Iran reportedly setting up loyal militias in Syria

Islamic Republic said to be preparing for a post-Assad era even as it supports the Syrian government in the civil war

A Free Syrian Army fighter sits behind an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP/Abdullah al-Yassin)
A Free Syrian Army fighter sits behind an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP/Abdullah al-Yassin)

The Iranian government is setting up a network of militias in Syria that will enable the Islamic Republic to maintain its influence in the region even if the Syrian government topples, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Citing US and Arab officials, the report stated that Iran may have as many as 50,000 fighters operating in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad’s rule — militias that would remain loyal to the Islamic Republic if Syria disintegrates along ethnic and sectarian lines, a scenario many analysts believe is becoming increasingly plausible.

Iran intends to “support Assad to the hilt,” but also “set the stage for major mischief if he collapses,” an unnamed Arab official was quoted as saying.

Syria’s population comprises numerous ethnic groups, including the Sunni majority, the Assad family’s Alawite sect of Shiite Muslims, Druze, Christians, and Kurds, each of which has its own agenda, internal divisions and stake in the Syrian civil war, which has raged for two years and caused an estimated 60,000 deaths.

“Syria is basically disintegrating as a nation, similar to how Lebanon disintegrated in the ’70s to ethnic components… it’s going to be very hard to put Syria the nation back together,” Paul Salem, a Middle-Eastern analyst based in Beirut, was quoted as saying.

One of the major concerns of Iran is to maintain, even in a post-Assad Syria, its supply routes and connections via Syria with the anti-Israel Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon. To ensure this, Hezbollah and Iran have reportedly set up the joint fighting unit in Syria, and are eyeing a scenario where Iran, Hezbollah and the Alawites are able to set up an autonomous enclave along Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the report said.

UN and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi reportedly cited, in a closed UN Security Council meeting last week, two serious concerns regarding Syria: the breakup of the country into “a playground” for competing forces, which he said was “largely underway,” and a “full-fledged regionalization of the Syrian civil war.”

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