nonetheless and some with a strong foreign component, including the Islamic State. All try to coordinate when needed. The indiscipline of many have led to awful abuses on both sides.

Plus, of course, there is Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, dispatched by Iran to buttress Assad’s regular army.

Knowing who’s who at any moment requires a spaghetti of organizational charts. Worse for Syria, it means a long period of near anarchic warfare.

From Carnegie Endowment, the original pro-Assad militias.

The following all from Syria Comment, the best Syrian affairs blog I know of:

Syria’s copy-cat Hezbollah.

The Druze take up arms.

The government organizes a militia along Mediterranean coast.

Financial Times checks in with Iran payments.


Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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