The proxy war on Syria – part 2: The two myths about the armed opposition

According to the mainstream media narrative, the Syrian people finally rose up against an oppressive Alawite dictatorship which brutally ruled Syria for four decades after similar popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had let to the ousting of Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Assad, however, refused to step down and brutally cracked down on enormous peaceful demonstrations. After six months of oppression, the opposition decided to pick up arms, thereby starting a civil war. Although today this armed opposition is enforced by jihadi elements, it still has the full support of the Syrian people, and its main goal still constitutes of replacing dictatorship with democracy. The dominant view of the armed opposition thus revolves around two premises: 1) that the uprising was initially peaceful, and 2) that it is mainly let, to this day, by moderate revolutionaries. Let’s examine these premises.

The myth of a popular and peaceful revolution

“De meeste burgers in Syrië staan niet achter de oppositie. […] Daarom kan je ook niet zeggen dat het hier om een volksopstand gaat. Het merendeel van het volk is niet in opstand en zeker niet in gewapende opstand. […] Vanaf het begin waren de protestbewegingen niet louter vreedzaam geweest. Ik heb vanaf het begin gewapende demonstranten in die betogingen mee zien lopen, die als eersten op de politie begonnen te schieten. Heel vaak is het geweld van de veiligheidsdiensten een reactie op het wrede geweld van de gewapende opstandelingen.”[1] (English translation in footnote)

Frans van der Lugt, Dutch Jesuit Priest in Homs, killed by Jabhat al-Nusrah in 2014

In early 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia and Egypt, one would expect that if Syria was ruled over by a brutal and unpopular dictatorship, the Syrian government, too, would have to face popular uprisings all across the country. As reported by Time magazine’s correspondent Rania Abouzeid, however, attempts to start a revolution in January and February repeatedly failed because it garnered hardly any support.[2] Indeed, contrary to in Tunisia and Egypt, there was considerable support for President Assad. Therefore, relatively small-scale anti-government demonstrations were met with huge pro-government rallies, in which up to a million Syrians – 50 times the amount of the only pro-Mubarak rally in Egypt and close to 5% of the Syrian population – marched throughout the country to pledge their support for the government when violence erupted in Daraa and elsewhere.[3] The Western press ignored these pro-government demonstrations and proclaimed instead that Assad violently cracked down on “peaceful protestors” who, they systematically claimed, only picked up arms in September as they were forced to defend themselves against the “massacre of unarmed civilians.” However, the UN estimated the death toll at 5.000 casualties after the first nine months of conflict,[4] while at the same time, it incorporated the Syrian government’s count of 478 police and 2.091 military and security force casualties in the first year of the conflict in an OHCHR report.[5] How is it possible that such a large proportion of the casualties comprise of “loyalists,” the same forces which supposedly violently suppressed a “peaceful, unarmed, pro-democracy uprising?” A deeper look on how the violence erupted is necessary.

Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where mass protests in the capital cities of Tunis and Caïro forced their countries’ leaders to resign, the anti-government uprising in Syria did not start in major cities like Damascus or Aleppo but in the regional town of Daraa on the Syrian-Jordanian border. While Western media quoted unnamed “witnesses” and “activists” saying that security forces were brutally cracking down on protesters, Lebanese and Israeli media (the latter which cannot be accused of being biased in favour of Damascus) reported that seven police officers and at least four demonstrators had been killed in the violence of 17-18 March.[6] In addition, several reports observed rooftop snipers targeting both civilians and police, just like in the Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Hama in 1982.[7] This pattern continued through the first two months of the conflict as dozens of police officers and soldiers were massacred in March and April.[8] When demonstrators as well as security forces die, this means that there must have been an armed insurrection which was either embedded with the protesters, or which drove the peaceful demonstrators off the streets. Indeed, several days before violence broke out in Daraa, Syrian forces had seized a large shipment of weapons and explosives coming from Iraq,[9] and Saudi official Anwar al-Eshki later confirmed to BBC television that his country had sent weapons to the al-Omari mosque in Daraa prior to the eruption of violence.[10]

