Iranian military in Syria ten years on | Iran entrenches its presence with nearly 58,000 fighters and recruits and imposes absolute influence throughout the country
Exclusive report | Under Soleimani's command: What Iran's role was in repressing the "revolution" and killing detainees? And how far it has helped Al-Assad stay in power?
On the tenth anniversary of the “Syrian Revolution” which sparked on March 15, 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights would like to shed light on Iran’s considerable role in destroying Syria, as Iran, which insisted on the use of excessive force to repress the revolutionaries, has been a key actor to be blamed for the current catastrophic situation in Syria, along with the Syrian regime and other local and foreign powers.
SOHR has obtained exclusive details from very reliable sources who have confirmed that Qassem Soleimani, in May 2012, persuaded Bashar Al-Assad not to listen to the people’s demands at that time and to repress the non-violent protests by force. Soleimani also confirmed to Al-Assad that Iran would back the Syrian regime till the end. Accordingly, a military formation, the “National Defence Forces” (NDF), was established and sent to Iran under the pretext that the formation’s members would undergo military courses. However, Iranian forces and militias were brought to Syria under the cover of the “National Defence Forces”.
Moreover, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), “Al-Quds Corps” and other Iranian under took supervision of regime prisons, where they tortured and killed thousands of anti-regime detainees. It is worth noting that over 83% of the total death toll in regime prisons in the past ten years were killed and/or died between May 2013 and October 2015, the period when the Iranians were in charge of Al-Assad’s prisons.
Qassem Soleimani was also the one who suggested the use of snipers against the demonstrators in the beginning of the revolution, provided military support to regime army and participated in military battles throughout Syria. Under Soleimani’s command, military operations by Iranian forces and their proxy factions have forced thousands of residents to displace from their areas, while their properties have been looted. A few years after the intervention of Iran in Syria conflict, Iranian forces and their proxies worked on demographic change across Syria by imposing their influence over large spaces of Syria, seizing and purchasing Syrians’ real estate, and recruiting young and adult males. Today, Iran and Russia have become the de facto rulers of Syria, despite the cold war between the two powers, while the Syrian regime’s domination remains symbolic.
In Deir Ezzor, Iran controls a vast geographic area which is larger than Lebanon, specifically from Al-Bokamal on the Syria-Iraq border to Al-Tabni, running through Al-Mayadeen and Deir Ezzor city. Besides Iranian forces and their proxies are deployed in overlapping areas on the administrative border with Homs province, turning that area into a “colony”. In that area, the Iranians have managed to impose ultimate influence, while the deployment of Iran forces and militias is mainly concentrated at illegal military crossings in Al-Bokamal countryside, Al-Jamiyaat neighbourhood, Al-Katif neighbourhood in Al-Bokamal city, the base of Imam Ali, the villages of al-Abbas and Al-Jala and other sites in Al-Bokamal desert, the neighbourhoods of Al-Mayadeen city and Al-Mazare’ area which hosts the largest gathering of Iranian-backed militias in the area, Al-Tiba village, al-Ashara, Al-Quriya, Mahkan, Al-Bolil, Al-Jaffra, Ayash warehouses on the outskirts of Deir Ezzor city, the neighbourhoods of Harabish, Al-Rusafa, al-Umal and the 137th Brigade in Deir Ezzor city, and other scattered locations in these areas. The Iranians are also present in Hatlah and Marad villages in east Euphrates region, while west Euphrates region hosts a large Iranian presence in residential and populated areas where military positions and weapons and ammunition depots are located.
Furthermore, Iranian forces and their proxy militias are deployed in the following provinces in Syria:
- Aleppo: the city’s neighbourhoods and the northern, eastern and southern countryside.
- Damascus: Sayeda Zeinab area, perimeter of Damascus international airport, and other areas.
- Rif Dimashq: Qalamoun, areas on the Syria-Lebanon border, and other areas.
- Homs: Homs city and western countryside.
- Idlib: areas in the eastern countryside
- South Syria region: several areas in Daraa and Al-Quneitra provinces, near the border with the Syrian Occupied Golan, and the Syrian desert from Al-Suwaidaa countryside to the eastern and south-eastern countryside of Homs and Aleppo-Hama-Al-Raqqah triangle.
According to SOHR statistics the number of Iranian-backed Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen in Syria has exceeded 58,000, and they are distributed as follows:
- West Euphrates region: Iranian forces and allied militias comprise 24,000 to 25,000 fighters, 9,000 of whom are Syrians recruited by Iran through “Shi’aism” proselytising operations and financial incentives, while the remaining 15,000 to 16,000 fighters are of Arab and Asian nationalities. It is worth noting that tens of members of the Iranian-backed militia “Al-Haj Qassem Soleimani Regiment”, which was formed a few months ago in Nebl and Al-Zahraa areas in the northern countryside of Aleppo and comprising local Shiite fighters, were seen arriving in Al-Bokamal city in early February 2021.
- South Syria region: the number of volunteers in the ranks of Iranian forces and loyal militias are estimated at 9,900. Such “Shi’aism” proselytising operations (conversion to Shiite) take place in “Saraya al-Areen” of the 313th Brigade in northern Daraa, and Shiite centres in Al-Lajat and other areas in Daraa, Al-Baath city and Khan Arnabah in Al-Quneitra countryside, near the border with the occupied Syrian Golan, and Al-Suwaidaa countryside.
- Damascus and Rif Dimashq: the number of Iranian-backed Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen exceeds 9,700 fighters who are deployed in large spaces in Damascus neighbourhoods, cities, towns and villages of Rif Dimashq, and areas near the Syria-Lebanon border.
