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memri
March 28, 2018 No.
7402

Syrian Regime: We Will Expel U.S. Forces From Syria By Means Of Popular Resistance

As U.S. forces settle in east of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria, with the aid of the primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian regime is issuing harsh warnings about the American presence in the country. Regime officials and regime-affiliated media are depicting the U.S. presence as an occupation similar to the now-defunct Islamic State (ISIS) occupation of Al-Raqqa and other areas of Syria, and are also threatening military hostilities against the U.S. forces. For example, on March 9, 2018, Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Al-Jaafari told the Russian Sputnik news agency: "We in Syria will continue to defend every inch of our land, whether against armed terrorist organizations or against invading Turkish, American, or Israeli forces."[1]

Iran, a close ally of the Syrian regime, is also taking a similar tack. Iranian commentator Hadi Mohammadi, who is close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, stressed: "With the destruction of the Wahhabi terrorists on the outskirts of Damascus... it is now time to expel the occupying and illegal presence of the American troops, which do not even have the approval of the American Congress [to be here]..." [2]

In some cases, the Syrian warnings are accompanied by calls for popular resistance to the American presence in order to force it out of Syria, particularly from the city of Al-Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold liberated by the SDF with U.S. support in October 2017.

Recently, there have been several attempts by Iran-sponsored militias aiding the Syrian regime in its attempts to approach the areas east of the Euphrates under control of the U.S. and the SDF, and the American forces have responded.[3] One major instance was on February 7, 2018, when pro-Syrian regime militias attacked SDF headquarters near Deir Al-Zour, and were subsequently bombed by aircraft of the international anti-ISIS coalition, and some 100 of their fighters were killed.[4] It was also reported, on March 15 by the Syrian opposition website Nedaa-sy, citing sources, that pro-regime militias were repeatedly infiltrating the Deconfliction zone surrounding the American Al-Tanf base, near the Syria-Jordan-Iraq border region,[5] and that the international coalition was attacking the infiltrators, but that both sides had elected to keep quiet about it.[6]

On February 26, 2018, Syrian regime supporters announced the establishment of a militia group in Al-Raqqa called the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region, that would be operating against "the American occupier" by all means at its disposal; the actual military capabilities of this new group are not known. Several days later, the Raqqah Is Being Slaughtered Silently website[7] reported that a new militia in rural Al-Raqqa, the Shield of the Al-Jazira Heroes, subordinate to the Syrian army, would be announced soon.[8]

Articles in the Syrian government newspapers and in newspapers close to the regime also included warnings to the American presence, as the regime launched its operation to retake Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, that has been controlled by the Syrian opposition since 2012. The regime forces' rapid advance on the ground, paired with Russian military and political backing, have boosted the regime's confidence, and these articles stated that the next phase would be to expel foreign forces from Syria, including American forces. These Syrian threats also came against the backdrop of statements by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the March 12, 2018 UN Security Council Briefing on Syria Ceasefire Implementation, in reaction to the regime's fierce attacks on Eastern Ghouta. Hinting that the U.S. could attack in Syria again, as it had in April 2017 when it bombed the Al-Shayrat airbase after the Syrian regime attacked the town of Khan Shaykhun with sarin gas, she warned: "[W]hen the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action. The Security Council failed to act. And the United States successfully struck the airbase from which Assad had launched his chemical attack. We repeat this warning today."[9]

This report will review these two emerging anti-U.S. popular resistance organizations in Syria, and warnings and threats in articles in the Syrian regime-affiliated media against the American presence in the country. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7179, Syrian Regime And Its Allies: We Will Expel U.S. From Syria, Even By Military Means; Al-Raqqa Is Occupied By U.S. Allies, November 14, 2017; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7189, Article In Syrian Government Daily: Syrians Entitled To Oppose U.S. Presence In Their Country By Every Possible Means, November 20, 2017.

The New "Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region": Oppose The American Presence By All Means

In late February 2018, a video was released showing several armed masked men declaring the establishment of a group called the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region, and also the Popular Resistance in Al-Raqqa. The announcement described the new group as "the popular resistance comprising residents of Al-Raqqa who will never allow the tyrannical American enemy to control one grain of beloved Syrian soil after it [i.e. the American enemy] gathered terrorists from all corners of the earth to be its tainted means for harming our land" and continued: "[The American] enemy has destroyed Al-Raqqa and killed its innocent residents, using the newest deadly and chemical weapons. The popular resistance in Al-Raqqa calls on you to help it against the American occupier by all means available, by maintaining no contacts whatsoever with [the Americans and] their helpers, by coming out against them in demonstrations and strikes, and by resisting all attempts at dividing [Syria]... " The announcement concluded: "Death to America."[10]


Still from video announcing the establishment of the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region (Source: Facebook.com -152466685450904 , February 27, 2018)

It should be noted that many details about the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region remain unclear. There is no information about who is supporting it; its numbers are not known, and it is also not known how well armed it is. The Syrian opposition website Baladi-news.com reported that it is funded by the Syrian regime, and is part of the popular forces led by Hussam Qatarji[11] which recently entered the city of Afrin to help the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG)   against Turkish forces operating in northern Syria.[12]

The Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region Facebook page posts, inter alia, video clips showing its operatives raising Syrian flags over buildings in Al-Raqqa, clips of tours of the city, and posters condemning the U.S. To date, there have been no reports of offensive actions taken by it. In response to a question posted on its page, "Popular resistance, where are your operations?" it replied: "We are men of action, not words or Facebook heroism. Not everything we do will necessarily become public. The homeland is not a Facebook page."[13]


Facebook page of the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region. Text: "Your myth will fall on Syrian soil; death to America" (Source: Facebook.com/ 152466685450904 ) 


Emblem of the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region (Source: Facebook.com/ 152466685450904/, accessed March 26, 2018)

Report On Establishment Of Another Militia In Al-Raqqa

Also in early March 2018, the Raqqah Is Being Slaughtered Silently website reported that soon the establishment of another new militia in the Al-Raqqa region, the Shield of the Al-Jazira Heroes, would be announced. According to the report, this militia would be directly under the command of the Fifth Corps of the Syrian Army, would comprise 150 operatives, mostly of the Shamr tribe in the rural area of Al-Raqqa, and would be headquartered in the town of Zour Shamr. Also according to the report, the militia would be led by Walid Al-Sa'd Al-Shamri, an appointee of the Syrian regime's intelligence apparatuses who previously worked to recruit young men in the eastern rural region of Al-Raqqa for regime forces.[14]

Articles in the Syrian Government Press: The Popular Resistance Organizations Will Embitter The Lives Of The Americans In Syria

Threats against the American presence in Syria were also evident in articles in the Syrian government press and in newspapers close to the regime, particularly in light of the rapid advance of the regime forces in its attempts to take Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, from the opposition. These articles emphasized that the regime forces would not stop their fighting until all the Syrian lands were liberated from all occupation forces, including the Americans.

For example, in his March 12 column in the regime-affiliated Al-Watan daily, Rif'at Al-Badawi wrote: "Judgment Day is nigh, and no one can prevent the decision of the Syrian leadership to purge all the nests of the terror organizations in Syria, until Ghouta and the Syrian land are completely cleansed of Turks, Americans, and Israelis, and of any foreign entity or occupier of the Syrian Arab land."[15]

Likewise, a March 27 article published by the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra raised the possibility that after regime forces completed their mission in the Ghouta region, they would turn next to southern Syria, and even directly confront American forces there. The article stated: "Knowledgeable sources told Al-Thawra about the approach of the so-called southern battle, which will be the beginning of many confrontations, and that the biggest of these may be the clash between the Syrian army and American forces at the Al-Tanf crossing... This will give importance to the battle not only in southern Syria but also in the north and east of the Euphrates, and everywhere American forces are situated. This is because the clash with what the U.S. calls its Al-Tanf military base will determine the fate of the American forces east of the Euphrates, and also the impact of this battle may expand to the point where it also determines the fate of the U.S. in Iraq... As of now, what is certain is that the Syrian south will in turn, like the north, be an arena for military activity and Syrian and Russian hostilities against the U.S.-supported terrorist militias, and perhaps against the U.S. itself, with the participation of its allies in the region, headed by Jordan and Israel..."[16]

In the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, columnist Hussein Saqr warned the U.S. that the popular resistance would act against the American forces in Syria and cost them dearly: "The U.S., whose false [anti-ISIS] coalition has destroyed the cultural sites, infrastructure, and services in the city of Al-Raqqa, and has turned the homes in it to ruins, is doing all this [also] in Ghouta, in order to divert attention from its massacres there of people and infrastructure. It is continuing its agenda of partition [of Syria] ... without realizing the severity of its deeds and without knowing that popular resistance is now forming in order to fight its colonialist expansionist enterprise in the region. This resistance will never let it rest, and will make the Trump administration pay dearly if it does not back down [from its plan]... because it [i.e. the administration] does not realize that should the war reignite... it will spare no one, whether they draw near to it or distance themselves from it [the war]."[17]