Soon, as civilian and security force casualties mounted, the insurgency spread northwards, and anything that resembled a secular nonviolent opposition movement was driven off the streets. For years, the genuine political opposition had agitated against corruption and the Ba’ath monopoly, but most did not want the destruction of the socially inclusive state, and the overwhelming majority was certainly against the Islamist armed groups’ sectarian violence and the involvement of foreign powers.[11] To reach out to this secular opposition, the government therefore made some concessions. After a successful referendum in February 2012, the Syrian government changed its constitution, ending the five decades long one-party rule and allowing presidential elections, the first of which were held in 2014.[12] Then, after much debate in parliament, the Syrian government created a Ministry of Reconciliation in June 2012 headed by Ali Haider, the leader of Syria’s largest opposition party, the pan-Arab Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Since then, many Syrian rebels have reconciled with the government and returned to their normal lives.[13] Indeed, the Syrian government often offers amnesty to those who lay down their weapons, the most recent example which occurred as the Syrian army was closing in on rebel-held east Aleppo in July 2016.[14] As a result of these concessions, and more importantly, in reaction to the barbarity of the armed opposition, most of the domestic political opposition remained in Syria, some of which backed the government in their fight against terrorism, while others backed the Syrian army while not supporting the government.[15] Indeed, a Turkish poll from late 2011 showed that only 5% of the Syrian respondents supported violent protest, while 91% opposed it.[16]

The myth of the moderate rebel

“The notion that they [the “moderate” armed opposition] were in a position, suddenly, to overturn not only Assad, but also ruthless highly trained jihadists, if we just send a few arms, is a fantasy.”[17]

US President Barack Obama

“So who do you send weapons and armaments to? Reality. You don’t send to the fantasy, you send it to the reality, and the reality are the extremists.”[18]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

If the government supporters as well as the secular opposition reject the armed insurgency, who is this constructed “opposition” then, of which we now hear so much in international media because of its involvement in peace talks? Well, the main “opposition” body – the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, or simply the Syrian National Coalition – was formed in Qatar in 2012 as a means to bring together the armed groups. This “coalition” rejected any opposition group hostile to armed struggle but is nevertheless regarded as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people by Western governments and Gulf monarchies.[19] As we have seen above, the bulk of the Syrian people do not support armed protest, which makes this legitimacy a fallacy. When we take a deeper look into these armed groups, it becomes clear what they do represent.

A leaked DIA (US Defence Intelligence Agency) report from 2012 admitted that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq, which would later morph into Daesh, or IS/ISIS/ISIL] are the main forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”[20] Indeed, it was the Muslim Brotherhood, financed by Qatar, and various other Salafist groups with even less local support, financed by Saudi Arabia, that hijacked the insurgency and took up arms in their attempt to overthrow the Syrian government.[21] Eventually, Jabhat al-Nusrah – an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Syria – and Daesh emerged out of the latter Saudi-backed groups. As every sane person hopefully understands that al-Qaeda and Daesh are barbaric and not in any way, shape or form adequate substitutes for the secular Syrian government, I will leave deeper analysis into these terrorist groups aside. It is much more important, however, to tackle the notion that Syrians would benefit from the overthrow of Assad and his replacement by Muslim Brotherhood-inspired rebel groups, who are overtly armed and trained by Western governments.

In July 2011, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) was formed as the largest umbrella group of the armed opposition. Despite what its name suggests, the FSA was never really a centrally commanded army but rather a number of groups loosely coordinated through funders and arms suppliers.[22] It is closely linked with the Syrian National Coalition, and its leadership – the Supreme Military Command – is largely in the hands of Salafist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood.[23] Indeed, the New York Times admitted in 2013 that “nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.”[24] Yet, Western media regularly claim that besides hardcore Salafist groups like Daesh and al-Nusrah, “moderate rebels” comprise a significant part of the armed opposition too.

The Farouq Brigade, part of the FSA and one of the largest “moderate rebel” groups during the onset of the crisis, serves as an example. While the Wall Street Journal called the Brigade’s rebels “pious Sunnis” rather than Islamists,[25] further analysis shows that there is no way around their sectarian violence. In April 2012, reports accused the Farouq Battalion of collecting Jizyah – taxes imposed on non-Muslims – in Christian areas in Homs.[26] As the singing of genocidal slogans like “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave” became pretty popular among these rebels,[27] Christians in fear started to leave Homs en masse. Furthermore, while chanting “Allahu akbar,” rebels filmed the blowing up of a hospital in Qusayr and said that “al-Farouq Brigade blew up the national hospital.”[28] To top it all of, Khalid al-Hamad – one of the founders of the Farouq Brigade – is infamously shown on video trying to eat a dead Syrian soldier’s heart.[29]

