Iraq and Syria: Who is really fighting there?

Afghan journalist Ali M. Latifi in his long Sunday Times Review article explains how Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees into its proxy war in Syria. He tells the story of 19-year-old Abdol Amin who travelled without a passport to Iran to find a job. He worked as a bricklayer for some time, but later he lost his job and was spotted by the Iranian police. Around 2013, Abdol was threatened with deportation by the police, but they had an alternative offer: He would have legal status in Iran, a 10-year residency permit and a $800 a month salary if he would go to Syria to guard the shrine of Sayyida Zainab, a granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

Thus, Abdol became one of the thousands of Shiite soldiers sent as guards to protect the major Shiite shrines in Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa. The fact was he and others like him were lured with promises of residency in Iran and huge amounts of money (if you consider that Abdol’s annual income in Afghanistan was around $25 a year) to become foreign reinforcements for Syrian Hezbollah in the war to control the Middle East. This is the larger war run by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force.

According to Mr. Latifi, today there are 8,000 to 14,000 Afghan “volunteers” fighting to defend Assad in Syria, most of them under 18 years of age. Mr. Latifi says that this war is just an extension of the Saudi-Iran proxy wars in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and now Syria.

After the self-immolation of the 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in a dusty central Tunisian town, a bunch of gullible western scholars and journalists thought (some are still thinking) that that was an opportunity for a “spring” from the dark winters of dictatorships. It was actually an opportunity for different aims to be achieved by various powers. Western nations saw it as a new tool for social and political engineering to enhance their influence. For neighboring dictators, it was a warning shot; they squeezed their grips more and provided safe havens for their fellow dictators. For instance, if Bashar Assad had listened to the genuine suggestions coming to him from his Turkish neighbors, his country would not have turned into an international battle field of sectarian wars between two aggressive sects. Instead, he turned to Iranian mollas who, hijacking Islam decades ago, not only tarred the beautiful name of the religion but also found a new way for their Persian expansionism. Having responsive regimes in the destroyed Iraq and Syria, Iranian mollas started to implement their dystopic (better yet apocalyptic) lunacy. First they started to talk about having a Shiite republic in a dismembered Iraq; later their bizarre scheme included Syria; thus creating a Shiite Crescent starting at the Red Sea and ending in the Mediterranean.

Of course, it was scary and beat the living daylights out of everyone in the Gulf. Those countries where local Shiite societies lack the organization and expression rights of Turkish Alevis were afraid of sectarian strife caused by Iran among their population and thus took desperate measures. As a drowning man will clutch at a straw, they sought assistance from their former colonialists and Israel. The leaders of these countries thought any relationship a nation could have with Iran could be bad, and it should be stopped. The case in point is Qatar, which has closely cooperated with Iran because of shared oil and gas fields. It is childish to think that if Qatar cuts its ties with it, Iran could not produce oil and gas in the Gulf and would be unable to sponsor its state terrorism in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

The United States supports the Saudi proxy war in Yemen. It has its own proxy war in Syria with limited PKK and Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces. Right now, it seems to be fighting Daesh terrorism, but it has ambitions well beyond that. The American neocons and many European powers would love to have a larger sectarian war in the Middle East that would further disintegrate the region. For the U.S and the Europeans, the free flow of oil (and money) in the Middle East is much more vital than, say, democracy, human rights and the people’s right to live in peace and prosperity in the region. For them it appears that more civil wars, divided societies and unstable governments mean more controllable oil and gas fields.

Mr. Latifi doesn’t say what happened to Abdol when he was guarding the Sayyida Zainab tomb. But the dead bodies of hundreds of his countrymen were paraded in the streets of Tehran, and Ayatullah Khamenei shook hands with their families.

It is still a mystery when the Abdols of the Middle East will learn that the wars they are fighting are not their own. When their leaders learn that these wars are not the solution to their problems is even more of a mystery.


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