By Struan Stevenson, The Hill
Saturday, 7 May 2016
The Iranian regime’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is increasing day by day. There are now more than 60,000 troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including 8,000 soldiers from the notorious terrorist Qods force and thousands of foreign mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has become so deeply embroiled in propping up the bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad that they have now deployed a brigade of the Iranian army, the 65th Brigade known as Nohed or Green Berets, underlining their desperate attempts to prevent the overthrow of the dictator Assad. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has even appointed a senior mullah as his personal representative in Syria. Khamenei has personal representatives in each of Iran’s 31 Provinces and this latest appointment reinforces the view that the Iranian regime regards Syria as its 32nd Province, the defeat of which would be a major body blow to Tehran. The chief of staff of the Iranian military, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, arrived in Damascus on April 30 to assume direct command of the Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria.
The escalation of Iranian interference in Syria has resulted in a sharp rise in casualties, causing growing public disquiet in Iran. Thousands of Iranian soldiers have been killed and at least 40 IRGC generals have lost their lives in the ferocious conflict, which shows no signs of abating. Fearing a backlash from their increasingly demoralized IRGC troops, the Iranian regime has turned to desperate measures to bolster recruits for the Syrian front lines. A recent video produced by the IRGC has called for the recruitment of teenagers and child soldiers for the battle. The video sickeningly depicts helmeted and uniformed children singing a chilling song that includes the words: “On my leader Ali Khamenei’s orders I am ready to give my life. The goal is not just to free Iraq and Syria. My path is through the sacred shrine in Syria, but my goal is to reach Jerusalem.” The propaganda and lyrics are disturbingly familiar to tactics used by Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, when tens of thousands of youngsters were sent needlessly to their deaths on the battlefronts.
In desperation, Khamenei is also now attempting to send thousands of Afghans to Syria. According to official statistics published by the regime, there are around one and a half million Afghan refugees in Iran. Of these, between 800,000 and one million are without documents and ID’s and are consequently unemployed and living in extreme poverty. Khamenei is offering Afghans who agree to fight in Syria up to $600 per month and full Iranian citizenship on their return, or full citizenship for their families if they are killed. A special ‘Fatemyoun Division’ under the direct control of the IRGC Qods Force has been created for this purpose. There are now around 2,500 troops from the Fatemyoun Division in Syria and more are being flown in daily.
"Iran has become so deeply embroiled in propping up the bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad that they have now deployed a brigade of the Iranian army, the 65th Brigade known as Nohed or Green Berets, underlining their desperate attempts to prevent the overthrow of the dictator Assad."
Despite this intensive mobilization, the Iranian regime has reached a deadly impasse in Syria with mounting casualties and little sign of progress. The original objective of defeating the Free Syrian Army and occupying its strongholds like Aleppo, with the help of Russian air strikes, has failed. Russia has begun to pull out and Khamenei is panicking. Recently, the commander of the Qods Force – General Qasem Soleimani, was sent to Moscow to plead with Putin for more Russian intervention.
Western appeasement of the clerical fascist regime in Iran has contributed directly to the Syrian nightmare and to the creation of ISIS. The Iranian regime’s outright support for Bashar al-Assad and his bloody reprisals against innocent civilians paved the way for the rise of ISIS. Iran’s puppet regime in neighboring Iraq, under the genocidal control of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, opened the door for ISIS to seize great swathes of Iraqi territory. As a result, Europe now faces its biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, as the civil conflict in Syria spirals out of control.
The US, UN and EU must wake up to the fact that the only way to resolve the political and humanitarian crisis in Syria is to back the immediate removal of Assad. Obama has a key role to play in this scenario in the closing months of his presidency. His foot-dragging on Syrian intervention while simultaneously signing nuclear deals with the Iranian regime has poured petrol on the flames of conflict and de-stabilised the Middle East.
It is time to recognise that Iranian meddling in Syria and Iraq lies at the root of the conflict, and this message will be echoed on July 9 at the “Free Iran” international gathering in Paris, which is expected to draw some 100,000 participants including hundreds of politicians from various political factions throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the US.
The Iranians must be evicted from both Syria and Iraq if we are to open a pathway to peace.
Struan Stevenson is a former Conservative Euro MP representing Scotland from 1999 to 2014. He was President of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup and President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014 and is currently President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).