Researchers: Yousef Fakher Al-deen & Homam Al-Khateeb
Legal Revision by: Lawyer: Anwar Al-Bonni
Translated by: Ruba Khadamaljamei
First Edition: May 2020
A book-like study entitled: “INVESTMENT IN INTRASTATE CONFLICTS (1)
“Assad’s Authorities” and “ISIS” in Sweida Governorate” has been issued by Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Researches and Democratic Republic Studies Center. It is authored by two researchers, Yousef Fakher Eddin & Homam Al-Khateeb, and legally revised by the lawyer Anwar Al-Bonni. The study contains seven chapters (total number of pages is 168). As the two researchers believe this study is so important so it should be read by large segments of people, and to introduce this study, this executive summary has been prepared to help the readers get acquainted with the key elements in this study, and to display an overview about the contents that might push those who are concerned to read the whole study (the book has been amended to include this executive summary).
Chapter I (The Introduction)
The study discusses how Assad’s authorities released the Jihadists and their leaders from Syrian prisons, a thing that shows clearly, from the very beginning, that their existence will be manipulated to spoil the revolution, terrorize the Syrians, and blackmail the whole world to push the international community to authorize such authorities for ruling Syria, as it is the least bad option. As time went by, Assad’s authorities explored a variety of ways to manipulate those jihadists, depending on the location, international or regional situations, as well as present military information in the field, and power balance map. Consequently, Assad’s authorities’ relationship with ISIS in Sweida district isn’t an exception within the framework of the conflict map in the Syrian territories.
The study hypothesizes that Assad’s authorities capitalized in ISIS at two levels: first, manipulating ISIS existence, as, most of the time, the hostilities between both parties weren’t urgent, as it is the case with other warring sides. Depending on the priorities of hostilities, both parties treated each other as if there is a postponed battle between them, unless they couldn’t avoid it. Basically, ISIS’ hatred towards US, and its allies is the essence of ISIS existence. Assad’s authorities thought, and their behaviors and actions showed, that ISIS is the last enemy that might be attacked by them, as ISIS presence could be manipulated against other enemies, and to make ISIS look like the worst side, in place of Assad’s authorities. Such things made ISIS disapprove the emergence of any para-military entity that could represent the opposition within the territories held by ISIS. That’s why those para-military groups were asked either to merge within ISIS ranks, via vowing an oath of allegiance to ISIS, or to leave ISIS-held territories, or to be crushed by ISIS militants. As a result, ISIS became the worst possible option ever in the eyes of the Syrians and the international community within the Syrian war. The second level is manifested by how Assad’s authorities manipulated ISIS through coordinating activities with ISIS militants, this reflects all points that we have already discussed plus confirmed evidence about direct coordination between both parties.
- Temporal & Spatial Framework
This study covers the period as of March 2011 till May 2020, when this study has been finished. It als discusses the period starting from late 2014, when ISIS emerged in Sweida desert, till the time when this study has been completed. As for the spatial framework; this study covers Sweida district as a research milieu, with a focus on the eastern villages bordering ISIS-held territories in Sweida desert. It’s worth mentioning here that we have started preparing for this study since September 2019.
To prove the hypothesis; this study has adopted the descriptive approach, depending on observation, as an instrument, based on direct contact and living in research milieu. It also adopted deep interviewing technique with witnesses, as well as recording, collecting, and organizing the outcomes of observation and monitoring, along with documentation technique when documents and records are studied and researched.
- Difficulties Faced by Researchers
The study points out to the difficulties faced by the team working in Sweida district, including how it was hard to work within a milieu teeming with mafias and their security operators.
The study defined its significance as it serves as an unprecedented documentary material about ISIS crimes and abuses in Sweida district, and all relevant events and incidents. This study will be available for lawpersons, jurists, and human rights groups working on pursuing the perpetrators of war crimes and abuses in Syria. It also can serve as a source for researchers and scholars who are interested in this field of study or in studying this documentary material as a source of data and information. Moreover, this study will be available for anyone interested in learning anything about ISIS activities, supply lines, and how Assad’s authorities manipulated ISIS presence in the war.
