Iran is sending thousands of fighters to shore up Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s approaching assault on the city of Aleppo.
“Most estimates of the total number of Shi’a militia fighters in all of Syria now exceed 60,000,” U.S. strategic advisory firm The Soufan Group notes Wednesday. The Soufan Group highlights that this number may even exceed that of the actual Syrian Arab Army under command of Assad. These Shiite militias take orders only from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary organization that reports directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is a designated terrorist sponsor by the U.S.
After the U.S. cut all bilateral contact with Russia over Syria negotiations Monday, Assad and his allies have signaled their intention to go for an all out military victory. “The three allies believe that expelling opposition groups from Aleppo could deal a ‘knock-out blow’ to the rebellion and, at the very least, force a political settlement on their terms,” the Soufan group continues.
Aleppo has become a last stand for the mainstream Syrian opposition which derives legitimacy from its control, and will lose its biggest bargaining chip if it is driven out. Russia has abandoned all pretenses in Syria, and is using bunker busting bombs on heavily populated civilian areas. The Syrian Observatory Of Human Rights notes nearly 300 civilians have been killed in the bombardment in the last week alone.
The bombardments only show signs of increasing as Shiite fighters encircle the city in preparation for the eventual assault on the city itself. The majority of the militias in Syria come from Iraq, where their battlefield atrocities are well documented. Shiite militias that participated in operations to retake areas in Iraq from Islamic State were shown to have participated in numerous sectarian kidnappings and killings.
Human Rights Watch noted in January 2016:
Members of Shia militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and mosques following January 11, 2016 bombings claimed by the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS. None of those responsible have been brought to justice.
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