Understanding the Syrian Civil War: Overview of pro-Regime Militias in Syria
As somebody interested in military affairs (and that’s the core essence of any war), whenever studying some armed conflict I attempt to assess what is generally described as ‘capabilities and intentions’ of involved parties. The essence of ‘capabilities’ of any party is what is known as ‘Order of Battle’ (ORBAT). ORBAT is a sort of a map, detailing units and the way they are organized (sometimes, as far as the info is available: also their equipment).
In the case of the Syrian military, the ORBAT used to be quite clear and actually well-known (not necessarily in the wider public) — at least at the start of the Syrian Civil War, back in early 2011. The picture has got ever more confused already by the mid of that year. Through 2013, it turned into a chaos. By 2014, it was not only obvious, but well documented too, that Iranians began to take over.
Meanwhile it can only be concluded that — while all the media (whether in the West or elsewhere) and especially all the possible Assad/Putin/IRGC-fans active on the internet keep on talking (indeed: ‘insisting’) on the use of expressions like ‘Syrian Arab Army’, ‘SAA’, ‘Syrian Army’, or at least ‘regime forces’ — the more one is searching for these ‘regular units of the Syrian Arab Army’, the less is one able to find.
The SAA began disappearing from the battlefields of the Syrian Civil War in 2013, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched its military intervention in the country. Later in 2013, the IRGC announced the establishment of the ‘National Defence Force’. This was presented as a new military force, aiming to support the SAA. Actually, the establishment of the NDF resulted in conversion of whatever was left of the disintegrating army into sectarian militias, and a formalisation of the latter. Completed in 2015, this process resulted in a situation where there is no SAA any more. What is left is a hodgepodge of sectarian militias, not only ‘bolstered’, but ‘largely replaced’ by a similar hodgepodge of IRGC-run militias.
Amazingly enough, this entire development — which is not only characteristic for behaviour of the Syrian regime in this war (because it was Assad who provoked a sectarian-war) — is de-facto ignored even by the Syrian opposition, not to talk about the public in general. While insurgents are constantly blamed for depending upon- and collaborating with transnational jihadists (i.e. ‘foreigners’), there are next to no serious efforts on the part of leadership of any of major insurgent groups to make it better known in the public whom are they fighting. Namely, that the majority of ‘regime military’ nowadays consists of foreigners and of a wild miscellany of local sectarian militias, but no ‘SAA’.
One of less than a handful of exceptions from this rule was published recently by the FSA News. While highly informative for most of readers it is still rather chaotic and in some cases simply wrong — for example because it is resenting units from the same organization as two or more different militias.
That said, this is no exception from what appears to be the ‘general rule’ — the one that efforts related to the issue of disentangling this hodgepodge of pro-Assad or other militias fighting on the side of the regime appear quite disjoined: most are resulting in presentations of single units, and then quite bamboozling descriptions of their possible backgrounds, relations etc.
No doubt: the topic ‘sectarian militias fighting pro-Assad’ is not simple. Principal problem appears to be the lack of information and knowledge, but also a very consequent propaganda effort. On the internet, emerging militias are all colloquially described as the ‘SAA’.
Certainly enough, some of units in question came into being through reorganization of mauled SAA units and others through the IRGC-run effort to establish the NDF. However, majority came into being through intentional recruiting along sectarian lines. For example, there is a number of what can only be described as ‘private military companies’ (PMCs), primarily staffed by Alawites and sponsored by wealthy businessmen close to Bashar al-Assad. However, there is an even larger number of units staffed by other minorities, that were recruited, trained and (at least initially) commanded by the IRGC, but not integrated into its ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ (Hezbollah).
Eventually, the resulting situation prompted me to start collecting data on any such units, and this in turn resulted in an attempt to prepare a systematic overview presented here.
Please note that this overview is not including any of IRGC’s own units, nor any of its ‘surrogate’ units or any of Hezbollah units (whether Hezbollah/Lebanon, Hezbollah/Iraq, or Hezbollah/Syria) — although these are meanwhile playing the dominant role on all major battlefields of he Syrian Civil War. I intend to cover these in a separate feature.
