By Shahriar Kia, The Hill
Monday, 23 May 2016
Day by day Iran is expanding its involvement in the conflict raging onward in Syria. The Revolutionary Guards has now dispatched a conglomerate of more than 60,000 troops on the ground, consisting of 8,000 notorious Quds Force members, thousands of foot-soldiers and mercenaries from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Tehran is now so utterly embroiled in shoring the ruthless Bashar al-Assad regime that an Iranian army brigade consisting of the mullahs’ “Green Berets”, have been dispatched to Syria. This is the 65th Nohed Brigade and their first mission in 27 years underlines how desperate times call for desperate measures for Iran in preventing Assad’s downfall.
An Iranian Province
Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei has taken a step forward by appointing a personal envoy in Syria, similar his officials representatives installed in Iran’s 31 provinces. This recent appointment further reinforces the perspective that Iran considers Syria its own 35th province, and defeat in Syria is viewed a severe blow to the regime. Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian military chief of staff, paid a recent visit to Damascus on April 30th to take over direct command of all Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian forces fighting across the country.
High Price & Desperate Measures
Iran escalating its meddling in Syria has not come without a cost. A rising number of casualties have raised discontent across the board in Iraq. As the ferocious conflict shows no abating sign, reports indicate thousands of Iranian troops being killed and wounded, alongside a minimum of 40 senior IRGC officers losing their lives. In fear of a definite backlash from low-morale IRGC soldiers, Iran has resorted to even more desperate measures to render recruits for the Syria war. A recent IRGC-produced video calls on teenage boys to join the battle in Syria. The methods of propaganda and the used lyrics are alarmingly familiar to the methods used by the mullahs during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.
“UNICEF has already noted that children were used to the Iraq-Iran war, primarily as mine sweepers sent out ahead of regular troops,” the Digital Journal wrote.
“It has been alleged by the [Iranian opposition] NCRI and other international groups," the piece continues, "that tens of thousands of children were used as minesweepers and in other dangerous roles. Children, in this case, were seen as more expendable than regular troops, and thus more fit for mine sweeping duties.”
Iran is also seeking new plans by hiring and deploying thousands of Afghans to fight in Syria. More than 1.5 million Afghan refugees are currently living in Iran, according to official regime statistics, of which 800,000 to one million lack any registration documents, unemployed as a result and left to suffer in extreme poverty. Afghans willing to join the battlefront in Syria are offered up to $600 a month and if they return they receive full Iranian citizenship, or their families earn full citizenship if they are killed in battle. The ‘Fatemyoun Division’ has been specifically formed under the direct IRGC Quds Force supervision to organize these recruits. 2,500 Fatemyoun members are currently in Syria and reports indicate more are on the way.
Skyrocketing casualties and literally no sign of progress have left Iran facing a lethal quagmire in Syria despite the intense mobilization campaign. Tehran originally sought to defeat the West-backed Free Syrian Army and occupy Aleppo and other rebel strongholds under ruthless air cover provided by Russia. All this has miserably failed. Senior Iranian officials are terrified as Moscow is beginning to pull out and negotiating in tête-à-tête talks with Washington. Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani has recently visited Moscow once again to outright beg Putin for further intervention.
Unfortunately, the appeasement policy pursued by the West vis-à-vis Iran has been the main contributor to the Syrian nightmare and the rise of Daesh (ISIS). Iran’s die-hard support for al-Assad and his lethal crackdown against his own people prepared the grounds and facilitated Daesh morphing from the corpse of al-Qaeda. The 8-year reign of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, known for his complete devotion to Tehran, allowed Daesh to grasp large swathes of territory across the Levant and northern Mesopotamia. To this end, Europe is facing the largest refugee crises from World War II onward. And yet, all signs indicate the Syria conflict is spiraling out of control with no end sight.
The West needs to finally come to this understanding that the political and humanitarian crisis in Syria can only be resolved by sponsoring the urgent removal of Bashar Assad from the throne. This scenario has a key role for U.S. President Barack Obama and he must rise to the occasion in the final stretch of his tenure. Kicking the can down the road and refusing to take serious action in Syria, while going the limits to seal a nuclear deal with Iran, has only pushed Syria further in the whirlpool conflict we see today engulfing the entire Middle East and beyond into utter turmoil.
Iran’s intervention in Iraq and Syria is the root of this entire dilemma. If peace is sought in both Iraq and Syria, the Iranians must first and foremost be evicted.
Kia is a press spokesman for residents of Camp Liberty, Iraq, and members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran opposition group (PMOI, also known as MEK). He graduated from North Texas University.