Terrorism

Caesar Act hamstrings Iran support for Syria regime: analysts

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Fatemiyoun Brigade elements attend a meeting at one of their headquarters in the Syrian city of Aleppo. [Photo circulated on social media] 

The designation of the Fatemiyoun Brigade under the Caesar Act, which went into force this month, is one of the most effective ways to undermine Iran's support to the Syrian regime, experts told Diyaruna.

Comprised of Afghan militiamen fighting in Syria in support of the regime, the Fatemiyoun Brigade is created, supported and directed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

By virtue of its deployment in strategic areas, the militia has been instrumental in ensuring the regime's survival to date, they said.

The new US sanctions target the Syrian regime, for the crimes it has committed during the conflict, and also any entity that props it up, said Fathi al-Sayed, an Iranian affairs researcher at al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies.

The IRGC-funded militias have played a leading role in aggravating the Syrian conflict and transforming it into a sectarian struggle to keep the regime in power, he told Diyaruna.

Without this intervention, he said, the Syrian regime would not be in power today, describing the militias as complicit in the crimes it has committed.

A blow to the IRGC

The designation of the Fatemiyoun Brigade under the Caesar Act "deals a severe blow to the IRGC and its militias", said Iranian affairs specialist Sheyar Turko.

The US Treasury had already designated the militia, in January 2019, for its ties to the IRGC and for carrying out terrorist attacks, he told Diyaruna.

The new sanctions will challenge the IRGC's use of foreign proxies "to implement its expansionist projects" and present new obstacles to militias like Fatemiyoun.

The focus on the Fatemiyoun Brigade was necessary at this stage, since the IRGC views its presence in Syria as essential, and has deployed it in strategic areas such as Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Aleppo and Palmyra, Turko said.

The militia holds several areas in Damascus, as well as the Deir Ezzor region near the Iraqi border, which it has been using as a conduit for logistical supplies for its own use and for other IRGC-backed militias, he said.

Weakening this militia by imposing sanctions on its commanders and fighters will in turn weaken the IRGC's regional agenda, and will certainly lead to the collapse of support provided to the regime, he said.

'Threats and incentives'

The Caesar Act is a response to the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against prisoners, whose rights are protected under international law, said Wael al-Sharimi, who teaches international criminal law at Cairo University.

It is not surprising the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which is comprised of "young Afghan refugees in Iran", was included on the sanctions list, he said.

Most of its members "were forced to join the brigade, either with threats or financial incentives" and were subsequently taken to Syria, he told Diyaruna.

"This alone is sufficient to deem the militia in violation of several international laws, including the laws on child recruitment and transport of fighters across borders in times of conflict," he said.

The US sanctions prohibit anyone from dealing with the Fatemiyoun Brigade, including facilitating its transportation or movement inside or outside Syria or its money transfer activities, or providing it with logistical support.

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