The Last Act: the curtain closes on Idlib

American Herald Tribune | STEVEN SAHIOUNIE: The Syrian Arab Army is fast approaching a comprehensive capture of the last remaining province under terrorist control. Idlib is a city in northwestern Syria, capital of the Idlib province, 59 kilometers southwest of Aleppo. Idlib was captured on March 28, 2015 by a coalition of various armed opposition militias that included heavy reliance on two extremist factions: Jabhat al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa. 

The terrorist groups in Idlib

When the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) liked to bill themselves as local Syrian men: fighting a popular uprising, with full grass-roots support. However, the foreign supporters of the opposition: namely USA, NATO, and the Arab monarchies of Persian Gulf, failed to take into account that most Syrians were not going to fight, or support an armed revolution. Facing a bitter defeat, the FSA immediately sent out a call to their brothers in arms: the global extremists to fight for Islam and the Syrian revolution, with the goal of defeating the Assad government.

As the years of conflict wore on, the FSA almost ceased to exist, except in the minds of the American government, who continued to support them fully, as did their allies.  Soon, the Syrian battlefields became a patchwork of terrorist groups aligned with Al Qaeda, and eventually ISIS. The fragile pockets of FSA were hailed as moderate and secular rebels, while the much stronger and successful terrorist militias were thriving off the continued support of the FSA from the US and their allies. The ferocious Jabhat al-Nusra was receiving full support from Turkey, while being named by the US as a terrorist group.

Jabhat al-Nusra, known as the al-Qaeda in Syria, or al-Qaeda in the Levant, changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham after July 2016. It is a Salafist extremist organization, with the aim of establishing an “Islamic” state in Syria.

Now, as Idlib faces the last battle, it is almost impossible to list out every militia involved; however, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) is the main group and was formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda. Many of these terrorists arrived in Idlib as part of negotiated relocation programs in other parts of the country, such as East Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.

When East Aleppo was liberated in December 2016, many terrorists and their families moved to Idlib as part of a settlement. Prior to this, many Chinese fighters along with their families had also come to settle in Idlib. It was estimated that about 3,500 Chinese citizens (Uyghurs) came to Syria as part of a Turkish supported program, and provided with fake Turkish passports in order to make the journey. At one time, President Erdogan of Turkey had envisioned a Turkic speaking province, on the Turkish-Syrian border, which was to eventually be annexed into Turkey. Jisr al-Shughour, colonized by the Turkistani Islamist Party, is a city in the Idlib province.

Turkey, Russia and Iran entered into an agreement on four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is Idlib; however, ISIS, Al Qaeda and internationally recognized terrorist groups were exempt from the plan. In October 2017 Turkey began an invasion of Syria along the shared border.  From the Turkish side, their goal was to eliminate the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish armed group (YPG), which Turkey considers an extension of the domestic Kurdish terrorists (PKK). Idlib borders YPG-controlled areas and Pres. Erdogan has recently stated his goal to clean Syria of terrorists, while regularly criticizing the U.S. for backing and arming Syrian Kurds.

Many of the actual landowners and residents of Idlib province have long deserted their homes, farms and shops to go north to Turkey as a refugees, or west to the safety of Latakia. However, some residents did not leave, and resisted the terrorist incursion. Many of them have been suffering under persecution and oppression at the hands of these various militias and war-lords. Recently, Abu Bakr Ras Al-Hosn, a high ranking official of the HTS was found dead in Ma’arat Masreen. The condition of his body made it clear he was viciously murdered, and it is thought that civilians of the area murdered him in retaliation to his extreme cruelty. Salahuddin al-Shishani, the Chechen commander of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), has also recently been reportedly killed.

The Levant Liberation Committee, affiliated with Al Qaeda, and controls large parts of Idlib, issued an Islamic fatwa on Friday calling for all available men and arms to mobilize.

Tightening the noose

In recent days, the following areas in Idlib have been captured by the Syrian Arab Army, led by elements of the 4th Mechanized Division and Republican Guard, under Russian air support:

Western backed charities in Idlib

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders has ceased Idlib support. According to Tameem Shawaro, affiliated with MSF in Idlib, they have received notice that the office in Mishmishan, which had served 22 villages in the Idlib province, was shutting down operations and support. This further signals the final stages of the terrorist control of Idlib. MSF operated in many locations in Syria during the almost 7 years of conflict; however, none of their operations were in Syrian government controlled areas, which substantiates the western funded charities position of playing a supporting role to the terrorist side of the conflict.

The White Helmets are an academy award nominated video company which poses as first responders and rescuers in Syria, and have a presence in Idlib. According to investigations by Vanessa Beeley and Professor Tim Anderson, the White Helmets are found on their own Facebook pages praising and aligned with known terrorist groups including ISIS.  During the final hours of the East Aleppo battle in December 2016, the White Helmets were safely reporting and ‘tweeting’ from Turkey.  It remains to be seen what will be the fate of the White Helmets if Idlib falls; their last remaining stage.

According to many who have lived and suffered through these years of armed conflict in Syria, they claim it seems like a movie: part thriller and part horror story. The script was written long before the war began, and the actors and props were brought in. The producers were a consortium of US-NATO-Arab Gulf monarchies, and with a cast of thousands. For a time, it seemed this story would be a long epic tale, but every story has an ending.   Syria stands on the verge of the ‘Last Act’ of this tragedy, and the world waits to see the end.