Parallel armies and their impact on Middle East stability
Friday، September 30، 2016
National armies are no longer the only organizations to legitimately monopolize military force in some regional states. The last six years has a growing number of armed irregulars, they have become so prevalent that they are known as parallel armies. These armies consist of the remains of, or the main clusters of, regular army, armed militias, zonal battalions, military wings, popular formations, revolutionary corps, sectarian organizations and terrorist groups. These irregular military organizations are also known as “private sector armies” in the Middle East.
These so-called parallel armies were able to take control of densely populated geographical areas in central states, and subsequently seize economic resources and armament capabilities, in order to manage external relations with states and violent non-state actors. These armies take advantage of a state’s weaknesses in order to ensure their existence and expansion. Groups frequently exploit the collapse of state control, vacuums in power, weak governments, loose borders and the escalation of internal conflict in order to create smaller conflicts of attrition. All of this contributes to the spiral of chaos and the stumbling stability of the region.
It is remarkable that so many states in the Middle East have witnessed the rise of, or the growing impact of, small armies and insurgent groups that arm themselves with both light and heavy weapons. These groups have various operation centers where they develop training rules and adopt defense and attack strategies. The strategies implemented by these groups combines traditional and modern methods of fighting, which deems the groups to be opponents of the regular armies, for example, Haftar’s forces, Al Sarraj's forces in Libya, the brigades supporting Saleh, the Houthis militias in Yemen, the Free Syrian Army, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Peshmerga in Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, the militias supporting Riek Machar which fight against Salva Kiir in South Sudan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Al Shabaab militant group in Somalia.
In June 2016, Congress released a report stating that, despite a shrinking presence in areas of influence in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the Islamic State (ISIS) has formed at least six active armies across the Middle East and North Africa. These armies resulted in the formation of open fronts, and has imposed serious negative repercussions, which imposed serious negative repercussions on society, the economy and remaining diplomatic relations.
In some cases, these parallel armies were not formed during the years after revolutionary movements, but rather by the leaders of countries themselves. Former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, for example, formed the Libyan army from various revolutionary militias and regime protection forces, particularly Gaddafi’s battalions. He also recruited heavily from tribes in areas where support for his regime was strong. The split he created was the result of failed military confrontations against the Chad National Army in the 80s, and the emergence of Islamic orientations in leadership positions.
The characteristics of this splintering have remained in place since the Libyan Revolution in 2011. The parallel militant bodies that have emerged are the coalition of different revolutionary militias including remaining units from the regular army, for which the researcher Yazid Al Sadegh expresses as representing, “the hybrid armed forces inside the hybrid state.” Following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, the country witnessed political division. The result was two governments, two parliaments, and two competing armies. One in the west, in Tripoli, and the other in the east, in Tobruk and Al Bayda. This dilemma remains in place today.
The case of the Yemeni army is not far from what is occurring in Libya, particularly with regard to growing zonal and tribal affiliations, inside recruitment and the principles of promotion, all carried out in such a way that hampers the restructuring of the regular army during various transitional phases. Moreover, following the American invasion in 2003, the successive Iraqi governments assigned cases of national defense and regime protection to groups of sectarian militias. In various press releases, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi stated that the popular mobilization forces are a faction of the state, that the state pays the salaries of those members and that they coordinate militarily with their leaders. National Security Adviser Falih al-Fayyadh backed this up in an Aug. 19th, 2016, press statement where he stated that the popular mobilization presence within the Iraqi army has contributed to the security and stability of Iraq.
The expansion of parallel armies in some countries of the region has caused negative repercussions on issues of security, stability and growth. Various types of growth have been affected, including land development, population and resources.
Continuous erosion of the state: The role of parallel armies has escalated in light of the breaking control that central governments of nations have in the Arab region. The revolutionary movement led to not only the collapse of regimes, but of legitimate states as well. This is evident by the conditions in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. There has been a drastic increase in the number of militias in these countries following the collapse of the state. So much so, in fact, that the spring in question is known as “the spring of militias” in the region. These militias have, in some cases, been successful in seizing control. For example, the armed Houthi militias in Yemen.
These armies lead conflict after conflict against the military and security institutions of the state in order to take their traditional roles. The armies were previously considered to be unacceptable armed opposition among the societies of states in question, but are now a political tool for destabilizing the state.
