The end of Aleppo battle doesn’t resemble a victory only for Assad regime, but also for Iran as a new step of its plan to control the region is done. Iranian militias also hailed the victory and said it wouldn’t have been done without their help.
By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention, and Iran increased the number of its forces in Syria tilting the ride of war in Assad regime’s favor.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo since the start of this year.
Many ceasefire agreements accompanied by peace talks meetings were organized to help find a solution to the crisis, but Assad regime and Iranian forces breached every ceasefire and hindered every peace talks meeting without any pressure moves or real steps from the western powers.
After months of crippling siege, starvation policy, daily bombardment, fierce clashes and bloody massacres the Assad regime and its allies were able to oblige the rebels in Aleppo to surrender and make an agreement to leave the area they have been holding since 2012 after losing more than 90% of it.
The ceasefire agreement was a result of talks between Russia and Turkey.
However, the Iranian militias didn’t accept the deal as it stopped their plans of a bloody victory in Aleppo, and the attacks were resumed on Wednesday.
Until recently, Russian firepower has been decisive. But after the air campaign gave way to a ground offensive earlier this month, Iran’s proxies took the lead, giving them a driving role in what happens next.
According a spokesman for one of the Aleppo factions, the ceasefire was immediately in doubt after Iran imposed conditions the rebels could not meet.
“Iran has prepared to invade our besieged areas and has defied Russia’s agreement,” said Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Noureddine al-Zenki rebel group.
Yasser al-Youssef said Iran’s demands included the lifting of a rebel siege on Shia villages in Idlib, province, as well as deals on prisoners and missing members of Iranian-backed militias.
“It’s clear the Iranians have a different opinion here … I think they believe that they are winning and must finish off the opposition, rather than allow them to leave the city alive. The Syrian regime seems to be closer to the Iranian position,” an analyst said.
The Iranian regime said that Aleppo’s fall is an important victory for their forces, and would not have been achieved without them.
“Aleppo was liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hizbollah,” said Yahya Rahim-Safavi, Ali Khamenei’s chief military aide.
“Iran is on one side of this coalition which is approaching victory and this has shown our strength. The new American president should take heed of the powers of Iran.”
Iran’s defence minister called his Syrian counterpart to congratulate him and Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, wrote on Instagram that Iran’s aim was to cleanse “terrorists and Takfiris [apostates]” from Syria and Iraq.
The parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, also congratulated Assad’s government, saying that US and British policies had hit a dead end in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani telephoned Assad on Wednesday to “congratulate” him on the “liberation of Aleppo”, Fars news reported. “We see it as our duty to support those trying to force Takfiri terrorism out of their territory,” he told Assad.
Iran’s strategy in Syria
Iran and the Syrian government do not want to compromise on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, believing that total domination will give them a better hand to shape the aftermath. Russia, on the other hand, sees a benefit in transitioning from bludgeoning superpower to peace-broker.
Shia militias have also played a decisive role. Raised by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the militias have been far more effective than Syrian units. Their numbers had built around east Aleppo since early last year to an estimated force of 6,000-8,000 troops, many of them battle-hardened in Iraq or southern Lebanon.
The militias report to the Iranian Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, who was tasked more than a decade ago by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to export the values of the Islamic Revolution into the Arab world. Suleimani’s Quds Force is one of the Guards’ most elite units, attracting ideological cadres who believe in Shia supremacy.
Under Suleimani’s control are several Iraqi units, Asa’ib ahl al-Haq, Abu al-Fadhil al-Abbas, and the Nujaba Front, which is affiliated with the Keta’ib Hezbollah militia. All are power players in Iraq’s political-military sphere. Lebanese Hezbollah plays the same role in Beirut and southern Lebanon, where it is interwoven into the political and security apparatus.
Hezbollah was the first of the Iranian proxies to join the fight alongside Assad, and has paid a heavy price for doing so. Party loyalists in Beirut say at least 1,600 of its fighters had been killed in Syria before the conquest of east Aleppo.
Shia graveyards in Najaf have similarly been filling up, with several thousand Iraqi fighters known to have been killed in Syria and buried in large dedicated plots bought by the militias over the past three years.
Most casualties from the Iranian side have been Afghan refugees, recruited on the promise that their families would gain the right to reside in Iran. But an Iranian official said recently that as many as 1,000 Iranians had died in Syria since the conflict began.
The blood and treasure expended by Iran has focused on Aleppo and the western suburbs of Damascus, the site of the Zainab shrine – a pilgrimage point for Shia Muslims. Controlling these two areas would ensure Iran’s grip on the biggest areas in Syria and will be a huge step in changing Syria’s demographics to serve is own agendas.
Iran has framed its war effort in sectarian terms, insisting the men it has sent to fight are in Syria to defend the shrine from “Sunni extremists”. In addresses inside Syria, Akram al-Ka’abi, the leader of the Nujaba Front, has exhorted his followers to seek revenge for battlefield losses to Sunni figures in the founding years of Islam.
The fate of rebel-held Aleppo spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN. Its fall will be an unequivocal victory for Russian strategy, and the shameful and humiliating defeat for all those who said they stand with the civilians and left them to face annihilation including US, Turkey and all Arab states.