New Syrian rebel coalition unites Kurds, Arabs

A new coalition of 13 armed organizations announced the formation Oct. 17 of the Democratic Forces of Syria (DFS), which is now planning a major offensive against ISIS. The DFS, which has established a military council and joint field commands, includes the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG), the Christian-led Syriac Military Council, and various Arab-led formations. Prominent among these is the Burkan al-Fırat Command Center, an alliance of secular militias aligned with the overall Free Syrian Army coalition, but which formed a bloc of their own this July in rejection of the growing Islamist role in the FSA. Another is the Jaysh al-Thuwwar, which merges two secular-led factions, the Syria Revolutionaries Front and Hazm Movement. It also includes Arab tribal militias such as the al-Sanadid Forces, of northern Syria's Shammar tribe. The statement announcing formation of the DFS asserts that current political realities in Syria "require that there be a united national military force for all Syrians, joining Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and other groups." The statement says that the DFS calls on "all young men and women to join its ranks for their country Syria."

The statement rejects separatism, calling for a united mutli-ethnic Syria. But in a nod to Kurdish autonomy, it also refers to Rojava, as the Kurds call their self-governed territory in Syria's north. It expresses some suspicion of foreign intrigues. "The early experiences of revolutionary forces that supported the revolution in Syria and Rojava and their structural and operational weaknesses were discussed" at the DFS founding meeting, according to the statement. "It was said that relying on an external invasion was the main factor as to why the revolution strayed from the right path." This is an apparent reference to the foreign jihadists who have swelled the ranks of the Islamist forces. The statement also explicitly calls for the "active support of the International Anti-ISIS Coalition," urging "the Coalition to continue their aid for the Democratic Forces of Syria." The statement pledges that the DFS will abide by the international laws of war, and calls upon all other Syrian factions to do so.

The YPG and its Arab allies have been the most effective force in the field against ISIS, driving it from much of northern Syria in an offensive earlier this year. However, it held back from a drive on Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital, partially because it lies outside Syria's Kurdish area. Now the DFS has resolved to launch such an assault. Idriss Nassan, deputy minister of foreign affairs for Rojava's Kobani canton, told Abu Dhabi-based The National: "We are preparing to liberate Raqqa and Jarabulus, thousands of fighters are being readied for the offensive. Right now, we are discussing the coordination between us and the Free Syrian Army and tribal fighters." Nassan said the Kurds can muster about 20,000 fighters, while their Arab allies will contribute some 5,000. (The National, UAE, via AINA, Oct. 20; ANF, Oct. 17; Reuters, BasNews, Oct. 12; Rojava Report, July 8; Syrian Rebellion Obs, May 3)

  1. Arameans versus Assyrians?

    The World Council of Arameans website on Jan. 11 runs claims that members of their comunity were attacked by Kurdish YPG forces at Qamishli village near the Turkish border, killing one. The website also makes much of the distinction between Arameans and Assyrians, but they both seem to refer to the Aramaic-speaking Christians of northern Syria. We don't quite follow this. We are aware that Israel had been encouraging an "Aramean" identity to try to divide Palestinian Christians from the main body of Palestinians (even though they do not actually speak Aramaic). But what does "Aramean" mean in a Syrian context?

    Can anyone shed any light?

    We are not dimissing the claim of an attack at Qamishli (fucked-up shit happens in war), but we note the ongoing propaganda push against the Rojava Kurds, and we would like more and clearer context on the Syrian Arameans…