When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Iraq

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.
Christian soldiers in Mosul, Iraq.
Francesco Semprini

RABIA — 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 — 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."

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Food Shortages Around The World, Product By Product

The war in Ukraine and the climate crisis have been devastating for food production. Here's a look at some of the traditional foods from around the world that might be hard to find on supermarket shelves.

A customer walking along the aisle of empty shelves in a supermarket

Lila Paulou and McKenna Johnson

The consequences of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia have been far-reaching. A Russian blockade of the Black Sea has meant Ukraine, known as “Europe’s breadbasket,” has been unable to export much of its huge harvests of wheat, barley and sunflower oil.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

So even those thousands of miles from the battlefields have been hit by the soaring prices of basic necessities.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