One must not cease to pay attention to areas that have been cleared of Islamic State territorial control. In fact, examining how the post-Islamic State environment has been affected by the group's rule is crucial. The nature of the impacts of the group's rule will vary from place to place, but those impacts are not necessarily of a sectarian or ethnic nature. In some cases, the problems arise at the level of clans and individuals of the same ethnic and religious background. The southwest Deraa area of the Yarmouk Basin, which was previously controlled by Islamic State affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed (JKBW), is a case-in-point.
One of the villages controlled by JKBW was Jamla, which is very close to the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Jamla's population primarily consisted of the Baridi and Samuri clans. For context, note that there are Baridis who have lived in villages other than Jamla, such as Nafi'a (also in the Yarmouk Basin) and Atman (not in the Yarmouk Basin).
The Baridi clan's relationship with JKBW itself was complex. The Baridi clan was the foundation of one of JKBW's predecessor groups- Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk- and it is possible to identify people from the Baridi clan who were in JKBW. However, it is also the case that the Baridi clan did not constitute JKBW's leadership. Many members of the clan ended up leaving JKBW before its demise, or were arrested and executed by the group.
The most prominent case was that of Nidhal al-Baridi, a brother of al-Khal (the first leader of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk). Nidhal al-Baridi was arrested along with the Palestinian-Syrian jihadist veteran Abu Obeida Qahtan and others following the assassination of JKBW's first amir Abu Hashim al-Idlibi in October 2016. They were all executed by summer 2017, though JKBW/Islamic State later exonerated the men of involvement in the assassination.
Other members of the Baridi clan who faced trouble at the hands of JKBW include Nibal al-Baridi (another brother of al-Khal), Ali al-Baridi (al-Khal's son, who died as a result of an airstrike in August 2017 that struck in the vicinity of the prison in which he was being held), Abd al-Salam al-Baridi (aka Abu al-Waleed al-Baridi from Nafi'a: he had once served in the office of JKBW amir Abu Ali al-Aseer but left JKBW and was imprisoned at least twice by the group) and my friend who was imprisoned for being in contact with me.
These points thus demonstrate that the idea that JKBW represented the clans of the Yarmouk Basin is an oversimplification. In general though, it is fair to say that in contrast with the Baridi clan, the Samuri clan had kept its distance from JKBW and its predecessors. In fact, I only know of one member of the Samuri clan who was involved with JKBW: a certain individual called Muhammad al-Samuri. There was also apparently another member of the Samuri clan- a certain Ahmad al-Samuri- who was involved in the Islamic State in the 'north of Syria' (i.e. in areas outside the Yarmouk Basin) and is now dead. Other members of the clan who have taken up arms at some point have either been fighting on the side of the Syrian government or had previously joined rebel factions.
Mosque in Jamla.
It is notable that two brothers from the Samuri clan- Ali Sultan al-Samuri and Yusuf Sultan al-Samuri- were accused of involvement in the November 2015 assassination of al-Khal and were thus executed by Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk. In April 2016, the group then executed the brothers' father: Sultan al-Samuri. One story is that the Jabhat al-Nusra suicide bomber who assassinated al-Khal and other leaders in Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk stayed at Sultan's house, and Sultan's two sons engaged in reconnaissance and helped bring the bomber into the gathering where he detonated himself.
Some hints of clan animosity can be seen in posts about the assassination of al-Khal and the executions. For example, Anas Ahmad al-Baridi, a person I once knew and communicated with, wrote in late November 2015 not long after al-Khal's assassination:
"The qisas [retaliation] has come near and I ask God that it be a just qisas...the dogs who did their contemptible deed, by God we will cut off their heads even after moments...the Samuri clan did their deed, but let them not think that they are safe. By God and in God we will hold to account all who have a hand in this deed and prior deeds, so don't think you dogs that we have forgotten what you did...by God we will kill you, you evil killers, you dogs, you sons of al-Samuri. By God, our fire will not be extinguished except by displaying you, you contemptible scum, you slaves of money. You will see from us everything, oh traitors....so our enmity towards you is until the Day of Judgement, you and whoso is loyal to you."
