The Assadi Basij: Sectarian Militias Whose Mission Will Be To Destabilizing A Po
By Tariq Alhomayed
The Assadi Basij: Sectarian Militias Whose Mission Will Be To Destabilizing A Post-Assad Syria
It seems that the advice of Iranian General Qasim Sulaimani, commander of the Qods Force, has now begun to be applied in Syria. The Assad regime has announced the formation of a new military force named the National Defense Army, which will serve as a reservist force for the Assad regime forces.
According to Russia Today, this army will be made up of civilian elements carrying out their military service, in addition to popular committees formed in the wake of the Syrian conflict. Russia Today said that this army's mission will be to protect neighborhoods from attacks by the armed opposition, adding that its cadres will wear uniform and be paid a monthly salary. As for this force's numbers, it will be made of ten thousand youth from different provinces across the country.
Of course, the opposition rushed to describe this as a re-branding of the pro-regime Shabiha militia; however the fact of the matter is that this National Defense Army is closer to the Iranian Basij militia.
Basij, in Farsi, literally means mobilization. The Basij was formed by Imam Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini in November 1979 and falls under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). The Basij is made up of volunteers who strongly believe in the concept of velayat el-faqih (Guardianship of the Jurists) and they played an important role in crushing Iran's Green Revolution during the last presidential election. In this case, the formation of a force like that of the National Defense Army, or shall we say the Assadi Basij, represents proof that Assad has begun to lose confidence in the conventional Syrian army, particularly in light of the huge number of defections from this. This has forced the Assad regime to avoid providing Syrian regular army soldiers with heavy weapons and sophisticated equipment for fear that they could defect, taking these arms and equipment to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA). In fact, the FSA is now seeking to destroy Assad regime tanks, for example, particularly as they are aware that these tanks are not fully armed—being provided with 5 or less shells—which makes it easier to destroy such tanks than attempt to capture them.
The formation of the Assadi Basij also shows that the regime is seeking to utilize sectarianism to reestablish itself, particularly as it has begun to seek to attract cadres with strong resolve, not just loyalty to the regime. This is because many of those loyal to Assad have now been convinced of his inevitable demise. The regime is therefore seeking to ensure that its latest military force is comprised of fighters who are aware that their fate and that of Bashar al-Assad are inexorably linked and will consequently defend him to the death.
We say that this new force, the Assadi Basij, is an Iranian idea because it comes at a time when Assad does not even have sufficient funds to pay the salaries of his soldier or rescue the Syrian economy, particularly as the revolution is said to be costing him one billion dollars every month. Therefore, it is clear that the Assadi Basij was formed thanks to Iranian support and advice, and this is in line with the security plan being implemented in Damascus, namely to divide the capital into four security sectors. This is the same approach that was taken to suppress the Green Revolution in Iran when the Iranian security forces divided Tehran into different security sectors to disperse the crowds and prevent any security breaches.
The Assadi Basij exposes the extent of Iran's involvement in Syria, as well as the depth of the crisis that Assad is facing, to the point that he no longer trusts his own military forces. This also demonstrates the extent of the destruction that Assad has visited on Syria. More than this, the formation of this Assadi Basij also indicates the dangers that we may face in the post-Assad period, as he is now seeking to create terrorist groups and sectarian militias whose mission will be to destabilizing a post-Assad Syria.
Tariq Alhomayed is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, the youngest person to be appointed that position. He holds a BA degree in Media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and has also completed his Introductory courses towards a Master's degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He is based in London.