Iran in Syria? Reports its Troops plan Idlib, Aleppo Campaigns

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad (Tomorrow) is reporting that the commander of the Jerusalem Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has been spotted near Latakia, urging on a volunteer militia of Alawite Shiites.

The report comes as AP says it was told by a senior Western official that 1500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) troops have assembled in Syria for the campaign to link Hama and Latakia to the northern metropolis of Aleppo. A wave of Shiite Hizbullah fighters from Lebanon has also gone to the front just north of Hama.

قائد فيلق القدس التابع للحرس الثوري الايراني قاسم سليماني في اللاذقية- (انترنت)
Photo circulating on social media

Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s special operations forces, appears to have been urging on an Alawite militia, which may be preparing to join a Syrian Arab Army attack on Jisr al-Shughour. This town in the Ghab valley lies between Latakia and Idlib city, the capital of the province of the same name. The Army of Conquest, a coalition of hard line Salafis that includes al-Qaeda in Syria, took Jisr al-Shughour recently, from which it can menace the Alawites of Latakia to the west. Jisr al-Shughour had some 44,000 residents before 2011, most of them conservative Sunnis. Many of them fled the town while it was under the control of the Syrian Arab Army.

Qatar-backed London daily, Al-Arabi al-Jadid , also alleged Iranian troops in Syria, though it says many of them are actually Afghans living in eastern Iran, having been displaced by the Afghanistan wars. At one point there were two million Afghan refugees and guest workers in Iran, most of them Tajiks or Hazaras. The paper says that as of last summer some 400 Iranian fighters had been killed in Syria.

Two senior IRGC generals were killed in northern Syria on Monday. The London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat wrote, according to BBC Monitoring,

“Iranian Republican [Revolutionary] Guards officer Hossein Hamedani, who was killed in the Aleppo countryside on 9 October, had announced weeks earlier that his country sought to “establish 14 cultural institutions for popular mobilization in 14 Syrian governorates. These institutions carry the Basij (popular committees) culture and work beside the regime troops in a way that created important developments among the ranks of the fighters in the army or the popular forces”.”

In contrast, al-Hayat says, Russia wants to build up the central Syrian Arab Army and reduce the al-Assad regime’s dependence on militias.

The recent advances of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and allies in Idlib province just east of the port of Latakia alarmed Iran and Russia and led to the current round of fighting. The Syrian Arab Army, the Russian Air Force, Hizbullah and a demi-brigade of the IRGC are attempting to clear rebels from the areas north of Hama and extending up to Jisr al-Shaghour, as a way a recovering territory the regime lost to the rebels last spring and through this summer.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Syria and allies Iran and Russia prepare for Aleppo offensive”

12 Responses

  1. Was it not always on the cards that Iranian and Hezbollah boots would be supported by Russian air and bombardment? It’s refreshing to witness the speed with which Russia unfolds what is obviously a planned and coherent agenda, and at the same time distressing that US actions grow daily more surreal. The US has apparently just dropped some 50 tons of ammunition etc. into the conflict without any clear notion who they are destined for. Also it seems Washington refused to host a delegation, which would have included Medvedev, to discuss cooperation, or send one to Moscow, unless Russia first agreed to join the US coalition, which is like insisting the surgeon assist the nurse. Looking at all this against the chest thumping pronouncements of GOP electoral candidates, and even Clinton, it would seem the US is mainly fearful for its ‘credibility’ would suffer after all its demonising of Russia and Iran. This is sad for a host of reasons but primarily perhaps because the Syrian chaos offered an opportunity for all nations to come together to resolve a festering problem, and had that succeeded it could been a blueprint for tackling a host of global issues darkening all our future.

    • I believe that your hope that a coalition of nations could agree to a plan and then impose a peace on Syria is hopelessly naive. There is very little precedent for this in settling a civil war, especially one involving so many competing forces.

      • They could try once Russia has cleared the decks. A similar group pulled off the Iran nuclear treaty. That’s a lot of muscle. Russia has twice got Assad to agree to go to the negotiating table but no one would talk to him. Naive, maybe but worth a try, Javier Solana seems to think so link to .

