Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is exploiting the Syrian conflict to serve its regional agenda by establishing smuggling routes in Deir Ezzor province to funnel fighters and arms, a Syrian human rights activist told Diyaruna.
The IRGC is deploying heavily in rural areas of Albu Kamal and al-Mayadeen "with the aim of securing permanent military and logistical supply lines and finding illegal routes to connect its militias in both countries", Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna.
It is consolidating its control in these areas, which lie near the Iraqi border, by using financial incentives to recruit civilians while working to bring about demographic change and propagating the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), he said.
Albu Kamal residents have been forcibly displaced by the IRGC and its affiliates, which continue to exert "all forms of pressure to empty the area of its residents and replace them with IRGC families", al-Bassam told Diyaruna in July.
In areas that have seen a pause in the fighting, the IRGC is beefing up its presence instead of handing over those areas to the Syrian regime whose presence is now almost non-existent in the Albu Kamal region, he said.
Maintaining tension in east Syria
The IRGC and its affiliated militias seek to maintain the tension in eastern Syria against the backdrop of rising voices rejecting its presence, said al-Bassam, noting that dissent is expected to grow more intense over the IRGC’s "suppression and expulsion of those who do not support it".
An environment of heightened tensions is "fuel for the IRGC, which must maintain it in order to continue its expansion and hold on to the illegal crossings it has established in the Albu Kamal area", he said.
"Without these routes, its affiliated militias would be cut off from all vital supply lines," he added.
This is especially significant in view of the volatility of the situation in areas leading to Deir Ezzor, such as Daraa and its rural areas, where tensions are rising once more between the armed opposition and the regime, he said.
In addition to the official crossing that links Albu Kamal to the Iraqi border town of al-Qaim, the IRGC has set up a military checkpoint and a second border crossing in the same area for its own purposes.
This crossing is fully controlled by the IRGC, with no Syrian regime oversight, according to eyewitnesses, who claim it "has allowed the free passage of civilian and military trucks and buses transporting militants", al-Bassam said.
Albu Kamal is the only area through which the IRGC can realise its expansionist ambitions of "connecting Iran's commercial areas to the Mediterranean" via Iraq and Syria, he said.