Deepening chaos within divided communities: This is a direct result of the weak state structure and the infiltration of social forces, both of which have led to the expansion of loyalty towards non-state phenomenon. The latter cause is a cover for the loyalties in many Arab cases, the most prominent of which are in Lebanon. According to Dr. Maamoun Afandi, Lebanon is like the steel being formed for the framework of a car, being pulled and molded in various directions; rather than a completed car with a single engine. In this context, Lebanon is led by sectarian drives including Sunni, Shia, Druze and Christian sects, which weaken the central state drive and contribute to conflicts among local legislations. This also contributes to the escalation of armed Jihadist groups’ activities in Iraq and Lebanon as Sunni views are expressed as a means to oppose Shia ones.
Expanding a base of support within the state and across its borders: If left unabated, the political rise of a parallel army in a state leads inevitably leads to its further expansion; an example is what ISIS and Hezbollah are doing. Hezbollah has created an army called the “Resistance Regiments,” described by the Lebanese Minister of Interior Nohad El Machnouk as, the regiments of tumult and occupation, to be the invisible army for the party in Lebanon and to become a new military structure for the party, able to give support through fighters.” The significance of these militias lies in the fact that within their lines lie the different Lebanese factions, albeit with Shia being the majority.
In parallel, on Aug. 18, 2016, the Revolutionary Guards of Iran revealed through one of their leaders in Syria, that there was a scheme to form “The Shia Liberation Army” under supervision of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani. This army is to fight on fronts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The army will not only recruit Iranian elements but will also include militias that have the support of Tehran in the Middle East, for example, the Afghani Zeinabion militias, the Heidarians of Iraqi Shias and the Afghani Fatemiyoun.
The impact of the position:
The escalation of internal conflict following growing competition among parallel armies: In some reports, there has been a spread in impact of what is called “Jihadist competition” between armed actors. This competition takes place between both regular and irregular armies, as well as armed militias, terrorist organizations and zonal armed battalions in other areas. Confrontations between these parties take place in different operational areas. These clashes may occur in areas of civilian communities, which is of particular concern. Since the parallel armies employ guerrillas tactics and own military arming systems similar to the regular army, escalation is frequent in these clashes, increasing human and material casualties.
In this context, a second Libyan Civil War may be expected following the escalation of the High Council of State in Libya and the invitation of the Ministry of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, Fayez Al Sarraj, to cast aside their disagreements to face the “military coup” conducted by Khalifa Haftar’s troops following the military operations in the Hilal area. The area has oilfields with a production capacity of roughly 60% of current Libyan oil exports. This indicates that growing clashes between the parallel armies are over the availability of economic resources.
Recovery of black market weapons (small and medium-sized): The parallel armies could either be the reason or the result for the spread of these types of weapons. The American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the revolutions witnessed by several states and the resulting internal conflicts, led to the dismantling of many regular armies and the subsequent takeover of economic interest networks for the purpose of reviving a struggling black market. These networks have turned into a source for weapon trade, and other illegal actions. Black market weapons are considered to be the main supply source for terrorist organizations and armed militias, particularly in light of the growing demand for weapons by similar groups in neighboring countries.
Jeopardizing the independence of external decisions in light of the fragility of the ruling regimes: This is currently happening in Lebanon with regards to Hezbollah. Decisions made by the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of the Arab League are in close ties with Iranian orientations that exceed meeting national Lebanese interests. This indicates support for regional forces (for example, Iran) in establishing political relations as well as funding and arming unofficial violent actors. On the other hand, Hezbollah has sent many of its military elements to Syria to protect the Assad regime in Syria and to execute Tehran’s project in the region.
Paving the way for more international and regional interventions in internal affairs: National sovereignty no longer has special importance or sanctity. Some regional and international forces now support one of the parallel armies inside one state or another, in such a way that contributes to a transformation in the paths of armed conflict in the region. Instability will spread from internal areas and extend to regional ones, especially since the tendency for resolving the majority of these conflicts is contingent upon regional equilibria and international understanding.
The bottom line is that parallel armies represent one of the emerging realities of the region, to such a point that some research center networks are establishing early warning observatories in case of parallel armies crossing their borders. It has also become important for institutions of the current states to firmly deal with these armies. These armies could threaten the power structure of the state, carry out bombings or advance near their borders. States will face a great dilemma when forming new national armies after curbing the current regional chaos.