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Washington Post: Iran-Backed Militias Giving Tehran Increased Influence in Syria

The success of Iran-backed Shiite militias has bolstered the once-faltering Syrian regime and given Tehran increased influence over the outcome of the country’s civil war, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

“They are building a force on the ground that, long after the war, will stay there and wield a strong military and ideological influence over Syria for Iran,” Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post. “And there is not much [Syrian president Bashar] Assad can do to curb the rising influence of these groups, even though Syrian officials are clearly concerned about this, because the militiamen are literally preventing the overthrow of his government.”

The armed groups, which consist of the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah, Iraqi militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMFs), and fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan, are used by Iran to project its power throughout the Middle East. The Post noted that Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet who now chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, recently warned that Iran had 25,000 Shiite fighters in Syria and that Hezbollah’s experience in Syria “has made [them] a better fighting force and more adept in conventional military warfare.”

Hezbollah has more firepower than the Lebanese army and held de facto veto power over the election of Lebanon’s president until an ally was selected. In Iraq, the PMFs increasingly dominate politics and the military: Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi incorporated the PMFs into Iraq’s armed forces in August.

“History proves that whenever Iranians craft groups like these, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, they don’t give up arms, they don’t stand down and they don’t leave territory that they’ve taken,” Smyth noted. “They will be in Syria for years and years, and that will have consequences for everyone.”

Iran’s growing influence in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon has prompted fears among Sunni nations that Iran is developing a “Shiite crescent” to project its power across the Middle East.

But the country’s involvement in Syria has come at a steep cost. An Iranian official admitted on Tuesday that more than 1,000 Iranian soldiers have been killed in Syria. This death toll shows a sharp increase from four months ago, when Iran acknowledged 400 deaths.

[Photo: Fars News ]