Iran is seeking to expand its influence over regime-controlled areas, according to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Despite Iran insisting that it only plays an advisory role in Syria, a recent report published by a UK-based war monitor confirmed that Tehran is actively consolidating its influence over regime-controlled areas in the war-torn Levantine country.
“Iran continues to strengthen its presence in the Syrian territory by recruiting pro-regime militiamen and civilians into pro-Iranian militias,” said a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Local sources told the Observatory that Iranian expansion has reached the northeastern cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli, where the Liwa Fatimiyoun militia is drafting national defense members and civilians into its ranks.
“The pro-Iranian Liwa Fatimiyoun group recruited national defense members and civilians into its militias in regime-controlled areas, in return for monthly salaries of about 350,000 Syrian pounds per member,” the report said.
Liwa Fatimiyoun boosted recruitment efforts in mid-January after regime-run areas were left besieged by Kurdish forces.
“The militia has recruited more than 205 national defense members and some 35 civilians so far,” the report revealed, confirming that the group is being led by an Iranian national operating under the alias “Haj Ali.”
New recruits were transferred to the Tartab Regiment south of Qamishli to undergo training. They will later be deployed to the western Euphrates region.
It is worth noting that national defense members were receiving a monthly salary from the Syrian regime estimated at 50,000 pounds. This means that their new salary under Liwa Fatimiyoun will be about six times higher.
Observatory sources added that recruitment operations by the pro-Iran militia were met with resentment from Russia, another major ally of the Syrian regime.
Both Moscow and Tehran have been vying for influence in Qamishli and Hassakeh.
Senior assistant of Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Asghar Khaji, defended Iranian presence in Syria on Sunday by saying that it took place at the official request of the Syrian government.
Asked by the Russian Sputnik News Agency about the withdrawal of Iran’s forces from Syria, Khaji said that “Tehran has received no message about the withdrawal of its forces from Syria,” an official from the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
He said that “we are there (in Syria) at the request of the Syrian government, and this presence will continue as long as the Syrian people and government want it.”