Geopolitics

The Shammar, The Tribe Fighting ISIS On The Front Lines

Spread between Syria and Iraq, the Saudi-financed tribal army engages the Islamic State head-on.

Christian soldiers in Mosul, Iraq.
Francesco Semprini

RABIA â€" In late September 2014, as the international coalition began to engage the Islamic State (ISIS) in earnest, Iraqi Kurdish fighters and Syrian forces seized Rabia, a city near the Iraqi-Turkish border.

It was a huge victory â€" one of the first in the long war against ISIS. And it may not have been possible without the assistance of another key group: the Shammar, a powerful tribe from the border regions of northern Syria and Iraq.

"Rabia has been liberated, and the Shammar closely cooperate with the Kurdish Peshmerga," said Abdullah Yawar, a Shammar tribal leader, after the successful battle.

That battlefield cooperation was the beginning of a closer alliance, sealed in October 2015 with the formation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is made up of Syrian Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Syriac Christian militias, and Sunni tribal fighters like the Shammar.

The Shammar are one of many nomadic tribes that trace their roots to present-day Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and number 14 million people today spread between Syria and Iraq but primarily in the Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Mosul, and Sinjar. Along with their Yazidi and Christian neighbors, they have been victims of atrocities by ISIS since the fall of Mosul in June 2014.

"Emergency forces"

It was then that the tribe decided to arm itself and fight the Islamic State in the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, allying with Kurds both at home and across the border.

The Shammar are proud of their close ties with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and make a point of emphasizing the ethnic diversity of the SDF coalition. "We aren't a government army, we're tribal fighters," says the Shammar leader Sheikh Hamdi Daham Al-Hadi. "We call ourselves Al-Fasah, the emergency forces."

Al-Fasah controls as many as 6,000 fighters, and receives weapons and supplies from Saudi Arabia and other wealthy donors in the Gulf states. "Tribes and clans follow their own interests. If they align with ISIS, then they fight with them. But if they align with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad then they help the regime," says Al-Hadi.

In Syria, for example, the Shammar fight beside the Kurdish YPG. But in Iraq they fight alongside the YPG’s rivals, the Kurdish Peshmerga of Masoud Barzani.

Despite the overlapping allegiances, they all have a common enemy: the Islamic State. This strengthens the anti-ISIS alliance, as the inclusion of a Sunni tribe like the Shammar weakens ISIS’ claim of representing downtrodden Sunnis. The Shammar often take the lead in the frontlines, coordinating offensives with their SDF allies and U.S. special forces.

This war may be their present, but the tribe is already looking toward the future. "We hope the foreign intervention will be carried out responsibly, and that the Syria of the future will be controlled by Syrians: Druze, Alawites, Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis alike," says Al-Hadi. "We live in an era of globalization, but federalism can provide new opportunities and help us avoid dictatorship."

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Boris Johnson tells France — not so eloquently — to prenez un grip

Bertrand Hauger


-Essay-

PARIS — I'll admit it straight away: As a bilingual journalist, the growing use of Franglais by French politicians makes my skin crawl.

Not because I think this blend of French and English is a bad thing in and of itself (it is!), or because the purity of the French language should be preserved at all costs (it should!) — but because in a serious context, it is — at best — a distraction from the substance at hand. And at worst, well …

But in France, where more and more people speak decent English, Anglo-Saxon terms are creeping in everywhere, and increasingly in the mouths of politicians who think they're being cool or smart.

Not that long ago, Emmanuel Macron was dubbed "the Franglais president" after tweeting "La démocratie est le système le plus bottom up de la terre" ...

Oh mon dieu

They call it Frenglish

It is much rarer when the linguistic invasion goes in the other direction, with far fewer English-speaking elected officials, or their electors, knowing more than a couple of words of French. (The few Brits who use it call it Frenglish)

Imagine then my horror last night watching British Prime Minister Boris Johnson berating France over the recent diplomatic clash surrounding the AUKUS submarine deal, cheekily telling UK media from Washington: "I just think it's time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break."

Cringe. Eye roll. Facepalm.
Here's the clip, in case you haven't had your morning cup of awkward.
Grincement de dents. Yeux au ciel. Tête entre les mains.

First, let me offer a quick French lesson: Sorry, BoJo, you needed the "infinitif" form here: "It's time for [us] to prendre un grip about this and me donner un break."

But that, of course (bien sûr), is not the point in this particular moment. Instead, this would-be bon mot is not just sloppy and silly, it is incredibly patronizing, particularly when discussing a multi-billion deal that sparked a deep diplomatic crisis in the Western alliance.

The colorful British politician is, alas, no stranger to verbal miscalculations and linguistic gaffes. He's also (Brexit, anyone?) not necessarily one who cares about preserving relationships with longstanding partners. This time, combining the two, even for such a shameless figure as Mr. Johnson, only one word came to my bilingual brain: Vraiment?

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