On August 17th the commander of the Iranian Quds Force (which specializes in supporting Shia Islamic terrorists and rebels worldwide) announced the formation of a permanent SLA (Shia Liberation Army) in Syria. At first this was described as similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran helped create Hezbollah (to protect the Shia minority in Lebanon) in the 1980s and continued sustaining the group with cash, weapons, technical assistance and intense hatred of Israel. The problem with groups like Hezbollah and SLA is that they are ultimately working for Iran and that has been very disruptive to Lebanese politics. Iran ordered Hezbollah into Syria after 2011 and the heavy Hezbollah losses there were unpopular with Lebanese Shia and Hezbollah eventually had to pull most of Hezbollah forces back to the Lebanon border and concentrate on keeping Islamic terrorists out of Lebanon. Iran took a huge popularity hit in Lebanon by forcing Hezbollah to enter the Syrian war in defense of the Assad government, which is hated by most Lebanese as well as most Syrians. This does not bother Iran as they see themselves as being on a Mission From God and so on.
Iran later clarified that the SLA would not be just Syrian but would be a continuation of the current international force of Shia volunteers serving in Syria. Members of this Iranian mercenary force would be given the option of joining the SLA on a long-term basis and receive pay and benefits comparable to what professional soldiers in the Middle East receive. SLA veterans would also be eligible to become Iranian citizens or at least gain permanent resident status in Iran for himself and his family. This is a big deal for the thousands of Afghan volunteers, who feel unwelcome in Afghanistan. But it would be an attractive deal to Shia volunteers Iran has already attracted to fighting Syria Recruiting requirements will be basic. You have to be a young Shia male of good moral standing, physically able and willing to die in the defense of Shia Islam. The SLA will probably require knowing some Farsi (the language of Iran), at least for promotion to NCO. Farsi is an Indo-European language similar to Dari (popular in Afghanistan) and Kurdish as well as languages in Pakistan and northern India.
The SLA will be similar to the French Foreign Legion, which was founded in the 19th century as an elite force of non-French troops to handle problems in the worldwide network of colonies and possessions France had accumulated since the 18th century. The Foreign Legion was never able to keep French citizens out but learned to allow otherwise qualified Frenchmen to join by claiming to be from (usually) the French speaking parts of Belgium. Currently, Foreign Legionnaires comprise about two percent of French troops. The French Foreign Legion is more similar to what the SLA is and the Iranians will probably endeavor to raise standards in the SLA to something approach the French Foreign Legion. But the main role of the SLA is to develop a source of foreigners devoted to Shia Islam, loyal to Iran and possessing combat and related skills. The SLA is no surprise to those who know the recent history of the region, especially the Iranian experience with creating and expanding Hezbollah. .
The Quds Force has been around since the 1980s, and their biggest success has been in Lebanon, where they helped local Shia (who comprise about a third of the population) form the Hezbollah organization. After 2003 Quds Force helped Hezbollah create Unit 3800 to assist in the Iranian effort to train Islamic radical Shia militias in Iraq. These militias were frequently used to attack American troops as well as Sunni Islamic terrorists. Unit 3800 personnel were easier to hide since they were Arabs while most of the Quds people are ethnic Iranian (Indo-European) and have a hard time passing for Arabs,
The Quds Force, being a much larger organization than Unit 3800, also has a lot more responsibilities. Thus Quds has eight departments, each assigned to a different part of the world. While the one that works in the Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan area have been the most successful, the other departments have been hard at it for over two decades. Quds Force also helped Hezbollah create Unit 1800, whose main function is to help train Palestinian Islamic terrorists.
The other directorates show the worldwide reach of Quds. The Western Directorate has established a recruiting and fund raising network in Western nations. Many recruits are brought back to Iran for training, while Shia migrants are encouraged to donate money, and services, to Quds Force operations. Because many of these operations are considered terrorist operations, Quds Force is banned in many Western nations. The Iraq Department long maintained an army of anti-Saddam fighters in exile (in Iran) as well as running an intelligence operation inside Iraq. After the coalition toppled Saddam in 2003, Quds Force moved people, money and weapons into Iraq, to form pro-Iranian political forces and militias. These are the men withdrawn after 2008 and who are back now. The South Asia Department (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India) was active in aiding Afghan Shia who were being persecuted by the Taliban (a Sunni operation) and al Qaeda (a very Sunni operation). Quds has also been caught operating in Pakistan, where Sunni terrorists have been attacking Shia for decades. The Turkey Department has been active encouraging Shia Kurds to commit terrorist acts. The North Africa Department has an operation in Sudan that that has been shut down by the largely Sunni government of Sudan. There are few Shia in North Africa to begin with. The Arabian Department supports terrorist groups that exist in all the Persian Gulf Arab countries. The Arab Sunni governments in these nations does not appreciate Iran’s support for this sort of thing. The biggest success here to date is the current Shia rebellion in Yemen. The Central Asian Department supports Shia and Sunni terrorists in countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. So does al Qaeda, but the Quds operation has been more discreet.
SLA veterans will also be useful and some will be offered full time jobs in the Quds Force where they can use knowledge of the homeland to aid Quds efforts there. Some SLA vets may even become security contractors, a mercenary job that is acceptable and financially attractive to many skilled combat veterans.
Mercenaries in the form of private security companies have become the bane of military recruiters trying to attract skilled veterans. The war on terror and the need to protect diplomats and aid workers in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East created a huge demand for these mercenaries. Such private armies had been out of style since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution made mass conscription practical. The age of conscription ended in the late 20th century and, not surprisingly, the mercenaries returned. These firms pay more than the military and are selective, taking the best available personnel. It’s ironic that the mass media decided to demonize the security companies, despite the fact that their personnel were more professional, disciplined, mature and capable than the people in uniform. SLA veterans could specialize in providing security for Shia who are senior government officials anywhere on the planet. A more likely market is the large number of successful and very wealthy Shia businessmen (and a few women) operating worldwide.