On August 18, 2016, Ali Falaki, a retired general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who commanded a brigade in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and claims to have volunteered to fight in Syria, gave an interview to the Iranian website Mashregh, which is close to the IRGC. In it, he spoke of the "Shi'ite Liberation Army" that Iran has deployed on its three battlefronts in the Middle East - in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen - stating that it comprises divisions based on ethnicity that Iran has established for this purpose. These divisions, he said, are the Afghan division (Fatemiyoun), the Pakistani division (Zaynabiyoun) and the Iraqi division (Hayderiyoun), in addition to the Lebanese Hizbullah division that is operating in Lebanon and Syria. Falaki explained that these divisions comprise the Shi'ite Liberation Army that operates according to the ethnic model adopted by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.
Ali Falaki (Image: Farsnews.com)
Falaki stressed that while the Shi'ite Liberation Army forces on the various fronts are divided by ethnicity, their command structure is Iranian, and is headed by IRGC officers under the command of Qassem Soleimani, head of the IRGC's elite Qods Force, which operates outside Iran's borders. He added that Soleimani answers directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Falaki, who said that he maintains direct contact with the top echelons of the Iranian Army and IRGC, proudly reported that he had commanded, as part of the Afghan division, many Iranian Army soldiers who had volunteered to fight in Syria since February 2016. He said that it had been decided that they would be incorporated into the Afghan division of the Shi'ite Liberation Army as commanders. Falaki appears to be referring to February reports that Iran had replaced IRGC officers in Syria with Iranian Army soldiers and to relations between the IRGC and the Iranian Army, which have had their ups and downs.
Like other Iranian spokesmen, Falaki stressed that Iran is not sending Iranian forces to directly fight on the various fronts in the Middle East, but is creating local fighting forces that it provides with "guidance, organization, and management" by means of IRGC officers, and, when necessary also reinforces with the ethnic divisions of the Shi'ite Liberation Army. Wherever "there is a need for this army, the people in that region will be organized and supplied with the necessary forces," he said. He added that the Shi'ite Liberation Army was established "because of the existence of Israel," which Khamenei has vowed will cease to exist in about 20 years, though in practice the Shi'ite Liberation Army is fighting against Sunnis in the Middle East.
It should be mentioned that Falaki uses the term "Shi'ite Liberation Army" to mean two things: one, that its mission is to liberate Shi'ites, and two, that it is itself distinctly Shi'ite.
Following are excerpts from Falaki's interview on the Mashregh website:
"The First Seed Of The Shi'ite And Muslim Liberation Army Was Germinated In Syria"
"We have certain weaknesses in Syria that I do not wish to currently discuss, but some of them stem from a weakness we have in Iran. From here [in Iran], we come to South Lebanon and support the Shi'ites there; we come to Bahrain and Yemen at great expense and support the Shi'ites there.
"In Lebanon, we found [Hizbullah secretary-general] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, but here [in Iran], we could find no leader among all the active revolutionary [Afghan] clerics willing to be on the frontlines [like he is], nor could we organize such large forces [as Hizbullah]. We were not able to properly support the three million Shi'ite Afghans [living in Iran as refugees], and it is very unfortunate that for 30 years we ignored Afghan Shi'ites who, despite their oppression, resisted the arrogance of the east [Russia] and the West [the U.S.] in Afghanistan. We saw them as mere laborers waiting [for work] at intersections or as criminals. This generation [of Afghans in Iran] stepped up and showed heroism, altruism, courage, and daring in Syria. They shone under the command of the Iranian forces...
"Under the command of [Qods Force head] Haj Qassem [Soleimani], the Afghans prevented Zaynabiyya, Damascus, and the airport from falling [to the Syrian rebels]... We must not think that we [Iranians] are fighting in Syria, [but rather that] the Afghans are being courageous there under our command...
"The name 'Fatemiyoun' refers to explicit aid from God. The name 'Fatemiyoun' produced two great events... [for Iran] in the world of Islam. First, during the [Iran-Iraq] War, we were tasked with creating unity among [ethnic] sects [in Iran] - Lors, Kurds, Baluchis, Persians, and Arabs - [albeit] in separate frameworks, [which all fought] the Ba'ath Party [in Iraq]. We transformed all the [ethnic] sects into military divisions, and during the war never dared to say that some of the brothers were Sunnis and some were [Shi'ite] Afghans.
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"The Fatemiyoun banner was raised, and thus the first seed of the liberation army of Shi'ites and Muslims was germinated in Syria. Today we have the privilege [of forming the Shi'ite Liberation Army] because back then, we created the unity among the [ethnic] sects; now, we have created international [Shi'ite] unity. The [Pakistani] Zaynabiyoun division comprises Pakistanis under the command of IRGC officers. The [Afghan] Fatemiyoun division has several brigades comprising Afghans, and even has some Sunni members. IRGC [officers] guide this division. These divisions include IRGC commanders and [Afghani] commanders, from squad commanders to staff officers. These divisions have a single uniform and a single banner. They come under a single umbrella organization and fight on a single battlefront. We also have the Hayderiyoun division, which comprises Iraqis. We also have a Hizbullah division, which is divided into two: one part is Hizbullah in Lebanon and the other is Hizbullah in Syria, which comprises the people of Damascus, Nubl, and Al-Zahraa.