Command & Control Militias
The first, and probably ‘most important’ group of ‘regime’s’ militias are units I consider as established with the purpose of controlling and commanding everybody else, i.e. maintaining the regime in power, in control of the military that was de-facto disintegrating (back in period 2013–2015), and — more recently — in control of the emerging hodgepodge of sectarian militias.
The practice of the regime organizing its military in this fashion can be traced back to March 2011, when — out of concern about possible defections (which then really happened) and infighting (which happened too) of units staffed predominantly by Sunnis — the regime began disintegrating existent SAA units. A company, battalion, regiment or a brigade would be separated from its parent formation (battalion, regiment, brigade or division, respectively), put under the command of a detachment from a staunchly loyalist formation, and only then deployed in the field. Primary result of this process was that instead of mobilizing 20 existing divisions of the SAA, the regime eventually created a similar number of brigade-sized ‘task forces’, each of which was led by a ‘controlling’ element from one of intelligence services, reinforced by a detachment from the 4th Division.
Because of their purpose, the militias in question act as a sort of ‘fire brigades’: they are frequently rotated from one battlefield to the other. This is why some of them became particularly famous — which in turn results in their appearance resulting in significantly bolstering morale of local militias. Namely, when put under command of such ‘controlling militias’, members of various other militias then consider themselves members of these ‘controlling militias’ and thus ‘elite’. This in turn creates the wrong image in so far that the ‘controlling militias’ appear to be large movements, while they are actually very small units, and their principal function is that of ‘command and control’, not that of ‘fighting’.
It can be said that there are two major groups of ‘Command & Control Militias’: one run by the Mukhabarat al-Jawwiya (notorious ‘Air Force Intelligence’), and the other by the Su’abat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariya (Military Intelligence Branch). All of units in question should be well-known to most of readers:
- Tiger Force (for its backgrounds see here; this unit is subordinated to the Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya and its centrepiece is the Dir al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya [Air Force Intelligence Shield], which is a battalion-sized formation consisting of about a dozen of small, company-sized outfits [20–50 combatants each] with specialized purposes and equipment [like Cheatah Force, Leopard Force, Panther Force, Hamza Force, Machine-Gun Company]; the Tiger Force is including a company operating some 3–4 out of 6 T-90s donated by the IRGC, plus some other armour and a small artillery component).
- Liwa Suqour as-Sahra (Desert Falcons; link to one good overview, and another with more background info; together with two other units of this kind, this is a PMC controlled by the Shu’abat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariya; the LSS is a bigger and better equipped combat formation than the Tiger Force, and its principal purpose is that of providing ‘shock troops’ that lead specific operations. I don’t know exactly how many combatants it has got, but these are meanwhile operating a mixed company of several T-72s, and at least 5 (out of original 6) T-90s, few 2S1 Gvozdikas, some BM-21s, and other heavy armament.
The other two units of the same kind and controlled by the Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-Askyriya are:
- Fawj al-Maghawir al-Bahr (Regiment of Naval Commandos; frequently reported as ‘Navy SEALs/Navy Commandos/Sea Commandos Regiment and similar).
- Liwa Sayyida Zaynab (Sayyida Zaynab Brigade; source for this entry can be found here, but I’m not sure any more if this unit remains subordinated to the Mukhabarat al-Askyariya; it is at least possible that it was meanwhile integrated into Hezbollah/Syria)
Currently (Oct/Nov16) active in Aleppo area are two other units established by one of regime’s intelligence branches, but it is unclear which:
- Dir al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya 223 (Military Intelligence Shield 223 Forces; source)
- Fawj 47 (Regiment 47; lately protecting the Aleppo — Kfar Nassir road, then re-deployed to Western Aleppo; actual background of this unit is very hard to explain; it is officially declared for ‘SAA’, even for the Anti Terrorist Branch of Government Security, but especially the latter is revealing its true nature: this is another PMC/militia, staffed by SRG/SAA/NDF personnel, but actually commanded and run by the IRGC)
PMCs of al-Bustan Association
The next group of militias can be roughly described as ‘PMCs subordinated to al-Bustan Association’ (link to recruiting office), the boss of which is Rami Makhlouf. Makhlouf is cooperating with brothers Mohammed and Ayment al-Jaber, both of whom have criminal backgrounds. Recent reports according to which they should have been forced to flee Syria (supposedly following disagreements and infighting with the rival Tiger Force) — are incorrect: there is substantiated visual evidence for the presence of al-Jaber brothers in Aleppo, as well as for their meetings with commanders of the Tiger Force at Kweres AB, in late October 2016. Current known composition of militias of the al-Bustan Association is as follows:
- Fawj al-Maghawir al-Badiya (Desert Commandos Regiment; also known as ‘Sheikh Suleiman ash-Shawakh Battalions; link with good insight)
- Quwwat Hossn al-Watan (also ‘Hossn’, or ‘Homeland Fortress Forces’)
- Kata’ib al-Jabalawi (Jabalawi Battalion/s; link with insignia and basic info)
- Fuhud Homs (Leopards of Homs; link with insignia and some basic info)
Different Loyalist Militias
The last group of militias fighting for or on behalf of the Assad regime are those where I lack sufficient information about their backgrounds. I kind of ‘bunched them together’ in a somewhat crude fashion. Between these are various ‘Alawites-only’ PMCs and militias, few militias recruited by the Republican Guards, others even by the IRGC, or by various political groups of the Iraqi Shi’a. Any further information about militias in question would be most welcome.
