By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed*
Iran has a clear goal of creating a reality that enables it to determine the fate of Syria and later expand its role in Iraq. To this end, it is leading Iraqi militias, others it has created and groups that it has influence over to Syria to seize the crossings and land passage to Damascus and other vital areas. This means the conflict will last for years, pushing regional powers to back opposing groups, producing a new Daesh and leading to the failure of the war on terror.
Tehran justifies its plan with the excuse that it is fighting terrorist groups and guarding the Iraqi border. In fact, it is drawing up areas of control along the border with Syria, through which it will try to enter the country.
Initially, Iran’s Quds Force entered Syria to save the Assad regime from collapse under the pretense of protecting Shiite shrines. It is now building its military presence under the claim of fighting Daesh, but in reality it has a long-term project to control Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Iran’s military presence on the ground will expand during times of tension and increased sectarian extremism in Syria and Iraq. This will sabotage the coalition project to eliminate Daesh because the sectarian practices of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) will prompt Sunni areas to establish organizations to counter them.
It will also open up new fronts against Kurdish fighters when the PMU passes through their areas, and will put the passage of armed Iraqi groups to Syria under legal questioning, just like with Turkish forces in Iraq.
Tehran is trying to impose itself on international powers, including its ally Russia after it began sensing a partial shift in its stance. Moscow reportedly said it has to deal with Iran and its foreign militias because they are present on the ground. Tehran is trying to enforce this by transporting thousands of Iraqi and other fighters to northern Iraq to cross into Syria.
Iran will tear Iraq apart and further fragment Syria, leading to terrorists taking advantage of the chaos and conflicts. It is unreasonable that parties are looking for a political solution in Astana or Geneva while Tehran is left to sabotage the situation and ruin international efforts. More pressure should be exerted on it to convince it to remove all foreign fighters.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.
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