Background to understand the general context in Sweida Governorate prior to, and during ISIS Advent
1. Overview about the geography of this governorate and the demographic distribution there
2. The relationship between the Druze and the Bedouin living in this governorate
The study shows clearly that following the events that took place in 2000, known as “The Events of Bedouins”, a name called by Assad’s authorities just to further ignite and flare up the sectarian strife between the Druze and the Bedouins; hatred renewed between both parties (the Bedouins and the urbanists), but it was a latent one. While social elements from both parties attempted to abridge the gap, security apparatuses continued, whether directly or via security-connected persons, to deepen this gap in a way that could serve their ends, adopting divide and rule strategy. However, no further events took place between both parties till 2011. By the start of the Syrian Revolution in March 2011, the head of the military security department in Sweida, Braigaider General Wafeeq Naser, depended directly on a group containing Bedouins and Druze members as well as many locals from Houran to make troubles inside Sweida district, and outside with the neighboring district, Daraa. This group, led by Jamel Al-Balaas, who is so close to Wafeeq Naser, but he strictly followed Mr. Naser’s instructions, urged some of those members to join FSA. While those notorious members that everybody knows about their relation with the regime, didn’t shift sides, other members cooperated with Al-Nusra Front. When ISIS emerged, some Bedouins from this group joined this organization and became commanders. At different points, this study will reveal how Assad’s authorities manipulated these groups in terms of managing the sectarian strife, and flaring up the conflict between the Bedouins and the Druze on one hand, and between Daraa and Sweida on the other hand.
3. The relationship between two neighboring governorates (Daraa & Sweida)
The study dismantled Assad’s authorities’ approach towards Daraa and Sweida. It showed how Assad’s authorities spread rumors, with the start of popular movement in Daraa, about how Sweida’s locals were assisting the authorities in besieging and offensives carried out against Daraa. To prove such claims; Assad’s authorities sought to show that individuals who are known to be members in death squads/Shabiha were in the forefront of the public scene. Once militias got formed in Sweida, Assad’s authorities made them involve in military operations against Daraa, to show they serve as important supporting members in the war against the so-called terrorism in that place. Although most militia members joined fighting just to get rewards for the tasks and missions they were fulfilling, this means that they didn’t have any decisive military effect on the battles going on there, due to fragile organizational structure and training, and the lack of self- motivation. At some points, this study shows how the voices which appeared to be counted in the revolution and social movement in Daraa, helped Assad’s authorities to confirm their account about what was happening there, especially when the infamous video of Sheikh Abdulsalam Al-Khalili spread everywhere in April 2011, whereby Al-Khalili insulted the Druze and made fun of their history and symbols. Afterwards, it turned out that this clergyman was pushed by intelligence departments to do so just to stigmatize the revolutionary movement as a sectarian one, and this would help prevent the majority of the Syrians to take a part in it. This incident urged the theologians, clergymen, and Imams from Daraa district to disown Sheikh Al-Khalili.
4. Overview about revolutionary movement and the demands of Sweida Governorate
The study reviewed social movements and their most important stages in Sweida district. It showed how Sweida as a district interacted with the Syrian revolution, just like other Syrian districts, so that guest halls in Sweida had turned into “salons” to discuss public affairs. Opinions split between supporters and reluctant to the movement, others had conditioned views. Quickly protests took to the streets in this district, but they were characterized as elite protests (Sweida didn’t witness wide-spread sweeping popular protests, except martyr burial procession protests, especially the one that took to the streets to bid farewell to Sheikh Waheed Al-Balous, the leader of Dignity Clergymen Movement). In the beginning, slogans about political reforms had been upheld, like the ones related to lifting emergency situation law, termination of martial codes, people’s right of power rotation, limiting the powers granted to security apparatuses, etc…
Then slogans ceiling has been raised due to security power oppression, and lack of response towards protesters’ demands. Accordingly, slogans started to discuss the fate of the head of the regime, when the slogan of “overthrowing the regime” then “president’s execution” were upheld. This is applied in all Syrian regions that witnessed protests. The study pointed out to the syndication activities within the revolution framework, especially the activities of free lawyers. It also discussed the protests asking for certain demands, and the most prominent demand campaigns.
5. Dignity Sheikhs Movement
The study demonstrated the approach adopted by Assad’s authorities to tackle this movement. Although they were discontent with it, yet they tried to avoid direct violent confrontation with this movement that is based on the sectarian structure in this district, as it took into account the official religious institution that is held by Assad’s authorities, while it kept dedicating sectarian splits, so it failed to produce a democratic national structure that could combine and assimilate all Syrians, even through accumulative process, throughout their sorrowful journey. This study showed how Assad’s authorities got rid of the leader of this movement when he tried to go beyond the local level to approach the national level where he could meet halfway the opposition forces.
- Glimpse about living, services, security conditions in Sweida Governorate
The study estimates that since the start of protests in Syria, economic troubles have gradually aggravated till they turned into real deeply-rooted crisis in the society. Actually, the majority of the locals in this district live below poverty line, this affects purchase power in the markets witnessing stagnant situations compared to the situations in early 2011. This is accompanied with soaring prices caused by lack of market control by competent authorities, the systematic corruption strategy adopted by State institutions, this is manifested by laxity and making the district sink in the sea of crises, as bribery becomes a public common practice in the total absence of laws, this led to get the markets unrestrained, as well as traders, especially those connected to security forces. The study pointed out to the eroding security situation in the district, and it discussed how service sector is deteriorating.