Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Iran Exploiting Economic Crisis to Recruit Syrians to its Militias

Iran Exploiting Economic Crisis to Recruit Syrians to its Militias

Sunday, 4 April, 2021 - 05:30
Syrians displaced by pro-regime strikes, join a convoy driving toward the Deir al-Ballut checkpoint in Syria on April 11, 2020. (Getty Images)

A rights group said Iran was exploiting the economic crisis in Syria to entrench itself in areas west of the Euphrates River, Aleppo countryside and areas between the capital, Damascus, and the Lebanese border.

Tehran was seeking to recruit youths to its militias, added the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, revealing that Iranian militias west of the Euphrates now boast some 25,000 members, including some 10,000 Syrians.

It said that pro-Iran militias had brought in reinforcements to the area on March 2. Three buses had also arrived there from Iraq. The passengers were transported to the headquarters of the Sayyid al-Shuhada militia in the Alboukamal countryside on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Coinciding with the arrival of the reinforcements, the militants carried out military trainings last month in the Deir Ezzor region, which is close to the border with Iraq.

In late March, a new weapons shipment headed to the militias and arriving from Iraq was spotted in the al-Mayadeen region. The weapons were concealed in a fruit and vegetable shipment. The arms were unloaded in the al-Mazare region, which is the largest militant hub in al-Mayadeen. The pro-Iran militants stored the weapons in tunnels that had been dug up by ISIS when it controlled the area.

The region west of the Euphrates is witnessing constant trade between Iranians and allied militias on the Iraqi side of the border. Legal and Illegal border crossings are used for the shipment of fruits, vegetables and other goods.

The Observatory said the militias are exploiting the busy trade to bring in weapons concealed in the food shipments.

Iran is continuing to “entrench” itself in the region west of the Euphrates that stretches from al-Mayadeen to Alboukamal. It is focusing its efforts on recruiting youths, whose poverty it exploits to further its agenda, and confiscating and purchasing the properties of displaced people.

The militias have even forced residents to leave the area. They recently issued an eviction notice to the owners of some 50 homes in Alboukamal. The residents are opponents of Damascus and had taken part in anti-regime protests during the beginning of the country’s uprising.

They were displaced from Alboukamal after ISIS swept through the region. The Iranians now control the area. The homes are now occupied by relatives of the displaced. The eviction was issued by an office that is directly affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The people were given until next week to leave the homes.

The youth, meanwhile, are lured into joining the militias with a promise of a salary. Iran is also vying for the loyalty of tribes in the area, in direct competition with Russia. As it stands, the Iranian militias hold sway on the ground over the Russians.

Near the border with Lebanon, in the Damascus countryside, pro-Iran militias, led by Hezbollah, are buying territories along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The militias have so far bought 200 pieces of real estate in the al-Zabadani area and no less than 305 in the al-Tufail region. Some 120 apartments and villas have been either purchased or seized.

Similar purchases of real estate are taking place near Aleppo in what is see as an attempt to introduce demographic change in the region, said the Observatory.

Editor Picks