http://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2018/09/28/feature-02

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Politics |

IRGC expands its presence in Syria's Ghouta

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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The main street in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, seen here, is one of the areas IRGC-affiliated organisations are trying to penetrate, an activist says. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Beik]

Organisations affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been expanding their footprint in the Ghouta region outside Damascus, a local activist said.

These entities are concentrated in a belt around the Damascus International Airport, in the part of Damascus where the bulk of IRGC troops are concentrated, activist Mohammed al-Beik told Diyaruna.

IRGC-affiliated entities can now be found in the areas surrounding the airport, specifically the towns of Htaitet al-Turkman, Zabdeen, al-Malihah, Ain Tarma, Kafr Batna and Douma, he said.

Many of these organisations operate in the manner of charities, he said, noting that their real goal is political -- to gain the trust and loyalty of the local population in order to legitimise Iran's presence and larger agenda in Syria.

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A view of the town of al-Malihah shows the damage left untouched. Syrian government land acquisition decrees have prohibited some repair work from proceeding. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Beik]

"The Syrian residents of these areas are living under difficult conditions which are being exploited by these organisations," he explained.

They provide relief, and on occasion cash aid in small but continuous amounts, to ensure residents come knocking on their door, in addition to establishing scout troops to attract children.

Syrians who staff these organisations keep a low profile, eschewing publicity on the grounds that "charitable work must be done discreetly", al-Beik said.

"But everyone knows this media blackout is designed to ensure the expanded Iranian presence in the area is kept quiet for fear of reactions," he said.

The most active organisations in the area include the Jihad al-Bina Foundation and al-Shaheed Foundation, he said, along with a number of local organisations and companies that receive direct funding from these entities.

Entities such as Al-Mustafa International University and Imam al-Mahdi scouts conduct their work under Iranian guidance, he added.

By heavily promoting the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) in institutions in Syria, the IRGC is attempting to exert control over the country's Shia population.

IRGC-affiliated militias owe their allegiance to al-Wali al-Faqih (Guardian of the Jurist, Ayatollah Khamenei), who is the top and sole authority over the IRGC.

To encourage similar allegiance among a broad swath of the Syrian population, the doctrine is being actively disseminated through various religious, social and educational institutions, Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna in August.

The aim is to raise a new generation of Syrian youth who owe their full loyalty to al-Wali al-Faqih and the IRGC, he said.

Scope extends to housing

In the case of some Iran-backed entities, al-Beik noted, their scope goes far beyond the provision of aid.

Some have transitioned to organising the purchase of houses at very low prices through intermediaries, taking advantage of land acquisition decrees issued by the Syrian government such as Decree 10.

The Urban Renewal Law, commonly known as Decree 10, allows the government to take private property to create zoned developments, compensating owners with shares of the new projects.

"The IRGC's ultimate goal is to gain control of the area and connect it to the Sayyida Zainab area, which is a main hub for Iranian-affiliated factions," he said.

It also seeks to link this area with the new Area 102, to be established in the vicinity of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, as approved by 2012's Decree 66.

The IRGC seeks to form a new southern suburb near the airport, extending into the heart of Damascus, similar to the southern suburb near Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport that is controlled by Lebanon's Hizbullah, al-Beik said.

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