The Shiazation in Deir ez-Zor Province – A model of Iranian influence in Syria

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]An article published in Al-Watan (Syrian Pro-Assad daily) in November 2019 states that the “Opening the Al-Bukamal crossing between Syria and Iraq (located in Deir ez-Zor province) is a stage in achieving the Iranian vision of a new Middle East that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This act will affect the global balance of power and prevent the United States and its allies in the West from ruling the Middle East which consists of small fragmented countries … “. The writer is the cultural adviser to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Abu al-Fadal Salahi Nia.

Iran considers the province of Deir ez-Zor as the “door” to central Syria and as a necessary and strategic part of the land corridor passing from Iran through Iraq into Syria and from there to Lebanon. It is important to note that the two other significant “doors”, both in southern Syria (Al Tanf) and northern Syria (Rabia) are blocked for Iran in light of the US presence in the area, hence the critical importance of the American presence in the area. As a result, Iran is concentrating its efforts to affiliate the Deir ez-Zur district to the Shiite ideology (Shiazation), with the intent of establishing a sympathizing military and civilian infrastructure there.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3966″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Iran operates in the Deir ez-Zor district by means of two major axes: military and civilian. The first – the military axis, through which Iran strengthens its military preparedness by establishing military bases and establishing Shiite ally infrastructure based on the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Strengthening military preparedness allows the existence of a secure continental corridor for the launching and passage of Iranian and Shiite forces and the transfer of arms and supplies to these forces in general and Hezbollah in Lebanon in particular.

Two major militias operate out of Deir ez-Zor province;

The first, “Asaʾib Ahl al-Haq “, is a militia comprised of Shi’ite Iraqis, which began operations in Syria in 2012 and currently has some 3,000 activists in Syria. The second, “Liwa Fatemiyoun”, is a militia under the direct command of the Iranian Quds Force. The militia, 4000 strong, consist of Afghan refugees who arrived in Iran and Syria and started operating in Syria in 2014.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3967″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We can see an example of the military infrastructure building activity through the “Jihad Construction Activities” company. Shiite militia brought this Iranian-sponsored company to the city of Al Mayadin in the Deir ez-Zur province. The company, which specializes in the construction of concrete structures, has begun raising concrete walls to fortify and protect the various militia’s headquarters in the district.

The following image shows some of the militants at one of the bases with pictures of Imam Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran) in the background:

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3968″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Another example of the development of military infrastructures is the Assad forces and the Iranian mission’s intentions to build a combat bridge on the Euphrates River in the city of Al-Bukamal in the eastern Deir ez-Zur district. During 19 October 2019, 20 trucks loaded with bridging equipment from the city of Deir ez-Zur arrived in Al-Bukamal.

Strengthening, thickening and transporting militia forces in the district continues and in the first few weeks of December 2019, some 300 activists from the “Imam Alhajah Army” militias entered the city of Al-Bukamal, deploying into military positions and headquarters in and around the Euphrates river area.

Currently, the Alma Center’s research department is composing an article that thoroughly examines Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias in Syria. The article written by Dr. Shimon Carmi (senior researcher at the Alma Center Research Department), is to be published over the next few weeks.

The second axis – the civil axis, made up of three parts: demography, indoctrination and economics.

In demographics, the main trend is the transfer of Shiite population to the Deir ez-Zur district. The relatively small number of Shiites in Syria, which accounts for about one percent of the total population (not including the Alawite population), does not allow for a significant change in the overall demographic balance.

The Iranians wish to strengthen a Shiite civilian surrounding envelope around the corridor by increasing the Shiite population. Iran is in the process of transferring Iraqi Shi’ite families as well as Revolutionary Guard and Shi’ite militia’s families and settling them in the province.

As for the indoctrination, Iran is in a process of strengthening and accelerating the Shiite doctrine by introducing religious and cultural Iranian values ​​to the local civilian population.

The third component of the civil axis is the economic element. In order to promote Shi’ite processes and strengthen both the Shi’ite population and the local (non-Shi’ite) population of the district, Iranian representatives offer money, food, public services and free education that include student scholarships.

By opening Persian language schools and by organizing various societies, including children’s scout societies, Iran is implementing both the indoctrination component and the economic component.

One of the main associations is the “Imam Al Mahadi Scouting Society” (a youth movement belonging to Hezbollah) that operates among the children of Deir ez-Zur, exploiting the poverty-stricken conditions of their families. The Association conducts Shi’ite ideological brainwashing during the children’s leisure activities. The children gather in halls equipped with projectors, exposing them to stories as well as films relating to the “Nawaseb”, (a nickname given to those who are hostile to Ali bin Abu Taleb, the fourth Caliph and his householders, i.e. it is a Shiite derogatory nickname aimed at the Sunnis). In addition, they emphasize the importance of revenge (for the death of Husayn ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala) and present them with plays and shows in the presence of clergymen.

The founder of the Scout Centers in Syria was Iranian General Hassan Shateri of the Revolutionary Guards, killed in Syria in 2013.

In his establishment of the “scouts”, Shateri relied on what he called “the policy of ideological education for children in Syria”.

