March 31, 2020
In a move reflecting Iran’s long-term policy in Syria, Tehran took to establishing a an Iranian-run local militia in Deir al-Zour at the end of 2019, stating its goal as protecting such areas from attacks by ISIS, which is still active in the Syrian desert regions in the east of the country.
A source speaking exclusively to IranWire stated that since late 2019, Iran has recruited local fighters from the villages and towns of the Deir Al-Zour countryside as part of a new militia called the “Village Army.”
According to the source, who follows Iranian affairs closely and who asked to remain anonymous to maintain his safety, Iran has established the Village Army in order to impose its control on Deir Al-Zour Governorate without having an open presence there, due to it frequently being targeted by the international coalition and Israeli air force.
The source further stated to IranWire that Iran has taken advantage of a lack of job opportunities, as well as the Syrian regime’s forces and security apparatus’ pursuit of the people from Deir Al-Zour’s villages and towns, as a means to attract them to join the Village Army, highlighting to potential recruits the financial temptations as well the protection that Iran provides to its affiliated militias from the Syrian regime’s security services.
An individual’s salary in the Village Army is estimated to be SYP 100,000 per month.
According to the source, the Village Army has military training at camps in Badiyat Al-Mayadeen, near ‘Ayn ‘Ali, for a period of three to six months, before fighters are distributed among Village Army stations in the Deir Al-Zour countryside, spread between the fields of Mahkan, Al-‘Asharah, and Albukamal.
The source indicated that the general official in charge of the Village Army is Muhammad Hussein Rahmi, an Iranian citizen who was born in Tehran, and who is said to be about 35 years old.
The Village Army is headquartered in the city of Al-Mayadeen, near the Modern Medicine Hospital, in a house that has been taken over by Iranian militias.
Who are the Village Army’s members and How Many Are There?
IranWire’s exclusive source confirmed that all of the Village Army’s members come from the Deir Al-Zour countryside and that today, their numbers are estimated at around 1,000. He also pointed out that they are only affiliated to Iran.
The Village Army’s most important location is in the city of Al-Mayadeen, where it has a military headquarters near Al-Tayibah roundabout, close to the cement corporation, which consists of a large farm with an area of 500 meters. The headquarters includes an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, while the estimated number of members located there is around 200.
Furthermore, the Village Army has another headquarters in the city of Al-‘Asharah near the Al-‘Asharah Bridge, where around 100 members are located, as well as a camp near ‘Ayn ‘Ali, where close to 300 members are stationed. Other headquarters are located in the cities of Mahkan and Albukamal, where there around 500 members. These members are supervised by commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and are sorted and trained within the main headquarters in the city of Al-Mayadeen.
Deir Al-Zour and the Iranian Plan
According to a study by think tank Chatham House, Iran is not satisfied with the idea of establishing a land corridor only through the city of Albukamal, it also seeks to create pockets of influence in Deir Al-Zour in the towns of Hatla and Marrat, similar to that seen in Al-Fou’a and Kafraya in Idlib, and Nubbul and Al-Zahra in Aleppo.
The cities of Hatla and Marrat are subject to the control and administration of Iranian personnel and local military groups led by Shia religious figures with direct links to Iran. The Iranian policy of demographic change seeks to resettle members of the Shia sect to these areas and prevent the Sunni population from returning to their homes.
Iran and its militias are not only working to change the demographic composition of the cities of Hatla and Marrat, but are also actively seeking to establish religious campaigns in the areas west of the Euphrates River in Deir Al-Zour in order to try to convert the residents of those areas to Shia Islam, and for them to join its militias that are spread throughout the governorate.
Chatham House further noted that Iran, through its propaganda campaigns, seeks to exploit civilians’ deteriorating economic situation, people who have been exhausted by years of war, by providing monthly cards to each family that converts to Shia Islam as well as periodic in-kind food assistance. Iranian militias are also using intimidating tactics to force civilians to join their ranks if they wish to ensure their survival and avoid arrest. Such militias also practice discrimination against non-Shias in regime-held areas in Deir Al-Zour.
It is noteworthy that since late 2017, militias affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been deployed in the region to the west of the Euphrates, and in part of the region to the east in Deir Al-Zour Governorate, which was previously under the control of the Islamic State (ISIS). The most prominent militias are the Al-Baqir, led by Nawaf Al-Ragheb Al-Bashir, the sheikh of the Al-Baqara tribe, and the Village Army.
During the two years that Iranian militias have been present in Deir Al-Zour, they have succeeded in recruiting thousands of local youths into their ranks.