In addition, “moderate rebels” have sang songs in which they praised Osama bin Laden and celebrated the 9/11 attacks,[30] have filmed themselves while beheading a 12-year-old Palestinian boy,[31] have used chemical weapons,[32] have kidnapped, raped and killed Christians in large numbers,[33] have desecrated and destroyed churches and other religious sites,[34] have used civilians as human shields,[35] and have prevented and most likely even killed civilians trying to leave besieged areas via humanitarian corridors.[36] The latter is not surprising because the “moderates” have a long record of torturing and executing captured Syrian soldiers as well as civilians.[37] As the militants have even bombed schools with children in them on several occasions,[38] it is also not hard to imagine the accuracy of their bombing (or rather the lack thereof). Indeed, they shell urban areas indiscriminately on an almost daily basis and have even admitted to target civilians while doing so.[39] As reported countless times in the mainstream media, they are even aligned with, cooperating with, intermingled with, fighting alongside, and sharing equipment with Jabhat al-Nusrah, which is essentially al-Qaeda in Syria.[40] It should therefore not be a surprise that when the US declared al-Nusrah a terrorist organisation, over 100 armed groups jumped to its defense, declaring that “we are all Jabhat al-Nusrah.”[41]

In 2015, David Cameron claimed that there were around 70.000 moderate fighters in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk put the number closer to 70.[42] As Stephen Gowans – just like many other independent analysts – has concluded, there is no such thing in Syria as a “moderate rebel.” All armed opposition groups are, at best, ultra-orthodox Salafi-jihadis who want to install a Wahhabi-inspired extremist Islamist state in a religiously diverse and secularly governed society. At worst, as is the case with Ahrar al-Sham – one of the newest rebel groups touted by Washington as moderate, they are clones of al-Qaeda.[43] Indeed, when German former politician and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer interviewed an al-Nusrah commander, the latter said:

[The ‘moderate rebel’ groups] are all with us. We are all the al-Nusra Front. A group is created and calls itself ‘Islamic Army’, or ‘Fateh al-Sham’. Each group has its own name, but their believe is homogeneous. The general name is al-Nusra Front. One person has, for example, 2.000 fighters. Then he creates from these a new group and calls it ‘Ahrar al-Sham’. [They are all] brothers, whose believe, thoughts and aims are identical to those of al-Nusra Front.”[44]

This begs the question: why does the West tries so hard (but fails) to make a nonexistent distinction between “rebels” on the one hand and “terrorists” on the other? Well, its regional allies are not the only ones who have financed and armed these so-called rebels. According to US officials, the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10.000 fighters in Jordanian and Turkish military bases, who were then sent into Syria to topple the Assad government.[45] The US military and intelligence services, however, are well aware that they are indirectly arming al-Qaeda terrorists. A former US soldier who trained “rebels” in Turkey explained what happens on the ground:

Distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.”[46]

The fact that many of these US-trained militants later ended up with Daesh (along with their American equipment) only further exposes this distinction as a fallacy.[47] If Western politicians admitted that there is no such thing as a moderate secular opposition force in Syria, they would be admitting that they are openly in bed with jihadis with an ideology similar if not identical to that of al-Qaeda, an entity against which they are supposedly fighting a “war on terror.”

“Even if the opposition is armed to the teeth,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said back in 2012, “it will not [be able to] defeat the Syrian army.”[48] He was absolutely right, at least if your definition of “Syrian opposition” consists of actual Syrians. After all, the domestic armed opposition was nearly defeated by early 2012. What Lavrov probably did not calculate into his expectation, however, was the opposition’s reinforcement by the huge influx of foreign jihadis. When thousands of foreign fighters from all over the world started to pour into Syria from 2012 onwards, the unpopular and half-defeated rebels were able to find new ground, prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people, contributing to the rise of Daesh, and laying the ideological groundwork for Europe’s ongoing terrorist attacks. It is estimated that by May 2016, the amount of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq have numbered 30.000.[49]

“Okay, but what about the Kurdish YPG/PYD? Aren’t they just fighting for their freedom?”, I hear you ask. Well, although they are indeed no Wahhabi-style jihadis, they certainly are no angels too. In her article on Global Independent Analytics, Maram Susli gives us at least four reasons why a Kurdish enclave in Syria is a very bad idea: 1) Kurds are not a majority in the al-Hasake governate – the area they are attempting to annex – and in some parts, they are even not the main minority; 2) As most of Syria’s resources and agricultural wealth – formerly shared by all of Syria’s 23 million inhabitants – are located in the al-Hasake governate, Kurdish autonomy would mean that much of the country’s wealth would go to only a tiny portion of Syrians; 3) By analysing the behaviour of the Kurdish militias, it is likely that Kurdish federalism will increase the risk of ethnic cleansing of other minorities. In fact, signs of ethnic cleansing, like the burning of Arab villages, have already been documented; and 4) In addition to both the Syrian government and the armed opposition, the other ethnicities that reside in the al-Hasake governate have rejected federalism.[50] Yet, clearly against the will of almost all Syrians, a (partially) independent Kurdistan, and Syrian federalism in general, has repeatedly been proposed by Western officials and strategists because, as I will further discuss in part 5, the breaking up of Syria has been part of Washington’s plan all along.[51]


