December 3, 2016

THERE IS NO SYRIA:

Iran's Game in Aleppo (Ahmed Rashid, 12/01/16, NY Review of Books)

This could be a turning point in the conflict. The fall of East Aleppo would give the regime control of the country's five largest cities and the critical western part of Syria where the regime has its major popular support, now assisted by Russian air power and Iranian militias. Rebel groups would be reduced to a few strongholds in the north of the country and a few other remaining pockets--some around the capital Damascus. [...]

Yet one of the real victors in a post-Aleppo peace deal would also be Iran, which has been supporting the Syrian regime for the past five years and has been recruiting a series of militias from Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Arab states to fight alongside the Syrian army. In doing so, Iran has enforced a sectarian divide, with its Shia forces allying with Syria's Alawite regime against the rebels, who are predominantly Sunni but also include other groups. 

Iranian forces have become a critical element in Assad's dramatic recent successes in the war. In late November, an Iranian official acknowledged that large numbers of Iranian fighters have been killed in Syria. "Now the number of Iran's martyrs as defenders of [the] shrine has exceeded 1,000," Mohammadali Shahidi Mahallati, head of Iran's Foundation of Martyrs, which offers financial support to the relatives of those killed fighting in Syria, told an Iranian news agency.

Iran labels its Shia fighters in Syria "defenders of the shrine," referring to Sayyida Zainab, a mosque near Damascus where a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. The new Iranian death toll was much higher than the four hundred reported at the beginning of the summer--a clear sign of Iran's stepped-up involvement and also that the Syrian regime is chronically short of manpower. And showing the extent to which Iran has created a broader Shia front in Syria, Mahallati also admitted that the largest number of foreign fighters killed in August were Afghan Shias whom Iran had enlisted--although he did not refer to any number.

A US-Russia deal on Syria would be seen by many Syrians and by the Arab countries in the region as a surrender to Tehran, allowing the Islamic Republic to consolidate its influence across the Levant.

Leaving the Alawites with their rump state and elections to choose who they want to lead them. 

Posted by at December 3, 2016 7:16 AM

  

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