Iran’s presence in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor foundation for attacks on AANES

By Zana al-Ali

DEIR EZ-ZOR, Syria (North Press) – Activists view the Iranian presence in seven villages located east of the Euphrates River near Deir ez-Zor Governorate in eastern Syria as a foundation for Iranian assaults on military bases within the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The seven villages are al-Husseiniya, al-Salihiya, Hatla, Marat, Mazloum, Khasham and Tabiya, and they have been controlled by Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed factions since the expulsion of Islamic State (ISIS) in 2017.

Most of the residents of those villages are displaced to areas under the control of the AANES, fearing the “policy of repression” followed by the government forces, in addition to fear of “Shiism”.

Iran, with Russian support, at the beginning of 2022, worked to establish a floating bridge on the Euphrates River that connects the city of Deir ez-Zor with the village of Hatla, east of the Euphrates River, to facilitate the movement of the National Defense Forces (NDF) and the Iranian-backed factions to AANES-held areas.

At the beginning of 2022, the Russian military police entered “the seven villages”, where that matter was considered by activists from Deir ez-Zor as “protecting Iranian militia and forces loyal to the Syrian government from being targeted by international coalition forces” present in Deir ez-Zor.

The US-led Global Coalition forces are present in two main bases in Deir ez-Zor, where the first base is in al-Omar oil field and the other in Koniko oil field.

An activist in Deir ez-Zor, who requested anonymity, stated that the seven villages are considered “dangerous” due to their function as a launching point for recurrent attacks on military bases east of the Euphrates by the Iranian-backed factions stationed west of the river.

“Headquarters of the NDF in the seven villages operate under the name of “Popular Resistance” to create a strife in the region”, the activist told North Press.

On Saturday, General Igor Smoly, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Forces in Syria; General Andrei, head of the Reconciliation Center in Deir ez-Zor; and Nawaf al-Bashir, a pro-Iranian figure, met with tribal leaders in Deir ez-Zor to mobilize them against the SDF and the Global Coalition.

Murhaf al-Abdullah, a pseudonym used by an activist in Deir ez-Zor, stated that the seven villages serve as an “operations room” for escalating attacks against the AANES-held areas.

Al-Abdullah cited an assassination incident of a fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that occurred two months ago. At the time, the attacker who hails from the village of Marat was arrested and he confessed that he works for the Lebanese Hezbollah.

“They lure the people of those villages with money and weapons to recruit them as sleeper cells and spread Shiism in the region,” according to the activist.

On Aug. 27, the SDF launched a military operation called “Security Reinforcement” with the support of the US-led Global Coalition on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, specifically in Deir ez-Zor, “to eradicate ISIS sleeper cells, pursue criminals responsible for perpetrating injustices against the local population, and to track down smugglers who exploit the populace’s livelihoods.”

On Aug. 30, the SDF announced the dismissal of commander of Deir ez-Zor Military Council, Ahmad al-Khabil, known as Abu Khawla, from duty, for his involvement “in multiple crimes and violations, including communication and coordination with external entities hostile to the revolution, committing criminal offenses and engaging in drug trafficking, mismanaging of the security situation, his negative role in increasing the activities of ISIS cells,” according to the SDF.

The operation led to the eruption of clashes between the SDF and gunmen affiliated with the dismissed leader and with al-Bashir whose groups are active in the western bank of the Euphrates which is under the control of the Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias.