September 30, 2016


Sectarian fighters mass for battle to capture east Aleppo (Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen in Beirut, 29 September 2016, The Guardian)

The coming showdown for Aleppo is a culmination of plans made far from the warrooms of Damascus. Shia Islamic fighters have converged on the area from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan to prepare for a clash that they see as a pre-ordained holy war that will determine the future of the region.

For the past four years, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his regime have insisted that his forces were capable of shaping the battle for Aleppo and that the confrontation would be fought along nationalist lines. But with the battle now imminent, the remnants of Assad's army have been relegated to a supporting role.

On social media accounts, and in interviews, leaders of the Shia groups speak in strident sectarian tones about the looming battle, which they bill as part of the same struggle to orientate power in Iraq and Lebanon.

Commanders gathered near Aleppo include battle-hardened devotees of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with close to a decade of experience fighting in Iraq against both US troops and Sunni militants, including the Islamic State (Isis).

One of the most prominent of those leaders is Akram al-Kaabi, from the Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, who arrived in Aleppo last weekend. Surrounded by Shia iconography in the town of al-'Ais, near Aleppo, he praised his followers' willingness to fight far from home and described them as part of an "army of resistance" defending the Shia faith from usurpers.

"Why are you going to Syria? Because we are in the axis of resistance, and the axis of resistance has many battles all over the world," al-Kaabi said. "If we had to go to the farthest point of the world, we would go."

There is no Ba'ath nation.

Posted by at September 30, 2016 12:00 PM