Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab made his first public appearance since his defection, saying the government of Bashar al-Assad is collapsing (14 August 2012).
Meanwhile, on top of Mister Hijab speaking pious words, now even Reuters admits that foreign elements are infiltrating Syria: from Beirut Mariam Karouny reports that “[v]eteran fighters of last year’s civil war in Libya have come to the front-line in Syria, helping to train and organize rebels under conditions far more dire than those in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi, a Libyan-Irish fighter has told Reuters. Hussam Najjar hails from Dublin, has a Libyan father and Irish mother and goes by the name of Sam. A trained sniper, he was part of the rebel unit that stormed Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli a year ago, led by Mahdi al-Harati, a powerful militia chief from Libya’s western mountains. Harati now leads a unit in Syria, made up mainly of Syrians but also including some foreign fighters, including 20 senior members of his own Libyan rebel unit. He asked Najjar to join him from Dublin a few months ago, Najjar said”.
In fact, Al-Harati is also an Irish citizen and he leads the Liwa al-Ummah: in Foreign Policy, Mary Fitzgerald writes that “[t]hey look different from your average Syrian rebel fighter, typically dressed in a scruffy mismatch of military fatigues and civilian clothes. Most of these men are decked out in identical fatigues, boots, and khaki-colored T-shirts. A handful sport dazzling white T-shirts emblazoned with the Liwa al-Ummah crest: a raised fist set against the tri-starred green, white, and black flag adopted by the Syrian rebels. “Revolutionaries of Sham,” it reads, using the Arabic term for historical greater Syria, above the name Liwa al-Ummah”.
According to the good folks of Wikipedia, Mahdi al-‘Harati decided to form the group following discussions with supporters of the Syrian opposition during a fact-finding mission to Syria in early 2012. The group does not actively try to recruit Libyans, and about 90% of its 6,000+ members are Syrians, with the remaining 10% a mixture of Libyans and other Arabs. Most of the Libyans are former members of the Tripoli Brigade, which received training from Qatari Special Forces in the town of Nalut during the Libyan civil war. Most of the Syrian fighters are former members of other rebel groups who decided to join Liwaa al-Umma, whilst others have joined as individuals. Compared to most other rebel groups in Syria, Liwaa Al-Umma is seen as better organized and more disciplined. Although most of its members are Syrian, foreign volunteers play a key role in the leadership of the group. The main reason behind the formation of the group was so that Al-Harati and other foreign volunteers could share with the Syrian opposition their expertise and experiences fighting elsewhere. Although Liwaa Al-Umma and the Free Syrian Army share a common enemy, the Syrian government, the two groups are separate. The group also reportedly has plans to set up a political wing to represent it in post-war Syria . . . According to Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Syrian Islam at the University of Edinburgh, Al-Harati is a Libyan revolutionary who wishes to help the Syrian revolution, and is not a jihadist. Members of the group have described the Syrian civil war as a “people’s revolution” and not an “al-Qaeda jihad”. Other members of the group, however, have described the group as having an “Islamic frame of reference,” with the group’s Facebook page listing goals such as defending the ummah and liberating it from dictatorship and aggression; co-operating to establish Islamic governance, and working to unite the ummah and bring about its “renaissance’. Fitzgerald goes on that the “Facebook page for Liwa al-Ummah is a mix of battle updates, photographs of training sessions, and grainy footage of operations (one of which was dubbed “the Libyan ambassador,” a reference to the brigade’s Libyan contingent). It also includes a video clip of the late Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian religious scholar who provided the theological underpinning for the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, outlining when jihad becomes fard ayn, meaning an individual duty. A message bylined by Harati contains an invitation to “join the jihad in the land of al-Sham.” The Facebook page also includes a mission statement of sorts, outlining the brigade’s principles and goals. The goals include defending the ummah and liberating it from dictatorship and aggression; cooperating to establish Islamic governance (though no detail is given as to what this might entail); and working to unite the ummah and bring about its “renaissance” (the Arabic word they use is ennahda, the name of the Islamist ruling party in Tunisia). It was these objectives that appealed to Mohammed al-Sukni, a 28-year-old engineer who serves as Liwa al-Ummah’s commander in Homs, the restive city in central Syria. “I joined because I liked the central idea of the ummah and raising the banner of Islam,” he says. “I would like to see Syria with a moderate Islamic government — something like Tunisia or Turkey. Liwa al-Ummah is different from the other brigades in that it is not just fighting the regime, but it is also preparing for after the war. I think it will play a pivotal role now and in the future.” This is echoed by Hassan Barakat, who recently brought his group of 150 rebel fighters in Maaret al-Numan, a town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, under the auspices of Liwa al-Ummah. “The idea of the ummah, of Muslims cooperating together, is uplifting,” he says. “It gives us a sense of dignity””.
Mariam Karouny, “Exclusive: Libyan fighters join Syrian revolt” Reuters (14 August 2012). http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/14/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE87D06G20120814.
[2 Mary Fitzgerald, “The Syrian Rebels’ Libyan Weapon” Foreign Policy (09 August 2012). http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/08/09/the_syrian_rebels_libyan_weapon.
[4 Mary Fitzgerald, “The Syrian Rebels’ Libyan Weapon-2”. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/08/09/the_syrian_rebels_libyan_weapon?page=0,1.