"The [Shi'ite] Liberation Army was formed because, with God's help, in 23 years there should be no such thing as Israel. These divisions are on the Israeli border. The Fatemiyoun have laid the groundwork for this fight.
"The second thing, that we are happy to see is spreading to everyone, is that our previous [patronizing] view of these [Afghan] brothers has changed..."
"Wherever There Is A Need For This Army, The People In That Region Will Be Organized And Supplied With Necessary Forces"
"The Shi'ite Liberation Army was established, and it is currently under the command of [Qods Force head] Haj Qassem Soleimani, who obeys the leader [Khamenei]. One of this army's fronts is in Syria, another is in Iraq, and yet another is in Yemen. The forces in this army are not meant to be only Iranian; [instead], wherever there is a need for this army, the people in that region will be organized [to form it] and supplied with the necessary forces...
"We [Iranians] are not meant to come [to Syria] as forces operating [on the ground]. We want [Iranian] elements who know how to teach, organize, and manage to come to Syria. This way, the forces in that region can spring into action...
"Some of the commanders of the army [of the Syrian regime] fled abroad, and some of its bases were captured. The crushed Syrian army units have today regrouped with renewed strength. Therefore, there is no need for us [in Iran] to send an army there. We can stand alongside the Syrian army, organize Syrian forces, and prepare them for battle. [In the future] we can remove the enemy occupation of Syria, just as we did in [Iranian] Kurdistan, which took a year or two - but controlling foreign incursions into Syria is up to the Syrians themselves and we cannot prevent it.
"Regime change and changes of president can happen only when the enemy is no longer [in Syria]... For example, we succeeded, within two years, to expel the enemy presence in Kurdistan in western [Iran], but it took us years to impose law and order there... Today, this region is considered one of the safest in Iran... even though 20 years ago, they were beheading IRGC personnel with pottery shards..."
The Iranian Army Felt It Had A Roll To Fulfill In Syria
"The Iranian army felt that it had to fulfill a role in this [Syrian] arena. According to my knowledge, the army told Qassem Soleimani that it wants to fulfill its duty in this matter [i.e. fighting in Syria]. Qassem Soleimani told this to the leader [Khamenei], and the leader gave his blessing... Some volunteers from various military units, who were mostly experts in aerial combat, were sent to Syria in mid-February 2016.
"These [Iranian army] forces were competent enough to operate independently, but we decided that they would operate as part of the [Afghan] Fatemiyoun [division]. God rewarded me by placing me in command of them as part of the Fatemiyoun [division]. I placed them in charge of the area and transferred means to them, and after a short period, the [Afghan] unit was placed under their command. Neither their rank nor their weapons in Iran were the same as they were [after they joined] the Fatemiyoun [in Syria]. But due to their presence in Syria and after a short time fighting alongside the [Afghan] Fatemiyoun brothers, they became one organization, wore the same uniform, and fought in the same trenches. They became fast friends.
"I also told [Iranian ground forces commander] Amir Pourdastan that I was proud to fight along with the brothers from the [Iranian] army on one of the global battlefronts outside of Iran, just like during the sacred defense period [the Iran-Iraq War]. [Back then] there was no difference [between us and them] and they were like the Basij boys [of the IRGC].
"I spoke with the commander who was tasked with sending [Iranian soldiers to Syria] and he said: 'One of my concerns is to curb the wave of volunteers who want to be sent [to Syria]. According to the needs of the [Iranian] General Staff, we only send the necessary amount of forces [to Syria]. Had I allowed it, we would have had several divisions of [Iranian] volunteers [in Syria].'
"The presence of these forces has been hugely beneficial [in the Syrian arena]. They also suffered martyrdoms and injuries, but this did not damage their morale or make them less determined. They were experienced, brave, and passionate...
"The [volunteers] coming from Iran to Syria are given a monthly stipend of $100."
"We Do Not Wish To Produce An Atomic Bomb... [But Rather] Prove... That [We] Can Reach Higher Than France [And] England... In All Fields... Even On The Military Level"
"Until our power grows, the world of the arrogance [the U.S.] will never let us be. Some wonder why there is a need for tension between us and the Western world. I must say that if we tolerate this tension for a while, we will be a match for [the enemy] and then they will no longer dare fight us. We do not wish to produce an atomic bomb. We only want to prove that our people and country can reach higher than France, England, Austria, and Denmark in all fields - humanities, science, economy, technology, as well as human rights, and even on the military level.
"If we destroy the enemy that is currently mobilizing against us, there will be no room for any other country [to mobilize against us]. When we show our true might, they will no longer be able to do anything against us..."
 In the first part of the interview Falaki refers to the problem of the Afghan refugees in Iran, who number some 3,000,000. The Iranian regime recruits young men from among these refugees to fight in Syria as part of the Afghan division. The fighters receive a monthly stipend and, if they fall in battle, their families' social status is enhanced.
 Mashreghnews.ir, August 18, 2016.