- Muqawama as-Suriya (The Syrian Resistance, TSR)
- Katibat al-Jabal (Jabal Battalions, this should be ‘Alawites only’ militia)
- Liwa Dir as-Sahel (‘Coastal Shield Brigade’, an ‘Alawites only’ militia created from whatever is left of the former 76th Brigade/1st Division; [link with insignia and basic info]; this unit suffered extensive losses in north-east Lattakia, in October-December 2015 and is possibly defunct ever since)
- Liwa Usoud al-Hussein (Lions of Hussein Brigade; ‘Alawites only’ militia, recruited and established in mid-2015, in Qardaha area, with help from Suqour as-Sahra; [link with insignia and basic info]; reportedly reorganized as Quwwat Humat as-Souriya — Usud al-Hussein, ‘Guardians of Syria Forces — Lions of Hussein’)
- Fawj 313 (Regiment 313, also Abu al-Hareth Regiment 313; connections unclear but presence confirmed in northern Lattakia; this is possibly another ‘Alawites only’ PMC or ‘local militia’; [link to source]; reported heavy losses during fighting in north-western Aleppo, in August 2016, might have resulted in its disbandment)
- Liwa Shuhada Kfar as-Saghira (‘Martyrs of Kfar as-Saghira Brigade’; IRGC-commanded, but staffed by ex-SAA/NDF personnel; est. Oct15; currently active in northern Aleppo City)
- Quwwat ar-Ridha (also ‘Reza Forces’; [link with insignia and basic info])
- Liwa Suqour ad-Daher (or ‘Daher Hawks Brigade’; this is either a unit controlled by one of intelligence services, or by the Ba’ath Party Militia/Phalanga; currently deployed in Western Aleppo; [example for ‘Liwa Suqour ad-Daher’ being declared for ‘SAA’])
- Liwa Dareh al-Areen (apparently another ‘Alawites only’ unit, est. 2015)
- Liwa Suqour al-Qunaitra (Falcons of Qunaitra Brigade)
- Dir al-Quwwat al-Qalamoun (‘Qalamoun Shield’; there is very little info on this militia, but it’s often mentioned on Twitter [like here], while in Souran area, northern Hama)
- Quwwat al-Fahd (a Druze militia, currently active in Khan ash-Shieh area)
- Jaysh al-Wafa’a (‘Army of Loyalty’, which appears to consist of several ex-FSyA groups)
- Assad ash-Sharq (‘Lions of the East’; tribal militia active in Dayr az-Zawr, cooperating with the 104th Brigade Republican Guards and the 137th Artillery Brigade, [link with basic info and insignia indicating links to the Ba’ath Party])
Ba’ath Party Militia/Phalanga
Existence of this militant entity fighting on the Assadist side is a longer story that requires at least the most basic description of its backgrounds.
