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Friday, August 21, 2015

Anti-regime forces target northwest Syria, Alawite community, and Assad's hometown of Qardaha.

Link: A. Anti-regime elements put pressure on Assad stronghold.
         B. Wikipedia definition of Alawite.

For the third time in three years, anti-regime forces are putting pressure on pro-Assad strongholds in northwest Syria, including the port city of Latakia and Assad's ancestral home at the base of the Coastal Mountain Range, Qardaha.  Regime forces, who have heavily fortified local communities and strategic passes and transportation avenues, have seen a marked increase in free-fire and missile attacks from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  The former two groups do not make use of SVBIEDs and similar weapons, at least not to the extent that has been demonstrated by ISIS.  Be that as it may, these groups currently share a common enemy, and have no compunction to piggy-back on one-another's successful military encounters.  On many occasions, regime forces have little identifiable knowledge regarding their adversaries, until after the encounter has concluded.  Both previous operations by anti-regime elements in northwest Syria did not succeed in dislodging Assad's forces, but ISIS units were present long enough to go about their usual agenda, de-populating communities of anyone seen as an infidel or an enemy to the cause.  In some instances, entire towns disappeared.  Northwest Syria is home to a number of Shi'a communities, most prominently the Alawites, who practice a highly controversial vein of Shi'a Islam (see Link B).  No doubt, the Alawites do not fit into the demographic plans of the ISIS Caliphate, which promises to be an extremist singularly Sunni affair.

The Alawites, like the Druze community, have found a relatively safe country in Syria to practice their faith without pogroms, that is until the arrival of ISIS.  Both the Alawites and the Druze support de-facto Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, as they supported his father Hafez before him.  The Assad regimes have allowed the two unique communities to more-or-less flourish, without any targeting by the established religious community.  In fact, Syria is also home to numerous Christian communities, especially in and around Damascus.  These groups and their leaders consider Assad to be their protector.  Unfortunately, the Alawites may be forced to re-assess that designation, if this third attempt by anti-regime forces to reach the Mediterranean Sea is successful.  Understandably, the Alawites have been very vocal regarding the need for an increased military presence in the northwest, especially around the strategic al-Ghab plain of Hama Province.  In the past few weeks heavy fighting has moved onto the al-Ghab plain, threatening the command and control node of both the Syrian Arab Army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), located in the town of Joureen.  Obviously Assad and his military commanders recognize the importance of Hama Province and the northwest, especially in light of the overall negative direction of the war to date.  Regime forces have suffered one defeat after another, usually east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountain Range and in the more isolated communities of Syria.  The loss of Latakia and the al-Ghab plain might bring a split with the Alawite community, and leave Assad with one less dependable ally.

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