    • US policy makes sense if you assume that the purpose is to give as much business to US arms dealers and “military contractors” as possible. Who cares where the ammo and weapons go, as long as the manufacturers get paid?

      This is very cynical but explains most of US “military” policy.

    • The festering problem is the tyranny and corruption. Russia and Iran are not solving this problem. They have left no exist door for themselves either except collapse.

  2. The EU-US economic sanctions placed on Russia and Iran in 2014 are having an effect. Syria is vital to the economic well-being of both countries. Protecting the long-standing relationship with the al-Assad regime is paramount in importance to both countries as oil and gas are NOT included in the sanctions.

    The importance of fossil-fuel pipelines which is completely omitted from US news and public education study is ALWAYS the stimulus for these conflicts and military actions.

    And as a side-note, the reason the U.S. will keep a military presence in Afghanistan through 2016 or at least until the TAPI Pipeline is completed and secure.

    • Is there a danger of interpreting collateral consequences as primary purposes? Daesh and other armed groups are an imminent threat to both Russia and Iran and their priority must be to face up to them. The US can afford a mixed bag of purposes, they can’t.

      • Should “Daesh and other armed groups” gain control of or damage Russian and Iranian assets in and through Syria, the effects would be very serious, indeed. The assets are pipeline systems and port/terminal facilities under al-Assad control and is the point of the comment.

        The TAPI pipeline system which transverses south-central Afghanistan is under construction and is more defend-able provided the Taliban can be kept to the north where their strength lies. The actual purpose for continued U.S. involvement.

  3. I think this is a much more significant development than Russian involvement. Historical analogies should be approached with caution, but this reminds me of the Spanish civil war in which the two sides became proxies for outside forces. In that case it was Fascist vs. anti-Fascist/communists. What with this and with the conflict within Yemen, it seems like the Middle East is in danger of devolving into a Sunni–Shiite civil war. I would be interested in hearing Professor’s Cole opinion as to this likelihood.

    • Seems to me that’s just what it is and has been for some time, with multiple subsets of Sunni, Shiite plus various Christian and other. King of Jordan said months ago that this is a war for the very being of Islam. Attempts to undo decades of peaceful cooexistence and return to a more barbaric, primitive time and kill all not with only them–Isis or AlQueda’s many fronts all Sunni in broad strokes but def against Shiites, Alawites, Kurds. Thank the stars we’re sitting this one out for the most part.

      • And what was it that General Wesley Clark said he discovered at the Pentagon some memo that he had access to where Bush administration officials were talking about taking out 7 countries leaders in five years?

  4. Armed rebellion against a brutally oppressive state is usually highly immoral. (This is not to say that the state is justified in brutally putting down such rebellions; we may take the state’s culpability for granted!) In the case of peaceful demonstrations against an oppressive state, usually the demonstrators alone and their families and neighbors suffer the consequences, and therefore one cannot rush to condemn the demonstrators. But armed rebellion creates a civil war which (1) mostly harms third parties and innocent bystanders; (2) leads to additional brutality by the immoral state, causing additional suffering; (3) creates a space for the rise of (other?) rebels who may be as brutal as the state; (4) if successful in overthrowing the state, leads to destructive power struggles among the former armed rebels; (5) desensitizes all parties to violence, (6) creates a highly uncertain situation with no guarantees that after rebellion things will be better for the general public than before it.

    From the above, it follows that the Shi’i rebellion against Saddam in 1991, plus the armed rebellions against Qaddafi and Asad, are all highly immoral. None of this detracts from the culpability of Saddam, Qaddafi, and Asad. The fact that these three were bad guys can be taken for granted, but that does not absolve the armed rebels.

    There is a simple test of “domestic stability” before and after a rebellion: count the number of third-party dead per unit of time, the number of the refugees, the GDP, the number of functioning schools and hospitals, etc. After the 1991 Shiite rebellion, the number of dead third parties rose dramatically. Hence, bad rebellion. Ditto with Libya and Syria.

    There are situations, however, where armed rebellion may be justified. Hitler’s genocidal policies were not part of an attempt to put down any rebellion. He would’ve killed millions regardless. A rebellion might have possibly helped reduce the total number of the dead in the end, if only by diverting some of the state’s resources from the concentration camps.

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