Iran-backed militias are successfully recruiting Syrians to fight on behalf of beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad by doubling their pay, the Financial Times reported today. The report described a scene where a recruiter informed potential soldiers that although half of them would die, the survivors could earn $200 a month.
“It sounded like a suicide mission, but about 100 of us volunteered,” recalled one 30-year-old who had spent months in his central home town of Homs avoiding compulsory military service.
Soon after he ended up on one of the deadliest front lines in northern Aleppo province as part of the Maghaweer (“Commandos”) force, one of the myriad new militias formed this year to bolster Mr Assad’s beleaguered army. To the draft dodger, it was a good deal. Unable to avoid the war, he was at least able to extract better pay than a soldier. And the recruiter was also intriguing. Nicknamed ‘Haj Jawad’ by locals, he was Iranian.
Frustrated with Syria’s weak and corrupt military, regional patron Iran is recruiting militia forces in its bid to keep Mr Assad in power. But the move comes at a cost: the more the militias proliferate, the more they move beyond control of the government Tehran is trying to protect.
According to the Times, the Syrian government pays only $60 a month and deploys soldiers for extended periods far from their homes. Consequently, many potential recruits flee to avoid being drafted into the Syrian army.
Iran-funded paramilitary organizations like the Maghaweer and the National Defense Force offer some “of the few economic opportunities left for many young men.” In addition to generous salaries, the militias offer pardons to young men for draft dodging.
The Daily Beast quoted a Syrian blogger last week who wrote that the economic windfall Iran is expected to receive from the recent nuclear agreement will likely mean “more bombs, more bullets, and more militias will be sent to Assad, and the easing of sanctions means more money will be used to prop up his economy and keep him in power.”
Assad is also likely to receive direct aid from Syria. He praised the nuclear deal as a “great victory” one week after Iran extended a $1 billion line of credit to him.
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