A post from a certain Tariq al-Muhammad in April 2016 on the execution of Sultan al-Samuri contained the following:
"God's curse be upon the criminal pigs, the dogs of Da'esh, and whoso is loyal to them from the Ja'ouni clan, the Baridi clan and others besides them. God's curse be upon every pig who stood watching the execution."
Jamla is now back under the control of the Syrian government, but many members of the Baridi clan who left during the military campaign have not returned to the village. Besides the problem of damage to homes and infrastructure, a key problem is that members of the Baridi clan who had once been involved in JKBW and Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk, even if they had ceased involvement a long time ago and had come to dislike the group, have become wanted for arrest. One example, regrettably, has been my friend who was arrested by JKBW for talking to me.
Members of the Baridi clan who are wanted attribute this problem in part to the anger and hatred of the Samuri clan against them. The Samuri clan, they say, holds al-Khal's family in particular and the extended Baridi clan in general to be responsible for the rise of the Islamic State in the Yarmouk Basin and the destruction that has come upon the area. A member of the Samuri clan from Jamla corroborated this talk, saying: "There have been disagreements, and now the reasons for the destruction of Jamla and the Yarmouk Basin, they say that the Baridis are the ones responsible." The reason, he affirmed, is that the Baridi clan is the original foundation of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk.
One member of the Baridi clan, who was previously involved with JKBW and is currently wanted, agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity. He is currently outside Jamla. Below is the interview. There are many things we discussed off the record.
Q: How many people lived in the village of Jamla before the military campaign?
A: The number of inhabitants was around 3000 people.
Q: How many of the inhabitants have returned to the village of Jamla since the Syrian government gained control of it?
A: The number of inhabitants who have returned to the village is around 300 people.
Q: What is the proportion of destruction in the village of Jamla?
A: The proportion of destruction in the village is 80%.
Q: What was the opinion of the people of the village about Jaysh Khalid's control of it?
A: Some were in agreement, others rejected.
Q: Why did some agree?
A: The portion that agreed was from the people of the organization and a portion of the civilians also. But the portion that rejected was from the people of the Free Army and the people of the Syrian regime, and the majority- 90%- were from the Samuri clan.
Q: So is it true that most of the Samuri clan are with the regime?
Q: For what reason they are with the regime?
A: They have been with them [the Syrian government] since before the events.
Q: Some of them officers in the Syrian army, right?
Q: It is said that the Baridi clan have been oppressed under Jaysh Khalid, especially during last summer. Can you tell me a little about these matters?
A: Yes, true. But some of the Baridi clan. Brother these matters are clear, and all the people know the reasons.
Q: Yes. Jaysh Khalid arrested some of the people from the Baridi clan during last summer, like Ali al-Baridi. But why they arrested him?
A: Yes. Yes. Suspicions, but after that the aircraft struck them while they were in prison.
Q: Suspicions about the creed of Ali al-Baridi? Or suspicions about his contact and the contact of some members of the Baridi clan with external parties?
A: No one knows. Because those they arrested, all of them died in the aircraft bombing.* But Jaysh Khalid accused the Baridi family of collaboration with Israel. But these are false accusations.
Q: And currently most of the Baridi clan is outside the village of Jamla?
A: Yes. Correct.
Q: Because of accusations by the Samuri clan that the Baridi clan is the foundation of Da'esh [Islamic State] in the area?
Q: The Baridis who have not returned to the village have all become wanted?
A: No, a portion of them.
Q: Right. And the families of the wanted stay with them in fear they will be arrested.
*- Not quite true since Nibal al-Baridi ultimately survived the bombing and was held for a long time by the Dar al-'Adl. He was released shortly before the military campaign in the south began.