One of the most troubling aspects of Western coverage of the fighting in Syria and in Aleppo is the way in which certain sections of the Western media appear to be falling for a Sunni sectarian narrative.
I say this because I am increasingly reading commentary in the Western media that speculates about Iran’s intentions in Syria which can be read in no other way.
Part of this has taken the form of an exaggeration of the role of Shiite militias in the fighting in Aleppo. If one were to form one’s views of the fighting in Aleppo over the last few weeks from the way it has been reported in certain sections of the Western media, it is these Shia militias which have played the preponderant role on the government side in the fighting in Aleppo.
This is quite simply not the case. Firstly, by no means all the militias fighting the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo are Shia. The Syrian troops in fighting the Jihadis have also had the backing of Kurdish and Palestinian militias, which are in religious terms Sunni.
However the key point is that as anyone who has followed the fighting in Aleppo closely knows, by far the greater part of the fighting against the Jihadis in Aleppo – and indeed everywhere else in Syria – has been carried out by the Syrian army.
Not only is the Syrian army by far the biggest force on the government side in Syria, but as even the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has admitted, it has taken the overwhelming share of the casualties experienced by the government side (over 90 percent), which is a sure sign that it is the force that is doing most of the fighting (by contrast the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights puts the proportion of non-Syrian casualties amongst the Jihadis at 57 percent).
Of the Shia militias who are fighting in Syria, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah does play an important frontline role. However most of the other Shiite militias in Syria – predominantly volunteers from Iraq – fight in a supporting role.
In the fighting in Aleppo they key unit that seems to have played the decisive role in the Syrian army’s victories over the last few weeks was the Syrian army’s own elite unit the Tiger Forces. However the ultimate reason why the Jihadi pocket in eastern Aleppo collapsed so suddenly was because of the systematic way the Syrian army – backed by the Russian air force – over the previous weeks encircled the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo and cut off from the still Jihadi controlled countryside around the city.
It is bad enough that parts of the Western media are exaggerating the role of the Shia militias in the fighting in Aleppo. However it is also alarming that they are doing so as part of a narrative of some sort of Iranian grand strategy to establish Shiite predominance in the Middle East. How else to explain comments like this by the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall
There is revived talk of an Iranian ‘Shia crescent’ stretching from Afghanistan through Iraq and Yemen to the Mediterranean. Unlike Moscow, Tehran views its successes through a sectarian prism. ‘We see it as our duty to support those trying to force takfiri [Sunni Jihadi] terrorism out of their territory’, the president Hassan Rouhani, told Assad in a celebratory phone call.
The fact that nothing any of Iran’s leaders has said confirms the existence of this grandiose plan to create a ‘Shia crescent’ is shown by the fact that the quotation of President Rouhani in Simon Tisdall’s paragraph fails to do so. To be clear, helping to rid a country of Takfiri (ie. Wahhabi Jihadist) terrorists is not the same as plotting to create a ‘Shia crescent’.
In reality the violent sectarians who are pursuing a nakedly sectarian agenda in Syria and across the whole of the Middle East are not the Iranians or the Shia militias which they support. They are the Wahhabi Jihadist terrorists Rouhani was talking about in his telephone conversation with President Assad.
As for President Assad, not only is he not a murderous Shiite sectarian but the state he leads has gone out of its way to preserve a non-sectarian character, so that the majority who make up the government and army which President Assad is leading is Sunni.
The claim that Iran is pursuing an anti-Sunni sectarian agenda in Syria and in the Middle East is of course central to the anti-Iranian paranoia that the Saudi regime is actively promoting, and which it is using to justify its interventions in Yemen, Bahrain and in Syria itself.
It is alarming to see sections of the Western media aligning themselves with Saudi Arabia and the violent Jihadi sectarians it supports by repeating Saudi propaganda and giving it credence.