Assad Gives Command of Syrian Militias to Iran

Syrian pro-regime forces on the outskirts of Damascus (Photo: STRINGER-AFP-Getty Images)

A memo signed by embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad circulating on Facebook calls for transferring the command of Syria’s militia forces to Iran, according to Syrian regime sources.

A photograph of the memo was posted on the Facebook page of the Manjab Tribe Brigade (Ra’d Al-Mahdi) militia. Reference to the memo was also published on a pro-regime Syrian news site.

Translated by the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI), the memo states that Assad approves the recommendations of the committee which oversees the militias – namely, transferring the command and financial responsibility for the militias to Iran.

The transfer is seen in a positive light by the brigade, which hopes an infusion of Iranian money and control will improve their conditions.

MEMRI explains: “In addition to the Syrian regime’s consent to Iran’s increasing control in Syria, the memo also reveals the Syrian regime’s difficulty in commanding and funding the local militias, and the grave manpower crisis in the Syrian armed forces throughout the years of the war stemming from the high desertion rate, as well as a widespread unwillingness among draftees and reserve soldiers to be sent to the battle front.”

The militias are supplemental forces, usually local, in addition to the regular army and any reserve forces. The memo notes that of the close to 90,000 members of the militias, almost half are men who have evaded military service – either those who would otherwise be drafted, reservists and deserters.

“The regime has given up trying to draft these men into the army, and instead is trying to draft them into the local militias, where duties are less rigorous because fighters are stationed near their homes. The other half are volunteers, as well as individuals whose ‘status has been arranged,’ that is, who have been given the option to serve in the militias in lieu of being punished for refusing to serve in the military,” MEMRI reports.

As to the veracity of the report, MEMRI notes that on May 1, a number of days after the date on the memo, a Syrian military delegation met with the Iranian defense minister and the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps to discuss military cooperation between the two countries.