Although established back in 1947, the raise of the Ba’ath Party of Syria (or, at least until 1966: the Ba’ath’s ‘Syrian Branch’) began only together with the raise of the Assad clan, in the early 1960s. While serving as an officer (and pilot) of the United Arab Republic Air Force (UARAF), in period 1958–1961, and then of the re-constituted Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), 1961–1963, Hafez al-Assad began developing the party into his private power-base. While officially imposing ideology based on secularism, socialism, Arab nationalism and similar — he paid great attention to propagate Alawite migration into the cities and replacement of Sunni and military officers of other ethnic/religious minorities by Alawites. By the time (Alawite) Major-General Salah Jadid established himself in power, in 1966, Assad was in command of a sizeable and well-armed militia based on SyAAF personnel and overwhelmingly staffed by his sect. This militia proved crucial for Assad’s ascent to power in 1970. During the 1970s, the existence of this militia was formalized through its reorganization into Saraya ad-Difa (Defence Companies), commanded by Rifa’at al-Assad, which were then expanded and re-armed into what eventually became the 569th Division. This in turn was re-organized into the 4th Armoured Division following Rifa’at al-Assad’s coup attempt of 1983.
A new para-military organization was created in 1980, in response to the insurgency of the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood under the designation Jaysh ash-Sha’abi (People’s Army), or simply Munazzamat Sha’biya (essentially: Ba’ath Party Militia, BPM).
As of 2011, the BPM was estimated of being able to put as many as 100,000 paramilitaries under arms. While its activity was sporadically reported right from the start of the SCW, it was only once the IRGC’s Major-General Hamedani was deployed to Syria with the task of establishing the NDF, in summer 2013 that the true scope and importance of the BPM became obvious. Namely, by converting the BPM into the NDF, Hamedani laid the founding stone for all the other Assadist militias active ever since.
(Notably, not only that all commanders of SyAAF squadrons had to sign something like their pledge of loyalty to the Ba’ath, in period July-October 2012, or that there is a mass of reports that all the orders for attacks on civilians in insurgent-held areas they are receiving are issued by the ‘Ba’ath Party HQ in Damascus’: some of SyAAF squadrons are meanwhile regularly reported as ‘Ba’ath Squadrons’.)
Contrary to earlier times, when the BPM included members of various ethnic and religious groups, Hamedani’s conversion of the BPM into the NDF was characterised by sectarianism. His idea — based on his experience while serving as the Commander of the Basij Corps IRGC in Iran — was that units staffed by members from the same ethnic/religious group are more likely to remain coherent and loyal.
Since autumn 2015, the involvement of BPM in fighting on different frontlines is reported regularly, as is formation of ‘brigade’-sized formations. Nowadays it appears they are primarily staffed by Sunnis and Palestinians, perhaps some Druze too. Involvement of these ethnic/religious groups is often causing confusion and some of BPM’s units are reported as belonging to other militias, and versa-vice. Known units that can ‘almost certainly’ be associated with the BPM nowadays are such like:
- Liwa al-Maghawir al-Ba’ath (‘Ba’ath Commando Brigade’; presence in Aleppo reported repeatedly through summer and autumn 2016)
- Liwa al-Ba’ath (‘Ba’ath Brigade’; formerly Katayb al-Ba’ath, but officially expanded into a ‘brigade’ in November 2015, and ever since reported as in action in SE Hama and northern Homs, like [here])
- Liwa ad-Dauter/Liwa Suqour ad-Dauter (Dauter Brigade/Dauter Falcons Brigade; exact backgrounds unclear, but reported as active in late 2015 and early 2016)
- Liwa al-Hajamoun(?) (designation uncertain; sometimes reported as the ‘1st Assault Brigade’, supposedly active in Homs area as of August 2016)
Since 1948, Syria received several large waves of Palestinian refugees. Contrary to usual practice in other Arab countries, where most of Palestinians have a status of refugees and are left to vegetate in refugee camps, successive Syrian governments helped them build sizeable urban areas, provided them with schools, hospitals and job opportunities. Nevertheless, being a strong proponent of armed resistance to Israel, Syria also supported establishment of their military groups. For example, in competition to Egypt-supported PLO, Damascus established its own branch of the Jaysh at-Tahrir al-Filistini (Palestine Liberation Army, PLA) — and deployed this on large scale for an invasion of Jordan in 1970. During the 1970s, the Syrian government developed close links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC) too.
During the 1980s, both of these militant groups were deployed by Syria not only to run a Palestinian insurgency against Israel in southern Lebanon, but also for terrorist attacks in Israel and abroad. Unsurprisingly, both were designated ‘terrorist organizations’ by most of Western governments.
Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, both groups were reorganized and drafted to perform military service on behalf of the Assad regime. Their exact official status is somewhat unclear: while closely tied — perhaps ‘directly integrated’ — into the SAA, they exist as independent entities, have their own support infra-structure, and close cooperation with the IRGC and the Hezbollah. The PFLP-GC seems to be primarily active in Aleppo area, while the PLA remains the dominant Palestinian organization in southern Syria, foremost in Damascus area.
- Liwa al-Qods al-Filistini (‘Jerusalem in Palestine Brigade’), established primarily from PFLP-GC in Hindarat Camp, in northern Aleppo, where it is fighting under IRGC’s control since 2014.
- no details on specific units
Three sizeable Palestinian militias have been tracked while in combat in southern Syria (Rif Dimashq, Eastern Ghouta and Sheikh Mishkin/Dera’a area) in late 2015 and early 2016. In August and September this year, they were several times reported as involved in fighting for Darayya and in Eastern Ghouta, sometimes in cooperation with Hezbollah (whether Lebanon or Syria), or with the Republican Guards. They should belong to either the PLA or the PFLP-GC, but precise background of their relations to either group are currently unclear:
- Liwa al-Jalil (Galilee Brigade; perhaps the original formation of what became the Quwwat al-Jallil)
- Quwwat al-Jalil (Galilee Force; re-deployed from Damascus area to Northern Hama in mid-October 2016)
- Katayb Harakat as-Sa’aberine (reported as a unit of Palestinians from Lebanon; last confirmed presence was in Sheikh Mishkin area, Feb16; present status unclear)
- Liwa Jihad Jibril (no details available)
- Arab Nationalist Guard (sometimes described as four-battalions strong, this is an armed militia consisting of Arabs with pan-Arabist and anti-Zionist ideology [for details see Wikipedia entry]; largely consisting of Egyptians and Lebanese, but including some Algerians — like one of their commanders, killed in summer this year somewhere in Eastern Ghouta — some Palestinians, and few Syrian Sunnis; the ANG was first cited as involved in fighting in western Homs, and in Qalamoun, in 2014, then in Damascus area, all through 2015 and 2016, and lately — September-October 2016 — in northern Hama)
Founded in 1932, in Beirut, as an anti-colonial movement, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) played a significant role in Lebanese and Syrian politics of the 1940s and 1950s. Originally a right-wing party, it allied with various leftist movements in the 1970s, before being completely reorganized during the 1980s, since when it acted as a Syrian proxy in Lebanon. It was legalized in Syria in 2005, as the only other officially acknowledged party except the Ba’ath, and received three seats in the Parliament.
The SSNP publicly sided with Assadist regime in 2011, and received armament and training in return, enabling it to create its own militia. However, first reports about military activity of its units are dating back to early 2014, primarily in western Homs Governorate. By the time the SSNP militia reportedly had between 6,000 and 8,000 combatants under arms. Although the SSNP militia should meanwhile operate up to four ‘brigade’-sized units, and it is known these are active in Damascus and Homs areas, only one of these is known by its designation:
- Liwa Nusr az-Zawba’a (‘Eagle Whirlwind Brigade’, often reported as the ‘66th Brigade/11th Division’ or ‘66th Brigade NDF’ in late 2015; up to 2,000-strong, primarily infantry, but equipped with BTR-152s too; active in Homs, Oct15; southern Aleppo, Nov15; Lattakia, Jan-Feb16; northern Hama, Oct16)
Smaller units of the SSNP militia are frequently reported at the same time and place like supposed remnants of specific ‘SAA’ units. Indeed, it can be said that the SSNP units in question are intentionally mis-reported as ‘SAA’ units. Here a few examples:
- Units reported as the ‘11th Armoured Division’ (supposedly including the 66th and the 87th Brigades) that went into offensive against the FSyA in northern Hama, in Oct15, actually consisted of at least 5, possibly up to 8 SSNP battalions, two of these equipped with T-62 and T-55 MBTs.
- The very same units were then reported as the ‘18th Armoured Division’ involved in offensive against the Daesh (IS) in eastern Homs, in Aug16.
