MESOP EXCLUSIV : The 313 Battalion: A Syrian ‘Islamic Resistance’ Formation

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  • 

The number 313 has turned up multiple times in the Syrian civil war. Referring to the supposed number of Muslim soldiers at the battle of Badr but also the companions of the Imam al-Mahdi in eschatology, 313 can have significance for both Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. However, in the Syrian civil war, the 313 reference seems to appear more on the regime side, particularly in association with Shi’i militancy in support of the regime. The 313 Battalion is another example of this trend. The militia is also known as the 313 Force and Liwa al-Rasul al-‘Adham (“The Great Apostle Brigade”: a reference to the Prophet Muhammad). On the issue of multiple names for one group, cf. here.

An emblem for the 313 Battalion: “The 313 Force. Special Operations.” The ribbon reads: “Sacrifice for you, oh Zaynab” (referring to Sayyida Zaynab, whose shrine is in Damascus and the key site for Shi’i militias in Syria to defend).

Like other militias, the 313 Battalion also refers to itself as a “special operations” group. Rather than just a generic moniker, the designation in practice translates to deployments in a variety of areas on short-term assignments. Indeed, the 313 Battalion has claimed multiple deployments along these lines. For example, in February this year, the group went to Deraa city to support the Syrian army against a new rebel offensive in the al-Manshia neighbourhood. In December 2016, as Palmyra fell for the second time to the Islamic State, the 313 Battalion headed to the area via Damascus airport. In September 2016, the group was deployed to Hama province. It also appears that the 313 Battalion has been in Quneitra province near the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

As far as affiliations go, the 313 Battalion has its origins in Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya (aka The Ja’afari Force). Named for the Sayyida Ruqayya shrine in Damascus, Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya is a Syrian Shi’i militia that uses the “Islamic Resistance in Syria” moniker and has origins in the National Defence Forces. It became attached to the Iraqi group Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’ at some point and now claims to be an independent outfit. Social media postings from early 2016 illustrate this affiliation, identifying the group as a contingent of Liwa al-Sayyida al-Ruqayya led by a certain Abu al-Abbas.

Graphic featuring Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya emblem, with the caption “Men of Abu al-Abbas” in the middle.

A change in the group’s status was announced in August 2016, being reconstituted as a brigade separate from Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya while still retaining its identity as part of the Syrian “Islamic Resistance”:

“al-Hajj Abu al-Abbas has been entrusted with establishing and leading the independent brigade (the 313 Force- Special Operations) affiliated with the Islamic Resistance in Syria.”

The exact reasons for the break-off from Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya have not been specified publicly. In a conversation, al-Hajj Abu al-Abbas told me that the history outlined above for Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya and the 313 Battalion is correct. As for the split, he explained it as follows: “We separated from Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya by order of the leadership for reasons of the interest of the resistance.” This explanation is somewhat vague: it could mean a spin-off strategy to encourage more recruitment among Syrians. Perhaps there were coordination and personal problems. Or maybe a combination of factors is at play here. In any case, the independent identity is confirmed in subsequent dropping of references to Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya and the group’s use of its own insignia on the ground.

313 Battalion insignia on a vehicle door: “The Islamic Resistance in Syria. The 313 Force.” The calligraphic Arabic script reads: “Oh Master of the Age. Oh Mahdi, make us realise.” Note the Syrian flag encircling the insignia, a similar design to the current emblem of Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya.

The same 313 Battalion insignia in the background.

Some more noteworthy photos from the 313 Battalion below.

A member of the 313 Battalion with “Rafidhi 313” insignia on his arm. The term Rafidhi is derogatory for a Shi’i, though it has been used by Shi’a in the sense of ‘reclaiming’ the term with pride, One should compare with the way some black people use the word nigger.

Basil Hamid, a 313 Battalion fighter killed in fighting in the Palmyra area. His death was announced on 20 December 2016.

Muhammad Okasha, a 313 Battalion fighter said to have been killed on 14 February 2017 in the fighting in al-Manshia neighbourhood in Deraa city.

A 313 Battalion fighter poses with a vehicle featuring Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamane’i’s portrait.

al-Hajj Abu al-Abbas

al-Hajj Abu al-Abbas posing on a tank. On top of the tank is a flag with the inscription “Allahu Akbar.” The 313 Battalion insignia can also be seen on the tank.

Members of the 313 Battalion.

Like the other Syrian “Islamic Resistance” groups, the 313 Battalion is clearly a small entity, but its formation does illustrate the ongoing proliferation of militia brands along these lines among the Syrian Shi’i community in particular.