Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated militias are consolidating their presence in parts of Syria's Deir Ezzor province, as evidenced by the arrival of a large number of fighters over the past few days.
This deployment of forces has been accompanied by the reinforcement of many internal IRGC positions, and outposts and crossings along the Euphrates River.
In another sign of its expanded presence, the IRGC this week opened a cultural centre in al-Tabani area in western rural Deir Ezzor, an activist said.
Several parts of Deir Ezzor, especially the area around Albu Kamal and along the banks of the Euphrates, have seen a heavy deployment of IRGC officers and troops, as well as those of affiliated militias, said activist and Deir Ezzor native Jamil al-Abed.
"Members of these militias have been arriving in the region in large numbers over the past few days, transported in buses," he said.
According to several sources, he said, "they are being transported to Deir Ezzor from the Aleppo region to reinforce the areas under IRGC control".
River crossings restricted
Other areas witnessing a heavy deployment of Iran-affiliated troops include the southern bank of the Euphrates, al-Abed said, especially the stretch between the cities of al-Mayadin and Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi border.
This includes river crossings used by civilians, where members of these militias have been conducting intensive inspections of identification documents, he said.
Some residents wishing to return to their areas were reportedly prevented from doing so, he said, as it appears that only residents of regime-controlled areas on visits or business are being allowed to return.
Notably absent from this area is the Syrian regime-allied National Defence Forces (NDF) militia, which previously controlled the region, he said.
A number of fighters from the NDF recently opted to join IRGC-affiliated militias after the NDF lost several positions it had controlled during clashes in the region.
Al-Abed said the IRGC's military deployment is accompanied by continuing "soft power" expansion, which includes the opening of a new Iranian cultural centre in al-Tabani area in western rural Deir Ezzor.
During the October 1st opening of the cultural centre, the IRGC and those working with it honored some civilians from the region, particularly influential tribal figures, he said.
In speeches delivered at the opening, they stressed that the centre’s objectives were "cultural and political", and pointed to the financial assistance it provides.
This is not done out of altruism, however, but is part of a calculated strategy to increase Iranian influence in the region, experts have told Diyaruna.