- Aleppo: the number of Iranian-backed fighters and recruits has reached 7,750 in Nebl, Al-Zahraa town and surrounding areas in the northern countryside of Aleppo, Al-Eis, Al-Hader and surrounding areas in the southern countryside of Aleppo, Maskanah, Al-Sfirah, Deir Hafer, and other towns and villages in eastern Aleppo, and the neighbourhoods of Aleppo city, particularly the eastern neighbourhoods.
- Homs, Hama and Al-Raqqah: the number of Iranian-backed Syrian, Arab and Asian militiamen in Homs city and countryside, Hama and Al-Raqqah deserts reaches 4,350.
- Idlib: there are over 600 Iranian-backed Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen.
- Al-Hasakah, Al-Qamishli: the number of recruits have reached 650 so far, 310 of whom are NDF fighters and commanders, while the rest are civilians and fighters of several tribes, including Al-Ubayd, Yassar, Hareeth, Bani Sab’a and Al-Sharayeen. In order to attract more people, Iranian-backed militias offer financial incentives and relatively high monthly salaries in light of the poor living conditions. On the other hand, the new recruits receive drills in camps in Tartab Brigade in southern Al-Qamishli.
There are numerous military formations comprise Syrian and non-Syrian militiamen recruited by Iran in Syria by offering of financial incentives and continuous usage of religion and sectarianism, or those who have been brought from other countries as “mercenaries” to serve Iran’s interests in Syria. The most prominent of such militias are the following:
The Iraqi Hezbollah
- The Pakistani Zainabiyoun Brigade
- Abu fadl al-Abbas
- The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
- Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades
- The 47th Brigade
- Haras Al-Qurra
- The Afghan Brigade of Fatimiyoun, which apparently became Iran’s second most powerful force in Syria after The Lebanese Hezbollah.
As a decade passed after the outbreak of the “Syrian Revolution” and in light of catastrophic economic situation, dire living conditions, lack of job opportunities and astronomically inflated prices in all Syrian provinces, Iranian-backed militias’ purchases of real estate at high prices continue throughout the country.
Reliable sources in Aleppo city have told SOHR that Iranian-backed local and foreign militias have purchased a large number of real estate in the city’s eastern neighbourhoods after these neighbourhoods’ residents had been displaced a few years ago and regime forces captured them. These neighbourhoods included Al-Marjah, Bab Al-Hadid, Al-Mayser and the Old Aleppo neighbourhood. The Syrian Observatory would like to point out that such purchases are escalating a day after another.
In Homs, however, Syrian individuals are purchasing houses and shops for the favour of Iranian-backed militias, at orders by these militias, like in Damascus, Rif Dimashq and other Syrian provinces. These Syrian individuals get periodical tours of “real estate offices” in order to be informed of the houses and shops offered for sale. It is worth noting that these individuals pay “good” prices for the houses and shops they purchase for the Iranians’ favour.
SOHR sources have also reported that Iranian-backed militias continue to strengthen their presence near the Syria-Lebanon border, under the supervision of the Lebanese Hezbollah, as foreign militias continue purchasing plots of land on the border strip between Syria and Lebanon, disregarding Syria’s laws which ban selling or purchasing any land plots in border areas.
According to SOHR sources, the Afghani, Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese militias have purchased over 165 plots of land in Al-Zabadani area and at least 250 plots in Al-Tufayl border area, turning the region into an “independent” village headed by H.D. who is close to the Lebanese Hezbollah commanders.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militiamen continue taking over luxury apartments and villas in Bludan area and other surrounding areas, bringing the number of villas and apartments these militiamen inhabited in to 97 so far.
It is worth noting that these practices are backed and supported by the Lebanese Hezbollah, which now has the ultimate influence in this region, at a time when the Syrian regime is preoccupied clamping down on Syrian civilians.
On November 20, reliable SOHR sources in eastern Ghouta reported increasing purchases of real estates in the towns and cities of Ghouta by a group of people working for dealers from Deir Ezzor. These people purchased real estates, mostly houses and some shops, at orders by the dealers, but the fact that all these real estates were kept closed after being sold was the most interesting about that development.
According to SOHR sources, these dealers are from Al-Mayadeen countryside in eastern Deir Ezzor and affiliated to the Iranian-backed local militias of “Al-Abbas Brigade”. The most prominent dealer is a man from Al-Bakarah tribe called Abu Yasser Al-Bakary, who has bought many real estates in Deir Ezzor at direct orders by Adnan Al-Abbas, the leader of “Al-Abbas Brigade”.
Such purchases were concentrated in eastern Ghouta, particularly in Kafr Batna, Hazza, Saqba, Ain Tarma, Al-Mulayha and Zamalka. These deals included real estates which were for sale and other real estates whose owners were displaced to northern Syria or traveled overseas, via brokers of both sides.
It is worth noting that the number of real estates purchased by “Al-Abbas Brigade” in the past few months exceeded 300, while the value of each real estate sold during this period ranged between 25 million SYL and 125 million SYL, according to the size and location.
SOHR sources confirmed that these processes were on the march, as representatives of these dealers, carrying individual guns, pay periodical visits to real estate offices in eastern Ghouta where they ask about real estates available for sale, and ask these offices’ owners to inform them as soon as there were real estates offered for sale.
Such suspicious and uncertain developments in the area triggered the residents’ fear and worry over the purposes and reasons behind purchasing this large number of real estates in their cities and towns.
It is common knowledge now that the Iranian intervention in Syria conflict has left nothing but disastrous consequences, while the international community keeps turning a ‘blind eye’ to Iran’s efforts to entrench its presence more and more in Syria.
We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renew our appeals to the international community all international actors to work diligently on forcing Iran out from Syria and bringing all criminals, perpetrators and all those who aided and abetted such heinous crimes against the Syrians to justice.