Iran plans to recruit Arab tribes to confront Syria's Kurds

US forces on the Syria-Iraq border obstruct Iran's efforts to establish a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean. It will try to encourage them to leave by confronting their allies, Syria's Kurds.

Iran plans to recruit Arab tribes to confront Syria's Kurds

The positioning of US troops in northeastern Syria, particularly around oil installations and border regions with Iraq, serves as a significant balancing element within Syria's intricate dynamics.

These forces serve to disrupt the Iranian land bridge that spans from Tehran, through Baghdad, to Damascus, and onwards to Beirut, ultimately reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

This is what Paul Bremer, the former civilian governor of Iraq during the occupation, terms the "old-new Persian dream."

In a recent encounter with him in Washington, Bremer articulated Iran's aspiration, viewing the establishment of a land bridge as one of Iran's pivotal strategic objectives. This corridor allows Iran to reach the Mediterranean Sea, facilitating the exportation of goods and oil.

Such an initiative provides Iran with a vital outlet after a prolonged period of perceived encirclement, marked by the presence of entities such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan, a Western ally, and Azerbaijan, a nation viewed with suspicion, alongside Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule.

Yet, the realisation of this Iranian corridor faces obstruction due to the proliferation of American forces, which have bolstered their deployment along the Syrian-Iraqi border, as well as their support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Were it not for the presence of these forces, Iran could have expanded its influence in the region, potentially enhancing its economic prospects in the process.

The realisation of this Iranian corridor to the Mediterranean faces obstruction due to the proliferation of American forces on the Syria-Iraq border.

In the preparation of documents for the meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, leaked by Al Majalla magazine, insights into Iranian perspectives have surfaced.

President Raisi has articulated concerns regarding the presence of American forces, accusing them of exploiting Syrian oil resources. He underscores the imperative of resisting their continued presence by devising strategies to alter the equations of their alliances.

Leaks further suggest Iranian discontent with the economic strain inflicted by Syria, particularly amidst the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, which has prompted a partial Russian withdrawal from Syria.

This development places greater responsibility on Iran to uphold the established order resulting from the backdrop of the Syrian revolution. It appears that Iran will face significant challenges in preserving its gains in Syria.

Neutralisation of Kurds

In Tehran and Damascus, there is a prevailing belief that the presence of American forces is intricately tied to the Kurdish factions in the region. It is widely held that the removal or neutralisation of Kurdish influence would prompt the American troops to reconsider their presence in the area.

Iran has begun mobilising for the battle to eliminate the Kurdish presence. Even before commencing, this endeavour is already garnering significant popular and societal support within the region, driven by political motivations and longstanding ethnic and social divisions.

Among the initial backers of these operations are expected to be Turkey, with its vested interests, alongside Syrian Sunni factions aligned with Turkey's support in northern Syria. This alignment is poised to set these groups against the Kurds in the region.

Damascus and Tehran are of the belief that the removal or neutralisation of Kurdish influence in northeast Syria would prompt US troops to reconsider their presence in the area.

Different approach

However, Iran is taking a different approach this time. Instead of deploying its loyal militias in Syria and Iraq to confront the Kurds, it has initiated efforts to mobilise Sunni Syrian tribes situated in Deir ez-Zor and along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This shift in strategy introduces a new dimension of danger to the situation.

Recently, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) convened with several tribal leaders to form a new coalition against the Kurds, named the "Hashemite Tribes Corps." Among these leaders was Nawaf Ragheb Al-Bashir, the leader of the al-Baggara tribe and commander of the Tribes Lions militias, affiliated with the IRGC.

For those unfamiliar, Al-Bashir holds significance as one of the initial tribal sheikhs to defect from al-Assad and declare opposition to him at the onset of the Syrian crisis. Subsequently, he realigned with al-Assad as the regime consolidated control over the region, publicly announcing his allegiance from Damascus.

There, he received Iranian backing to form tribal forces aimed at countering the Kurdish presence and opposition factions challenging the Damascus government.

Present at this gathering was Mohammed Al-Raja, the regional commander of the National Defence Forces associated with the Damascus government, alongside Abdul Sahib Al-Moussawi representing Iraq and Hajj Abbas representing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Iran's efforts extended beyond forming this alliance.

Instead of deploying its loyal militias in Syria and Iraq to confront the Kurds, Iran has initiated efforts to mobilise Sunni Syrian tribes.

Tribal outreach

This week's notable development was the emergence of Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Hafel, the leader of the Al-Uqaydat tribe in Damascus, marking his first public appearance since the onset of the Syrian crisis. This event coincided with heightened conflict between tribes and Kurdish factions.

Al-Hafel encounters substantial hurdles in advancing this alliance, notably due to a considerable portion of his tribe members being wanted by authorities in Damascus.

Speculation arises whether the ensuing days will witness a potential reconciliation between Al-Hafel and Damascus, potentially in exchange for engaging in combat against the Kurds, who recently managed to regain control in the ongoing conflict, in light of the pronounced military disparity between the two factions.

The enduring presence of Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq remains a persistent challenge for all stakeholders involved. Kurds cannot be faulted for being born in a region plagued by ongoing conflicts.

However, their steadfast loyalty to their cause throughout history is unmistakable and unwavering, leading them to navigate various alliances and conflicts across the annals of history.

The perilous aspect lies in Iran's mobilisation of Sunni tribes to engage in conflict with the Kurds, exploiting their grievances and animosities towards Kurdish actions. This conflict bears significant danger due to its potential ramifications.

By pitting Sunni tribes against the Kurds, both parties stand to weaken, thereby creating an opportunity for Turkiye and Iran to assert greater influence in Syria. The tribes represent a crucial reservoir of Arab identity in both Syria and Iraq.

However, their leaders' unforeseen collaboration with the Persians poses a significant threat to their long-term interests, as well as their cultural and religious identities, for the benefit of Iran and its land bridge, which will undermine the tribes' sovereignty and ignite further instability in the region.

The solution to this predicament hinges on halting the fruitless battles that yield no tangible benefits, particularly in light of the American desire to intervene and facilitate reconciliation between the tribes and the Kurds.

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