Current Affairs Military Politics

The Middle East’s Proxy Wars

Two destroyed tanks of the Syrian Armed Forces in front of a shell-damaged mosque in Azaz, Syria
Two destroyed tanks of the Syrian Armed Forces in front of a shell-damaged mosque in Azaz, Syria

Two Middle Eastern nation states torn apart by internecine wars, two whirlpools of conflict which suck in others willingly or unwillingly. First up is Syria and the significance of foreign fighters in the battle to control the fractured Arab Republic, as reported by Der Spiegel:

“The Assad family dictatorship is running out of soldiers and is becoming increasingly reliant on mercenaries. Indeed, from the very beginning the Assad regime had an opponent that it could never really defeat: Syria’s demography.

In order to prevent the collapse of Syrian government forces, experienced units from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah began fighting for Assad as early as 2012. Later, they were joined by Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis — Shiites from all over, on which the regime is increasingly dependent.

The Iraqis have almost all returned home. Rather than fighting themselves, they largely control the operations from the background. The Iraqi militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, for example, organizes the deployment of Pakistani volunteers in Syria. But no ethnic group is represented on all of the regime’s fronts to the degree that the Afghan Hazara are.

Up to 2 million Hazara live in Iran, most of them as illegal immigrants. It is an inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate, from which the Pasdars — as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are called — have recruited thousands for the war in Syria over the last year and a half.”

The story of Murad Ali Hamidi, an illegal Afghan immigrant in Iran taken from a Tehran prison to fight for the dictator Assad in Syria, is depressingly typical of the situation many young men now find themselves in:

“From prison, they were sent to different military bases near Tehran for Kalashnikov training. “The trainer told us we would be fighting terrorists in Syria,” Murad says. Dressed in civilian clothes, they were taken by bus to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport for the flight, in a passenger plane, to Damascus. “There were even families on board. Nobody was supposed to see that we were soldiers,” Murad relates.

Two Iranian officers welcomed them upon arrival in Damascus and they were given tea. They then traveled further, to the coastal city of Latakia, and then by bus to a military base on the outskirts of Aleppo, where they stayed for 10 days. “Here, the Iranians weren’t so friendly anymore, much less the Syrian soldiers who looked after us. When we spoke Persian to each other, they yelled at us.”

One evening, weapons and uniforms were distributed and they were driven in cars to a collection point for some 300 men from Afghanistan. “We began walking, the whole night, until three or four in the morning. Then they pointed into the darkness at a multi-storied building and ordered a dozen of us to storm it and to hold it at all costs! They kept telling us that we couldn’t surrender because the terrorists would cut off our heads,” he says. “Don’t surrender, don’t surrender,” he keeps repeating, like a mantra.”

Meanwhile the Atlantic does its best to explain the war in Yemen, or as the magazine describes it “…simply a Saudi-Iranian-American-Yemeni-al-Qaeda civil/proxy war“.

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