Sunday, April 7, 2013

Housam Najjair Planning a Return to Tripoli

Housam Najjair, a veteran of both the Libyan and Syrian revolts, is preparing to reenter the fray in post-Qaddafi Libya. I spoke with Najjair recently and it was clear that he is frustrated with those who have emerged politically empowered by the revolutions. Old-guard politicians in Libya, and religious extremists in Syria.
Najjair (left) in Libya during the

Najjair, an Irish citizen of Libyan decent, is the brother-in-law of Mehdi al-Harati. Harati was the leader of the Tripoli Brigade which played a crucial role in the battle for the Libyan capital in 2011. Najjair‘s exploits as a sniper in the Tripoli Brigade were documented by journalists from France 24, bringing Najjair fame in Europe. Najjair then traveled with Harati to northern Syria where they established the Uma Brigade around Kafr Nabl. The Libyan leaders of the brigade were later prevented from reentering Syria by the Turkish government, at which point the brigade came under Syrian leadership.

After leaving Syria, Najjair returned to Ireland where he wrote a book on his experiences in Libya entitled “Soldier for a Summer.” Najjair stated that he did not write the book not to encourage young Arab males in Europe to fight against Middle Eastern dictators, but as a form of therapy to help him digest the combat experience he went through without the benefit of any real tactical training or psychological preparation. He described the flow of foreign fighters into Syria as a “bitter sweet” phenomenon. “It is a bitter feeling to have children filling the boots of the international community, and sweet because people have to much of a conscience to let this go without a response.”
Najjair (left) with Mehdi al-Harati (right)
in Syria during the summer of 2012

Najjair is highly critical of the international community’s insufficient response to the war in Syria. He believes that the diminutive flow of weapons into the country from the West has empowered extremist groups that have other, well-developed, sources of weapons. He singled out Jabhat Nusrah for criticism, asking why they are concerned with how people are dressed during a time of war. He said that these actions have caused him to “question their true loyalty.”

In Libya, Najjair feels that the country is being run by “dinosaurs” left over from the old regime. After the fall of Qaddafi, Najjair explained, the old guard politicians were worried that the revolutionaries would come looking for them to settle old scores. When this did not happen, they returned to their old professions. Najjair feels that the same people who ran the country for decades have regained power, locking out the young revolutionaries who want change.

Democracy, according to Najjair, has not succeeded in Libya. In addition to empowering the wrong people, it has fostered divisions within Libyan society at a time when unity is crucial. He said that “The unity of the revolution didn’t last a week after the fall of the regime.” 

He is also concerned that democracy will destroy Libya’s conservative culture. He fears the arrival of nightclubs and alcohol on Libya’s Mediterranean beaches. The local reaction to the recent poisoning of a number of people in Tripoli after drinking bootleg alcohol indicates that Najjair probably is correct in asserting that most Libyans would not support this, but he fears that unbridled democracy may allow it to occur nonetheless. Najjair stated that he does not favor of a Sharia state, but later said that he could support some elements of Sharia if it was necessary to protect Libya’s conservative society.

Najjair (right) speaks with NATO Secretary
General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2011
Najjair said that he plans to return to Tripoli in the near future. He wants to use his unique ability to speak to the media to build bridges and help Libya move forward. It will be interesting to see what role he comes to play in the cynical world of post-revolutionary politics.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reports of Iranians Fighting in Syria

Reports of Iranians fighting in Syria heated up this week. First, on April 2, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that members of the National Defense Forces, a pro-regime paramilitary group, claimed that “Iranian combatants have been taking part in the Syrian conflict since approximately a month.” The members of the National Defense Forces claimed to have received training in Iran, then returned to Syria with Iranian fighters who were given Syrian I.D.s.

On April 3, Muhanad Issa, leader of the Shuhada Idlib Brigade, gave an interview on Orient TV on clashes near Idlib Province’s Shia villages of Fua and Kafaraya. In the interview, Issa claimed that his men were facing Iranian fighters. A post then appeared on Shuhada Idlib’s Facebook page in which the brigade claimed to have killed one Iranian and captured another during clashes near the Shiite villages.  In February, Ben Hubbard reported that a spate of kidnappings have been escalating between the Shia villages of Fua and Kafaraya on one side and surrounding Sunni villages such as Binnish on the other.

Muhanad Issa (left) holding the identification papers of his
Iranian hostage (right)
Later on April 3, Orient TV posted an interview between Issa and the captured Iranian. In the video, the Iranian, speaking in broken Arabic, claimed to have been in Syria for five months in order to train pro-regime fighters. 

The Shuhada Idlib Brigade clearly believes that it has captured an Iranian fighter. Given the individual's age and presence in an intense war zone, I am inclined to believe Shuahada Idlib’s claims, although it should be noted that they do not match up with the report from the National Defense Forces. Shuhada Idlib’s Iranian captive claims to have been in Syria for five months not one, and in the video Issa displays the captive’s Iranian papers. It is possible, however, that small groups of Iranian fighters have been sent to different locations at different times.

1) Maarat Misrin
2) Kafarya
3) Fua
4) Binnish
5) Taftanaz
6) Idlib City
Screen Shot of Iranian Identification papers from the interview
between Issa and the Iranian Captive