In another column, Saqr discussed Amb. Haley's implied threat that the U.S. would attack in Syria, and that if the Americans attempted to take over Syria's oil and gas resources, there would be popular resistance that would "embitter" their lives: "The American threats to attack Syrian positions have become a source of inspiration that all the media are talking about, while ignoring the fact that the U.S. has, and still is, doing everything in its power to help its apparatuses [i.e. the U.S.-sponsored groups], and has even gone beyond these threats?. The crimes it carried out to support and help the terrorists, with the aim of shifting the balance of power in their favor, need no criminal evidence. Its  fingerprints, deeds, and words [in this matter are] clear.

"But despite its capabilities, [this] 'superpower'  has managed to actualize only some of its aims, primarily extending the duration of the war. Its aim is known even to political novices – selling and marketing the quantities of arms stored in its warehouses, since Arab customers are ready to buy them. The answer to anyone who says that America seeks the partition [of Syria] is that it is certainly interested in this, and not only in partition into states but also into farms, if this was within its power. But it cannot do this, even if it remains in the region for decades. This is because of the considerations, results, and ramifications [that such a partition would have] in the long and short term.

"There are also those who say that the U.S. wants to exploit the resources [of the region] and to lay its hands on the oil and gas wells. That is true, but is it reasonable that the U.S. would invest its mighty capabilities in deriving profit in a region where it senses there is hostility against it and that it will never be allowed to operate in peace, because popular resistance will arise to embitter the lives of the Americans and of those with them. This, together with the Arab Syrian army that will continue to defend every inch of Syrian soil against every occupier, whatever force and might it has.

"Of course, we also are not forgetting the role played by [Syria's] allies and friends, who see every attack on Syria as an attack on their honor, against their future, and against their relationships. There is no fear about Syria or its future. The U.S.'s threats are nothing but a tempest in a teapot, changing in accordance with the pain inflicted upon its mercenaries on the ground..."[18]

Munir Al-Moussa, another Al-Thawra columnist, warned that a U.S. attack in Syria could lead to war in the region: "Diplomats in the [UN] Security Council are quoting threats by American officials who say that the U.S. is likely to attack Syria in April! If the noble American who is planning to situate himself in Syria for the long haul is thinking about direct aggression, there will be all-out regional war."[19]

 

[1] Arabic.sputniknews.com, March 9, 2018.

[2] Javanonline.irg, February 27, 2018.

[3] It should be noted that a U.S.-Russia agreement states that Russia and Syrian regime forces will operate against ISIS west of the Euphrates, while the U.S. and its allies are to operate east of it. Edition.cnn.com, December 22, 2017. 

[4] In another instance, on March 22, 2018, the international coalition attacked Syrian regime forces and pro-regime militias that were attempting to advance towards SDF-controlled areas in the rural area east of Deir Al-Zour, killing dozens.

[5] A U.S.-Russia agreement stipulates there should be no conflict within a 55-km radius of the Al-Tanf base in order to prevent military incidents between them. See Nytimes.com, May 18, 2017.

[6] Nedaa-sy.com, March 15, 2018.

[7] Raqqa-sl.com/en/; a group of civilian journalists reporting, at their own risk, on the harsh realities of life in Al-Raqqah. The organization is considered a reliable source.

[8] Al-Jazira is a region in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in northeast Syria.

[9] Usun.state.gov/remarks/8330, March 12, 2018.

[10] Eldorar.com, February 28, 2018.

[11] In December 2016, Syrian MP and businessman Hussam Qatarji was named as a mediator on behalf of the Syrian regime for its oil purchases from ISIS when the latter controlled the natural resource-rich Deir Al-Zour province.

[12] Baladi-news.com, February 28, 2018.

[13] Facebook.com152466685450904/, accessed March 26, 2018.

[14] Raqqa-sl.com, March 4, 2018.

[15] Al-Watan (Syria), March 12, 2018.

[16] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 27, 2018.

[17] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 2, 2018.

[18] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 15, 2018.

[19] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 16, 2018.