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Iranian Mercenaries Make A Difference
by James Dunnigan
August 19, 2013

The Iranian mercenaries have made all the difference for Syrian government forces. Iran has been recruiting Shia gunmen in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere for the last few months and providing transportation to Syria, weapons when they arrive, and regular pay. The Iranians also encourage Shia men from around the world to come join the fight against Sunni radicalism (which often results in terror attacks on Shia civilians). More than 10,000 of these Iranian mercenaries have given the Assad forces armed fanatics to match the Islamic radicals among the rebels who have often been a key element on the battlefield. Iranian cash also props up the ragged economy in parts of the country the Assad government still controls. The reinforced and reinvigorated Assad forces have recently made gains in the cities of Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. Rebel victory is no longer imminent.

The Iranian mercenaries are not under any centralized control, although Iran tries to exercise some control via threats to hold back on payments and supplies for groups that appear to be going rogue or simply not cooperating. The civil war, like most civil wars, has resulted in a lot of armed groups going freelance and operating like bandits and organized looters. Even the Syrian Army has allowed its troops to loot in pro-rebel villages and neighborhoods. It’s good for morale.

The rebels basically live off loot. Much of their ammo and many of their weapons were taken from Syrian army troops and bases. This has made Iranian ammo shipments (from Iran via Iraq) vital. Several hundred tons of ammunition arrives each week. The Syrian Army has lost a lot of their pre-war ammo stocks (either through use, destruction, or capture). The army has put a priority on protecting high-tech weapons (lethal chemicals, ballistic missiles, guided missiles, anti-aircraft systems, and warplanes), which has led to the abandonment of warehouses full of small arms ammo, grenades, mortar shells, and the like. The army also continues to fire SCUD type missiles at rebel held towns and neighborhoods, rather than risk rebels capturing these missiles (which would likely be blown up rather than abandoned intact).  

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