How Iran establishes influence in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor (2)

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – Religious men and influential figures, especially the ones turned Shiite, are considered one of the most important smooth methods of infiltration for Iran, contributing in converting the Sunni people of Deir ez-Zor to Shiite to increase and facilitate Iran’s penetration in the eastern region of Syria.   

In 2017, Iran entered the western bank of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zor Governorate to back the Syrian government forces in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). They control the regions extending from the city of Deir ez-Zor to the town of Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, in addition to seven towns east of the Euphrates River.

North Press obtained detailed information about the religious and influential figures in the community that Iran won over to infiltrate the region.

Influential figures

In the town of Hatlah, east of Deir ez-Zor on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Yassin al-Ma’youf is in charge of a mosque for Shiites after it was turned to a Hussainiya, and a dispensary and a cultural center affiliated with the main center in the al-Qusour neighborhood in the city of Deir ez-Zor.

Al-Ma’youf is one of the first people who joined the Shiite doctrine, hence has immunity among senior decision-makers in Iran, according to sources who preferred to stay anonymous. Al-Ma’youf serves the purpose of eliminating the Sunni identity of the region and disintegrating the society, and Hussein al-Reja assists him in this mission.

Samer al-Sofan, considered one of the active religious leaders, hails from the city of Herabesh in the eastern suburbs of Deir ez-Zor. He has a good relationship with the so-called Muhammad Hussein al-Reja and Hussein al-Ma’youf. He joined the Nafez Assadallah militia then he formed a brigade under the name of al-Hadi Forces to protect the Agricultural Research Center(controlled by Iranian-backed militias) in the Herabesh neighborhood.

Mullah Saleh al-Obaid, mufti of the city of Abu Kamal, is considered one of the biggest proselytizer of the Iranian presence in Abu Kamal and its countryside. He contributed to building a strong network of connections among religious leaders in Abu Kamal and the leaders of Iranian-backed militias. He also opened many  hussainiyas in the city and used the Shiite version of Azan to call for prayer in the mosque in Abu Kamal.

Ahmad al-Taama, from the town of al-Shamitiya, is one of the most notable religious leaders in that region and has a Ph.D. in Islamic sciences from the University of Karachi in Pakistan.

Turned Shiite

In an attempt to spread Shiite doctrine, Iran began attracting religious and tribe leaders and seducing them with money to prompt the locals to become Shiite, in addition to building hussainiyas, adding syllabuses of Shiite nature to the curriculum to attract the children’s minds and build a Shiite generation.

Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir, Sheikh of the al-Baggara tribe, and Farhan Hamad al-Marsoumi, Sheikh of the al-Marasima tribe, are considered among those who turned to Shiism and have a major role in changing the doctrine of the region towards Shia, being the leaders of large tribes in the region who have a historical connection to the Ahl al-Bayt, or the descendants of Prophet Muhammad.

The militias want to position themselves in the tribal region, such as in cultural centers, hospitals, and schools, taking advantage of the vacuum left behind by ISIS in that region to take control and strengthen their influence and promote Shiite ideology.

The Iranian Jihad al-Bina Foundation had a key role since its Syrian branch was formed in 2018. It started infiltration through humanitarian aid under the pretext of lifting the blockade on Deir ez-Zor, then opened free medical centers and set up parks. It established four centers, two in Abu Kamal, one in al-Mayadin, and another in the village of Baqras in the east of Deir ez-Zor.

Basmat Shabab Foundation and Women’s Nahda Foundation also supported the Jihad al-Bina Foundation in different activities.

According to sources, there are several cultural centers that were established in 2018 that contribute to attracting the local population to Shiite doctrines, such as the centers of Hatlah, al-Mayadin, Abu Kamal, and Mahkan.

Some cultural centers opened Iranian hussainiyas, five in Hatlah (Qasem Suleimani, Imam al-Baqir, Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas, Imam al-Hussein, Imam al-Sadeq), Ahl al-Bayt hussainiya in the town of al-Sukariya in the countryside of Abu Kamal, and Qasem Suleimani hussainiya in the city of al-Mayadin.

They also opened Shiite shrines such as the Ain Ali shrine in the al-Quriya desert and the Qubat Ali shrine in the countryside of Abu Kamal, in addition to several tombs and mausoleums such as al-Ansar cemetery in the city of Deir ez-Zor.

Reporting by Zana al-Ali