Politics

Tensions erupt at Iranian centre in Deir Ezzor

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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The Iranian Cultural Centre in the Deir Ezzor border town of Albu Kamal holds a religious ceremony. [Photo courtesy of Nedaa al-Furat]

Members of a pro-regime militia in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on Tuesday night (July 14th) clashed with militiamen aligned with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the city of al-Mayadeen, an activist said.

The incident began when workers at the Iranian cultural centre in al-Mayadeen blocked the road near the city centre in order to hold a religious-cultural festival, Deir Ezzor activist Jamil al-Abed told Diyaruna.

Members of the pro-regime National Defence Forces (NDF) militia, which has a headquarters in the vicinity, objected to the road blockage, al-Abed said.

IRGC-affiliated militiamen who were stationed in the desert nearby arrived to protect the cultural centre staff, and a scuffle broke out between the two sides, which escalated into fistfights and gunfire, he said.

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A billboard erected by the Iranian cultural centre in the Deir Ezzor city of Albu Kamal shows Syrian president Bashar al-Assad embracing Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. [Photo courtesy of Sada al-Sharqieh]

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Children in rural Deir Ezzor attend a celebration held by the Iranian cultural centre, with the support of Syrian regime institutions. [Photo courtesy of Bassmeh NGO]

The IRGC-aligned militiamen -- among them members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which is composed of Afghan fighters -- expelled the NDF militiamen from the area and surrounded their headquarters near the municipality.

Faced with this threat, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, the local NDF commander apologised for the incident, and vowed to hold the instigators to account for their actions.

Meanwhile, the IRGC militiamen threatened to kill any NDF militiamen engaging in such incidents in the future, the Observatory said.

Expanded programme at cultural centre

Al-Abed said the religious-cultural festival is one of the new activities approved by the centre, in line with a programme developed by al-Hajj Hussein, the newly appointed official in charge of the Iranian cultural centres in Deir Ezzor.

Hussein, who directs all branches of the cultural centre in the province, recently took over from al-Hajj Sadiq, an Iranian national, who has been transferred to Damascus to take the top post in that city's Iranian cultural centre.

According to al-Abed, al-Hajj Hussein met a few days ago with the heads of the Deir Ezzor cultural centres and some local figures who have been collaborating with the IRGC.

The meeting focused on expanding the membership of the cultural centres to include children and youth, he said, by enticing them to take part in the centres' religious and cultural activities with gifts or money.

Once these youth are fully engaged with the centres, he said, some of them are selected to take part in its scouting activities, which are in turn a grooming process that prepares them to join the Iran-aligned militias.

After Hussein assumed his new role, al-Abed said, the Deir Ezzor cultural centres also announced job openings, seeking employees to work as guards, drivers or escorts for lucrative salaries, starting at 60,000 Syrian pounds ($117).

Grooming process for Iran-aligned militias

Al-Abed said the cultural centres, especially the branches in Deir Ezzor and the one in the Syra-Iraq border town of Albu Kamal, have been enrolling children in scout troops.

After this, he said, they are enrolled in religious and military courses in preparation for their assignment to various IRGC-affiliated militias.

Local families are vulnerable to this type of exploitation as they are facing dire economic and social conditions, he said, including high levels of unemployment and outrageously high prices.

The cultural centres prey on this vulnerability by giving the families that send their children to the centre privileges such as food and financial aid, he said, as well as offering youth full immunity from conscription by the Syrian regime.

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Because that protects democracy and limits the control of extremist militias.

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