To convince the Western public that the Syrian “opposition” is favoured by the Syrian people as well as the international community, we are let to believe that the Syrian “rebels” 1) were initially unarmed, and 2) are mainly peace-loving democracy-seeking moderates. Now that these carefully crafted myths are exposed as false, we have to ask ourselves: is this really a civil war? What would your government do when these takfiris, supported only by a tiny fraction of your people and receiving finances, arms, and manpower from abroad, took up arms and started killing civilians and security forces? Would your government negotiate with them – as Assad is forced to, or would it do everything in its power to stop them? Isn’t the latter exactly what the Syrian government is doing, or has Assad decided, of all times now – at the time that foreign powers are demanding his ousting, to start “killing his own people?”


[1] Frans van der Lugt, “Bij defaitisme is niemand gebaat,” Mediawerkgroep Syrië, 13.01.2012, English translation: “Most citizens in Syria do not support the opposition. […] That’s why you cannot say that this is a popular uprising. The majority of the people are not in rebellion against their government, certainly not in an armed way. From the beginning the protest movements have not merely been peaceful. I have seen armed protesters in those demonstrations from the beginning, who were the first to fire at the police. Very often the violence from the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgency.”

[2] Rania Abouzeid, “The Syrian style of repression: thugs and lectures,” Time, 27.02.2011,; Rania Abouzeid, “Sitting pretty in Syria: why few go bashing Bashar,” Time, 07.03.2011, available online at Arab Network for the Study of Democracy,

[3] Camille Otrakji, “The real Bashar al-Assad,” Conflicts Forum, 02.04.2012,

[4] “Syria: 5,000 dead in violence, says UN human rights chief,” Guardian, 12.12.2011,

[5] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Independent International Commission of Inquiry established pursuant to resolution A/HRC/S – 17/1 and extended through resolution A/HRC/Res/19/22, periodic update (United Nations, 24.05.2012), 2.

[6] Michel Chossudovsky, “Five years ago: the US-NATO-Israel sponsored Al Qaeda insurgency in Syria. Who was behind the 2011 ‘protest movement’?”, Global Research, 16.03.2016,

[7] Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016), 18.

[8] Sharmine Narwani, “Syria: the hidden massacre,” RT, 07.05.2014,

[9] Mark Heinrich, “Syria says seizes weapons smuggled from Iraq,” Reuters, 11.03.2011,

[10] “Syria – Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning,” Youtube channel of Truth Syria, 10.04.2012 consulted on 29.06.2016,; Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 18.

[11] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 20.

[12] “89% in favor of new Syrian constitution,” RT, 27.02.2012,

[13] Eva Bartlett, “As foreign insurgents continue to terrorize Syria, the reconciliation trend grows,” Dissident Voice, 22.08.2014,

[14] Dominic Evans and John Davison, “Assad offers amnesty for Syria rebels who lay down arms,” Reuters, 28.07.2016,

[15] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 19-27.

[16] Mensur Akgün and Sabiha Senyücel Gündogar, The perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2011, transl. Jonathan Levack (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, 2011), 16.

[17] Thomas Friedman, “Obama on the world. President Obama talks to Thomas L. Friedman about Iraq, Putin and Israel,” The New York Times, 08.08.2014,

[18] “President al-Assad to Portuguese state TV: international system failed to accomplish its duty… Western officials have no desire to combat terrorism,” SANA, 05.03.2015,

[19]  Most notably, the Syrian National Coalition excluded the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), which supports the toppling of the government, but rejects sectarianism and advocates for nonviolent resistance.

[20] US Defence Intelligence Agency, no title (Washington, DC, August 2012), 3, available online:

[21] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 39.

[22] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 46.

[23] Jason Webb, “Syrian rebels elect head of new military command,” Reuters, 08.12.2012,

[24] Ben Hubbard, “Islamist rebels create dilemma on Syria policy,” The New York Times, 27.04.2013,

[25] Nour Malas, “As Syrian Islamists gain, it’s rebel against rebel,” The Wall Street Journal, 29.05.2013,

[26] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 46.