In November 2019, a new center of the “Al Mahadi Scout Society” opened in the city of Deir ez-Zur under the name “Al-Qashaf” (“the Scout”). The center, primarily intended for children aged 8 to 12 engages in social, cultural and religious activities. On the center’s sign, one may observe a portrait of President Assad embraced with Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei. The center is under the auspices of the Syrian Iranian Friendship Committee in Deir ez-Zur and is located on “officers club” street in the city.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3971″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In Syria, there are many centers with different names including the “Scouting Association Alulaya” and “The Scouting Association Imam Al Mahadi – Noble Branch”. A few of them are funded by the so-called “Iranian Cultural Advisor’s Bureau” in Damascus.

There are also the Al-Zahara Charity Association, the Al-Zarath Cultural Center, the Al-Rahma Charity Association, the Hamam Al-Sajd Institute and the Al-Shahada Foundation, all directly managed by the Iranian Embassy in Damascus.

For example, the “Construction Jihad Association” company seizes assets and, in many cases, turns them into alleged holy Shiite sites.

The Iranian Cultural Center in the Al Kasur neighborhood of Deir ez-Zur is a known meeting place for Iranian senior officials. The meetings taking place there determine the Iranian policy of their developing and the continuation of their growing activities.

The participants in these meetings include Hajj Racha, head of the Iranian cultural center in the city of Al Mayadin, Hajj Sadek, head of the Iranian cultural center in the city of Deir ez-Zur. Other participants are, Haj Salman, head of the Iranian cultural center in the city of Al Bukamal and Hajj Khaza’i, the coordinator between the Syrian source of Shi’ite authority and the cultural centers in Syria.

The Iranians are striving to establish new “Husseinahs” (cultural and religious centers) throughout the eastern and western fringes of Deir ez-Zur.

Iranian delegates present dignitaries in the Deir ez-Zur district with proposals offering them to undertake infrastructure projects in their districts. These proposals include water station rehabilitation, transportation infrastructure improvement, medical and other services. In exchange for these projects, the Iranian delegates request the converting of mosques in every village and town into Shi’ite “Husseinahs”.

As an example, Iran recently inaugurated a new “Husseinah” in the village of Hatlah, located at the northern entrance of the city of Deir ez-Zur.

Iranian dignitaries, representatives of militias (commanders of the Al-Baker militia) and other persons belonging to the Assad regime were present at the inauguration ceremony of the “Husseinah”. Many locals and foreigners that underwent Shiazation attended the inauguration ceremony. During the inauguration of the “Husseinah”, the Shiites held the self-flagellation ceremony (in which they whip themselves until they draw blood in memory of the suffering of Imam Ali in the battle of Karbala). The “Husseinah” was established with the financial assistance of the “Bnei Al-Lalal” who are recognized as having become Shiites:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3972″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]One of the other effective tools for strengthening the Iranian relationship with the Deir ez-Zur district is a network of informants serving as local Shi’a representatives. These collaborators are involved in both military and civilian matters.

Yunis al-Thaher, known as Abu Adnan, is the head (“Mukhtar”) of the village of Hatlah.

Al- Thaher was recognized as a supporter of the Assad regime and therefore was arrested following ISIS’s occupation of the area. Following the re -conquering of Hatlah by Assad’s soldiers, Russia and Iranian militia forces by the end of 2017, Al- Thaher was among those greeting the forces entering the village. Al- Thaher held a big banquet for the officers who participated in the recapturing of the village from ISIS.

At present, the Iranians sponsor Al- Thaher, and he assists the Iranian militia’s activities by strengthening the Shiazation trend in the province.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3975″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Another informant uncovered by us is Nathal Al-Hamadi, who is also from the village of Hatlah. Allied to the Shiite militia, he too is engaged in the Shieization and is working to recruit young people into these militias. In addition, Al-Hamadi’s name has been linked to drug and cannabis distribution in the area.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3976″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A third collaborator we uncovered is Faddy Al Afis – he is the Iranian representative in the city of Deir ez-Zur. His Origin is from the village of Al-Hussainiyah situated west of Deir ez-Zur. He primarily engages in the acquisition of land and assets for Iran through local realtors. He also is a recruiter for the Iranian militias, recruiting local youngsters by tempting them with money and benefits.
Formally he belongs to the Iran-backed “Abu al-Bakar” militia.
In addition, he is in close association with the Assad regime’s intelligence services and the Russian forces operating in the province.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”3978″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Shi’ite foundation process in Syria, with an emphasis on areas of Iranian interests, is an orderly and planned process. The Iranian foundation operation is being carried out simultaneously on both the military and the civilian axes.
The military axis enables the maintaining of a secure continental corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. The civilian axis forms the basis for the inclusion of Iranian indoctrination into areas of Iranian interest, constituting a source of power for achieving the goal of a demographic change in these regions. These two axes coexist, but in fact depend on each other in a way that each axis allows the other axis to exist and evolve, in accordance with the ideology of exporting the Islamic revolution idea.
Quds Force, headed by Qasem Soleimani up until his assassination on 3 January 2020, was responsible for implementing the Iranian regime’s goals outside the borders of Iran and was considered by the Iranian regime as a critical executive force for the execution of the regime’s ideology. As described in this article, one of the most important tools for the implementation of this ideology is the exporting of the revolution. The export of the revolution is carried out, among other things, by the Shiazation process, which main purpose is to establish Iranian influence and dominance.
Iran, through Quds Force, is concentrating its efforts in the Deir ez-Zur district in light of its strategic geographical location within the land corridor between Iran and Lebanon. Deir ez-Zur district serves as an Iranian model for the Shiazation activities throughout Syria, with emphasis on Damascus, northern Syria and the Golan Heights.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Tal Beeri

Tal Beeri

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