Syrian Opposition Websites: Iran Establishes New Militia In Eastern Syria

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February 24, 2021

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In mid-February 2021, Syrian opposition websites reported that about two months previously Iran had established a new militia called Qamar Bani Hashim in the village of Hatla in eastern Syria. The militia was named after the son of Ali, the fourth caliph, who is one of the central figures in Shia Islam and is considered the only legitimate successor to the prophet Muhammad. According to the reports, the militia is comprised mainly of Iranian and Afghani fighters and Syrian residents who have adopted Shi'ism.

In addition to these reports, other reports have also surfaced recently, describing Iran's efforts to recruit local residents in order to increase the local base of support for its presence, while also entrenching its hold on the area by means of local proxies, as it did in Iraq and in Lebanon.[1]

Hatla village is considered to be one of the centers of the Shi'ite militias in the Deir Al-Zour Governorate. In addition to their military activity, the militias invest considerable effort to garner the support of the local population and its leaders in various ways. For example, on May 8, 2020, during the month of Ramadan, it was reported that the "Ministry of Security" of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp in the village of Hatla provided a meal to break the fast for the dignitaries and community leaders in the surrounding settlements.[2]

Iran also seeks to gain support among the local population regarding the power struggles it engages in with Russia for centers of influence in Syria.[3] For its part, Russia also attempts to garner support among the local population by establishing its own local militias and by providing assistance to the residents. For instance, the Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency reported on January 21, 2021, that the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria[4] had distributed food baskets to the families of the fallen and the wounded in Hatla village and in other villages in the area.[5]

The Syrian opposition website Eye of the Euphrates reported on January 19 that two months previously the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had established a new militia in the village of Hatla, called Qamar Bani Hashim, which is under the command of an Iranian named Hajj 'Isa Dahaqan.  Most of the members of the 175-strong militia are Iranian or Afghani citizens. There are also 20 Lebanese, while the remainder is comprised of local residents from the rural area around Homs. According to the website, the Syrian operatives were recruited from Syrian factions which are subordinate to the Shi'ite militias, most of whom have adopted Shi'ism. It is not clear why the new militia recruited residents from the Homs area, which is relatively far from the village of Hatla.

According to the report, the militia members receive a monthly salary of 250,000 Syrian pounds (about $480) and are armed with a Russian rifle and a machine gun. In addition, each operative receives a green security card bearing his name, the words "The Friends," and the image of an Iranian flag. A picture of Qasem Soleimani (the slain commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) appears on the back of the card.

The report also states that on January 19, the first group of operatives, numbering 35 men commanded by Abu Ammar, from the rural area of Homs, was sent to erect a roadblock at Ma'Adan 'Atiq, in the southeastern rural area of Al-Raqqa.[6]

Another opposition website reported that the militia members receive a monthly salary of 100,000 Syrian pounds ($195) and receive other benefits such as trips to holy Shia sites in Iran and Iraq.[7]

 

[2] Orfnews.com, May 8, 2020; for more information about Iranian efforts to recruit support among the local population in Syria see MEMRI JTTM Report: Websites Opposed To The Syrian Regime: Iran Continues To Consolidate Its Presence In Southern Syria, In Violation Of Understandings Between Russia, Israel, Jordan, January 4, 2019.

[4] The Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides and Refugee Migration Monitoring in the Syrian Arab Republic was established on February 23, 2016, by the Russian Defense Ministry as part of Russian's efforts to enable "local reconciliations," i.e. the surrender of the rebel forces to the Assad regime.

[5] Arabic.sputniknews.com, January 24, 2021.

[6] Eyeofeuphrates.com, February 19, 2021.

[7] Facebook.com/EuphratsPost, February 19, 2021.

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