Sadrist & ‘other’ Iraqi/Syrian Shi’a Militias
This group of sectarian militias fighting on the side of the Assad regime appears to me to be the hardest to clearly define.
When considering them, one should keep in mind that the Shi’a of Iraq, Lebanon and Syria are no monolithic block blindly loyal to the IRGC and/or Tehran. On the contrary: there are at least four major Shi’a parties in Iraq alone, at least three of which are of genuine origins (i.e. not established with Iranian aid). Muqtada as-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army)- originally came into being in 2004 to fight US troops in Iraq. It entered cooperation with the IRGC primarily in order to get money, arms and training it needed for that war (and because the IRGC got scared about a possible US invasion of Iran, once Iraq would’ve been secured). Mahdi Army was disbanded in 2008, but re-mobilized and re-armed in 2014 as Saraya as-Salam (Peace Companies).
Movements like Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas and Harakat an-Nujba might be receiving relatively more of IRGC’s support than Peace Companies, but they have their own disagreements — with Iranians, and mutually. Overall, neither is as close ally of the IRGC as Hezbollah.
Another characteristic for most of such militias is that they see the wars in Iraq and Syria as _one_ conflict. Therefore, while paying attention to incorporate as many Syrian Shi’a as possible, they are maintaining simultaneous presence of active contingents in both countries. This is one of reasons they became instrumental for emergence of a significant number of Syrian Shi’a militias.
Interestingly, although most of units in question were originally recruited and established by the IRGC as a part of the effort to create the National Defence Force (NDF), they were trained and commanded by officers from Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas and similar groups. Perhaps the IRGC was simply short on volunteers for this task, back in 2013–2014?
- Quwwat ar-Ridha (appears to have been one of first armed militias of Syrian Shi’a, in 2012, perhaps as a core of the future Hezbollah/Syria), primarily recruited in Homs area, and active in Syria only)
- Liwa Assad Allah al-Ghalib (now ‘Quwwat Assad Allah al-Ghalib’; multi-unit Iraqi-Syrian Shi’a militia with contingents active in Iraq and in Syria; operational in Eastern Ghouta Jun-Nov16)
- Liwa as-Sayyida Ruqayya (‘Sayyida Ruqayya Brigade’; also ‘Jafari Force’; Syrian Shi’a from Damascus area, active in Dera’a/Qunaitra, incl. Kataib Sayyid ash-Shuhada)
- Liwa Imam al-Bakr (‘Imam al-Bakr Brigade’; official regime’s designation for this group is ‘Quwwat ad-Difa al-Mahali’, aka ‘Local Defence Forces’; while frequently declared for ‘Lebanese-Syrian Shi’a militias’, these are foremost Syrian Shi’a from Aleppo area recruited and supported by Hezbollah/Lebanon and Hezbollah/Syria; elements of this Liwa are Fawj as-Safira, Fawj an-Nubl az-Zahra and Katibat an-Nayrab al-Maham al-Khasa; the entire group is currently involved in fighting in Western Aleppo.
- Fawj al-Imam al-Hujja (Syrian Shi’a from NW Aleppo Governorate; est. Jan16; affiliated with Hezbollah)
- Jund al-Mahdi (Syrian Shi’a from Nubol/Zahra; affiliated with Hezbollah)
- Liwa Ansar al-Hussein (Syrian Shi’a from Damascus area, incl. Liwa Imam al-Hussein and [Liwa al-Khaybar])
Quwwat Dir al-Watan
This is a group of Syrian Shi’a militias active in Rif Dimashq, Dera’a, and Qunaitra. It is related to the Iraqi Shi’a militia Liwa Dhu/Dir al-Fiqar and including:
- Liwa Dir al-Watan (or ‘Homeland Shield’; [link with insignia and basic info]; operational in Eastern Ghouta [Rukhaya] as of Jun-Nov16)
- Liwa Sallahaddin al-Ayoubi
al-Muhajirun (The Emigrants; this is a small group that emerged in June 2015; probably integrated into Hezbollah/Syria, meanwhile)
Allied and ‘Supporting’ Iraqi Shi’a Militias
This part of the list is going to cite only those Iraqi Shi’a militias that can be clearly defined as ‘no part of the IRGC’, and ‘no part of Hezbollah/Iraq’, while ‘at least connected to various of Syrian Shi’a militias’ (if not ‘instrumental for their emergence and continuous existence’), and ‘present in Syria as of August-December 2016’.
