Russia recruits former Syrian fighters loyal to Iran in Aleppo

ALEPPO, Syria (North Press) – Muhammad Ajib, a pseudonym for an IDP from al-Fou’ah town in Idlib countryside and lives in northern Aleppo, north Syria, is awaiting a Russian security company to inform him of the date of his flight to the city of Benghazi in Libya to guard oil companies there, after he quit fighting alongside an Iranian-backed faction and joined the Russian forces.  

Other 17 fighters also quit Iranian-backed militias and joined the Russian forces, a step described by Ajib as “necessary.”

By the time military positions of Iranian-backed factions are endangered, Russian forces in Syria attract the youths to recruit in their own forces.

Risks of being the target  

Ajib joined the Local Defense Forces loyal to Iran in al-Fou’ah, Idlib, when he was 18.

“We fought alongside Iran in all the battles that took place there before we get out following the Four Towns Agreement in 2017,” Ajib said.

According to the agreement, locals from the predominantly Shia towns of al-Fou’ah and Kafriya were evacuated to Aleppo city, in turn, the Syrian government forces broke the siege imposed on Zabadani and Madaya towns in Rif Dimashq.  

In the same year, Ajib and other young men joined an Iranian-backed faction in al-Bukamal city in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.  

“In al-Bukamal-based stronghold, there was constant fear Israeli airstrikes and others suspected to be American would target our positions because the strikes used to be accurate and abrupt,” Ajib added.

The Russian firm that offered the Syrian youths ‘tempting offers’ refrains from saying its real name, instead it says it will settle the security status of the wanted people, according to Ajib.

By joining the Russian forces, Ajib could escape the danger of fighting with Iranian-backed militias and solve the problem of defaulting the reserve and mandatory service of the Syrian army.  

Financial incentives 

Nawar al-Ali, 30, is a pseudonym for a mechanic young man in Aleppo, started his first job with the Russian forces in Libya six months ago.

He was sent to Libya for three months during which he earned $3,600, “a high salary” he says compared to the worse living conditions the Syrians live.

Al-Ali signed a new contract with the Russian forces and is awaiting to be sent to Libya again as a mechanic.

Financial incentives push many youths to join Russian-sponsored forces, al-Ali said.

Before joining Russian forces, al-Ali used to be an employee in Iranian sites in Sheikh Najjar area, northeast Aleppo. He would stay there twenty days in a month and earn only 100,000 SYP ($35).

“Working with Iranian forces was perilous. Israeli airstrikes targeted sites close to my place of work several times and destroyed them completely. Some of my colleagues even passed away,” al-Ali added.   

“Low salaries and lack of incentives make fighting alongside Iranian factions unavailing. Working with the Russian forces is like a life preserver for me,” he noted.

Assaf Hussein, 34, a pseudonym for a young man who hails from the Shiite town of Nubl, in Aleppo northern countryside, said when he first joined an Iranian-backed faction five years ago, he used to earn well. He and other young men were also motivated by religious propaganda the Iranian factions continue to use to attract the youths. 

“It turned out later that recruiting the young men through usage of religious motivation was the only pretext Iran used to gain interests in Syria. Plus, the low salaries it offers are not enough to sustain,” Hussein said.

Many fighters quit Iranian-backed militias and join the Russian forces because of tempting salaries and safer work conditions.

Reporting by Najm al-Saleh