https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2019/10/03/feature-02

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Politics |

IRGC seeks to extend its foothold in Deir Ezzor

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's image appears on a shopfront banner in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. [Photo courtesy of Furat Post Facebook page]

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated militias are continuing their efforts to tighten their control over all areas of the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor and its hinterland, local activists told Diyaruna.

This includes efforts to propagate their ideology -- including the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei -- and the establishment of cultural centres.

As part of a push to win hearts and minds, Iran-aligned militias are taking advantage of the region's rampant poverty and unemployment to recruit youth into their ranks, as well as setting up summer camps that indoctrinate children.

Meanwhile, these militias, including Lebanon's Hizbullah, are continuing to confiscate civilian houses in the border town of Albu Kamal, Deir Ezzor activist Jamil al-Abed told Diyaruna.

The most recent confiscation of houses, in Dabbous street in central Albu Kamal, brings to 10 the number of houses Hizbullah has commandeered, he said.

Hizbullah elements also closed the street from both ends -- from the souk at one end to al-Kitf street at the other -- blocking off access to local residents.

Some of these houses are being used as military posts, al-Abed said, while others are being used as barracks for militiamen, modeling the modus operandi of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia Harakat al-Nujaba.

Influence and indoctrination

The IRGC has meanwhile sought to block any interference by Syrian regime institutions, especially with regard to the provision of services, al-Abed said.

It has taken it upon itself to fill the shortfall in services, not out of altruism, but in order to curry favour with the local population, he added.

Most recently these efforts have included the distribution of medical equipment to a number of makeshift medical centres that provide treatment and medicine free of charge, he said.

Naturally, he noted, these centres are operated by IRGC affiliates such as Jihad al-Bina and al-Shaheed Foundation.

The IRGC and its affiliates are continuing to exploit the financial circumstances of local residents, media and social activist Ammar Saleh told Diyaruna.

Near-ubiquitous recruitment offices are attracting youth forced by financial need and unemployment to work for the militias, he said, noting that some also fear that if they do not align with the IRGC they will be expelled from the region.

"But the most serious threat are the summer camps set up by the IRGC to indoctrinate the children of the region," Saleh said.

Many local children are forced to join these camps, where they are taught to uphold the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih and to pledge their allegiance to IRGC leaders, he said.

Cross-border activities

The recent reopening of the al-Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing and an illegal crossing nearby has sent these militias rushing to secure the entire region for their own forces, Iranian affairs researcher Sheyar Turko told Diyaruna.

"They seek to secure the passage of trucks carrying arms, ammunition and IRGC fighters between the two countries," he said, "in addition of course to securing commercial activity, which will undoubtedly include Iranian goods."

The IRGC’s deployment in the area is not limited to cities and towns alone, as it also has extended to the legal al-Qaim border crossing, which is being secured by the militias, particularly Hizbullah and Harakat al-Nujaba, he said.

There are at least 200 fighters from these militias in the area, he added.

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