Jaysh al-Mahdi/Peace Companies
- Unit designation unknown (possible designation ‘4th Division’; a battalion-sized formation is currently deployed to support the Liwa Imam al-Bakr in Nubol and Zahra, NW Aleppo)
Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas Forces
- Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas (also ‘LAFA’; this is meanwhile a ‘division-like’ asset, incl. Liwa Imam Ali, Liwa Ali al-Akbar, and Liwa Ansar al-Marja’iyah; although it is presently unclear if all of these are currently deployed in Syria, the LAFA was involved in fighting for Qurassi in Jun16, and is confirmed as deployed in Western Aleppo, as of Oct/Nov16)
This is the third (out of a total of four) of militias to get 6 T-90s donated by the IRGC. While frequently associated as a part of the Hezbollah/Iraq, and while cooperating with the IRGC, it has its own political backgrounds and ideology. Harakat an-Nujba has two units with a total of about 4,000 combatants currently deployed in Aleppo, including:
- Katayb Harakat an-Nujba (link to report about its deployment to Syria in Sep16), and
- Liwa 2000 (apparently named for the number of its combatants; deployed to Aleppo area since late Sep16)
The Badr Organization (former ‘Badr Brigades’) is an armed wing of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SICRI, meanwhile rebranded as the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq). It had at least two units deployed in Syria as of late 2015, but currently seems to have none.
Other Iraqi Shi’a militias currently deployed to Syria are:
- Harakat al-Abdal (a new — i.e. at least unknown to me from earlier times — Iraqi Shi’a militia, deployed in Aleppo area — indeed, in District 1070 — since Sep16; no specific details available, but might be a unit of Hezbollah/Iraq)
Other Iraqi Shi’a Militias
This part of the list is going to cite various ‘other’ Iraqi Shi’a militias known to have been deployed to Syria through 2015 and/or 2016, but either known to have been withdrawn ever since, or not confirmed as currently present on battlefields of the SCW.
Hashd (‘Popular Militia Units’ recruited in Iraq by the IRGC with intention of fighting Daesh):
- Liwa Hashd ash-Sha’abi (deployed to Hama on board Russian Il-76MD transports wearing Syrian national insignia and IRIAF C-130s in early December 2015; fought in southern Aleppo but withdrawn in March or April 2016).
- Liwa Dhu/Dir al-Fiqar (unclear if currently present in Syria; [link with insignia and basic info])
Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya
- Katayb al-Muwaqawma al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq (deployed to Hama on board IRIAF C-130s in mid-Oct15; active in Aleppo area until late 2015 or early 2016)
- Liwa Assadollah (arrived in Hama, early 2016; meanwhile withdrawn)
- Liwa al-Hamud (presence confirmed in Dec15 and Feb16)
- Liwa Hassan al-Mujtaba (presence confirmed in Feb16)
- Liwa al-Qahira (possibly Hezbollah/Iraq; present in southern Aleppo, Nov15 — Feb16)
- Liwa al-Sadeqine (presence confirmed Dec15, but operational area unknown)
- Liwa al-Yom al-Ma’ud (arrived in Hama in Nov15; meanwhile withdrawn)
- Katayb al-Ansar al-Wikayam (arrived in Hama in mid-Oct15; meanwhile withdrawn)
- Katayb Sayed ash-Shuhada (arrived in Syria in late 2015; no other details available)
- Katayb ash-Shabab ar-Rasali (arrived in Syria in early 2016; no other details available)
- Faylak al-Wa’ed as-Sadeq (presence confirmed in Jan-Feb16; no other details available)
- Saraya Amal-Zahra (possible element of Liwa Imam al-Bakr; no other details available)
- Saraya Ashura (presence confirmed in late 2015; possible presence in Apr16; no other details available)
- Saraya al-Ghabun (SWAT-type of Asset, active in southern Aleppo in early December 2015; probably withdrawn ever since)
- Saraya al-Jihad (presence confirmed in early 2016; no other details available)
- Saraya al-Khorasani (presence confirmed in early 2016; no other details available)
- Saraya al-Mukhtar (presence confirmed in early 2016; no other details available)