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Wave of Iranian Volunteer Soldiers in Syria Causing Further Destabilization

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has increasingly relied on Iranian volunteers to maintain his rule, which is only exacerbating sectarian strife in the Middle East, a report in Foreign Policy on Thursday documented.

The report centered on Asghar and Abbas Abyari, a father and son who were both members of Iran’s Basij militia. Both Abyari men wanted to volunteer to fight in Syria, having been told that they would be protecting Shiite religious sites. “We knew then that [Sunni rebels] would attack other shrines and holy sites that are respected by Muslims and Christians,” Asghar said. “We felt that if we didn’t defend these places, nobody would be safe, and they would make a government that would spread this cancer to the entire world.”

The call to protect Shiite shrines is a strong one, prompting “devout Shiites lured by the promise of martyrdom…to fight a war that they regard as their religious duty,” the article explained. Many enlistees believe that non-Sunni communities in Syria are at risk.

While Iran’s military involvement was originally only in an advisory role, the need for volunteers has increased as the civil war has devolved. An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general who spoke to Foreign Policy said that Iranian troops used to only go Syria as “strategic advisors,” but as the war progressed, Iran started sending “tactical” advisors. As many as 700 Iranians have died fighting in Syria, according to some sources. Afghans and Pakistanis have also been pressured by Iran to fight on behalf of Assad.

Iran’s effect on the war has not been a positive one. “As we have long said, the support the Assad regime has received and continues to receive from Iran has enabled it to avoid seeking a constructive, negotiated end to the conflict,” a State Department spokesman told Foreign Policy. “Rather than helping the Syrian people unite against extremism and [the Islamic State], Iran continues to prop up a regime that brutalizes the Syrian people, which only nurtures the growth of the extremists.”

The war’s brutality has prompted investigators to gather evidence to prosecute Assad and his government for war crimes. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution in March calling for a war crime tribunal for Assad and his allies, Iran and Russia.

[Photo: Mehr News Agency ]