[27] Mary Wakefield, “Die slowly, Christian dog. Paranoia among Syria’s new refugees,” The Spectator, 27.10.2012,

[28] “Syrian rebels claim to have blown up hospital in Homs,” The Telegraph, 04.09.2012,

[29] Daniel Greenfield, “Moderate Islamist Free Syrian Army commander who ate heart, vows genocide,” Frontpage Mag, 14.05.2013,

[30] Paul Joseph Watson, “Obama-backed Syrian rebels praise Bin Laden, celebrate 9/11 attacks,” Info Wars, 05.01.2013,

[31]  Brandon Turbeville, “U.S. ‘vetted’ and armed Syria terrorist group that beheaded boy, gave them TOW missiles,” Activist Post, 22.07.2016,

[32] Brad Hoff, “Confirmed in mainstream sources: Syrian rebels possess and have used chemical weapons,” Levant Report, 14.12.2013,; “Samples confirm militants used chemical weapons in southwest Aleppo,” Sputnik, 21.11.2016, More on the usage of weaponised chemicals in part 3.

[33] Jamie Dettmer, “Syria’s Christians flee kidnappings, rape, executions,” The Daily Beast, 19.11.2013,

[34] Alexander Dziadosz, “Syrian rebels destroy Shi’ite site, loot churches: HRW,” Reuters, 23.01.2013,; “Syrian rebels destroy Orthodox church in al-Thawrah, Assyrian International News Agency, 09.08.2013,; Ruth Sherlock, “Dispatch: Syria rebels ‘burned down churches and destroyed Christian graves,” The Telegraph, 03.01.2015,

[35] “Militants using Aleppo residents as human shields: Press TV,” Press TV, 04.08.2016,; “Syrian rebels using caged civilian captives as ‘human shields’,” The Telegraph, 02.11.2015,

[36] “Syria rebels prevent civilians from leaving Aleppo: monitor,” France 24, 29.07.2016,; “Rebels execute 26 civilians in Aleppo,” Al-Masdar News, 19.09.2016,; “Militants shell ‘humanitarian’ Syria corridor as truce begins,” Press TV, 20.10.2016,; “No one allowed to leave: militants shell east Aleppo exit route as humanitarian pause ends,” RT, 22.10.2016,

[37]  Even Human Rights Watch, an NGO which is – as I will show later on in part 4 – complicit in propagandising the false media narrative, has amply documented the atrocities of the opposition forces in at least two reports: “Syria, end opposition use of torture, executions,” Human Rights Watch, 17.09.2012,; “‘You can still see their blood.’ Executions, indiscriminate shootings, and hostage taking by opposition forces in Latakia countryside,” Human Rights Watch, 10.10.2013,

[38] “Syrian rebels kill 9 students in attack on school near Damascus,” RT, 04.12.2012,; “Five children killed by rebel fire on Syria school,” Al-Arabiya, 11.10.2016,; “Militants shell Aleppo school, kill children,” Press TV, 13.10.2016,; “8 schoolchildren among 10 killed in militant of government-held west Aleppo – reports,” RT, 20.11.2016,

[39] “#Clinton backed ‘rebels’ admit to targeting civilians in #Syria,” Youtube-channel of SyrianGirlpartisan, 08.05.2016, consulted on 10.10.2016,

[40] Stephen Gowans, “US plan B for Syria: give al-Qaeda more powerful weapons,” What’s Left, 17.04.2016,

[41] Mark Landler, Michael Gordon and Anne Barnard, “U.S. will grant recognition to Syrian rebels, Obama says,” The New York Times, 11.12.2012,

[42] Robert Fisk, “David cameron, there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria – and whoever heard of a moderate with a kalashnikov, anyway?”, The Independent, 29.11.2015,

[43] Gowans, “US Plan B for Syria.”

[44] Jürgen Todenhöfer, “Interview with al-Nusra commander: ‘the Americans are on our side’,” originally appeared in German on Kölner Stadtanzeiger, translated to English by Moon of Alabama, 26.09.2016,

[45] Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut,” The Washington Post, 12.06.2015,

[46] Alastair Crooke, “How the US armed-up Syrian jihadists,” Consortiumnews, 29.09.2016,

[47] Aaron Klein, “Blowback! U.S. trained islamists who joined ISIS,” WorldNetDaily, 17.06.2014,

[48] Steve Gutterman, “Russia: Heavily armed foes would not beat Syria army,” Reuters, 04.04.2012,

[49] Cynthia Kroet, “UN: 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Politico, 05.07.2016,

[50] Maram Susli, “Why a Kurdish enclave in Syria is a very bad idea,” Global Independent Analytics, 06.04.2016,

[51] Brandon Turbeville, “Kurdish ‘federalisation’ reminiscent of Kerry’s plan B, Brzezinski, NATO plan A,” Activist Post, 18.03.2016,


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