Security

Iranian official contradicts Tehran's narrative of Fatemiyoun 'volunteers'

By Sulaiman

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Members of the Fatemiyoun Division gather in Aleppo, Syria, on March 11 beside a photo of Ayatollah Khomeini. [File]

KABUL -- Tehran entices impoverished Afghan refugees with promises of money to fight in Syria as part of the Fatemiyoun Division, an Iranian official has admitted, contradicting the regime's narrative that the group is made up of volunteers not mercenaries.

The regime paid Afghans to go to war in Syria, Parviz Fattah, a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who serves as the director of the Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution, an organisation associated with the IRGC, said in a video shared widely on social media.

"I was working with the Sepah Co-operative Foundation when Hajj Qasem Soleimani asked me for help, saying he didn't have money to give to Fatemiyoun [fighters] in Syria that month," Fattah said in the video of him on a television show. The date when it aired is unknown.

He was referring to IRGC Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

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Members of the Fatemiyoun Division perform physical endurance exercises in an undisclosed location in Syria on March 9. [File]

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In this undated photo members of the Fatemiyoun Division commemorate Imam Zaman, the 12th Imam of Shias, in Syria. [File]

"Soleimani couldn't provide wages to his [Fatemiyoun] fighters," he added. "He said, 'I'm embarrassed. I brought them here, [and now I can't pay them].'"

Soleimani was considered to be the most powerful leader in Iran after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Proof of exploitation

The admission by Fattah, who is also a former energy minister, runs counter to denials by Iranian authorities that the regime gives money to Fatemiyoun Division fighters. Instead, Tehran has been adamant in insisting that Afghans participated in the war in Syria as volunteers.

The exchange also also highlights the financial struggles of the Iranian regime, which is faced with an increasingly disaffected population and a tailspinning economy.

Fattah's remarks were downplayed in Iran.

"It seems that the director of the Mostazafan Foundation doesn't have the necessary wisdom to speak on a television show," Iranian newspaper Sharq wrote on April 5, calling Fattah's remarks "very bizarre".

In Afghanistan, analysts such as Akbar Jan Polad, a political affairs analyst in Kabul, see the admission as concrete proof of the Iranian regime's exploitation of impoverished Afghans.

"Previously, the Iranian authorities said on multiple occasions that Afghans went to the Syrian war as volunteers and without any financial incentives to defend the shrines, the Sayidda Zainab Mosque and other sacred places," he said.

"But the remarks of this Iranian official, on the contrary, show that the government of Iran exploits the desperate situation of Afghan refugees by putting their lives at risk and giving them money to join the Syrian war," Polad added.

"The remarks of this Iranian official reveal that Iran has so heavily invested in paramilitary groups such as the Fatemiyoun Division to serve its interests in Syria and other countries that it now faces a funding crunch to pay Fatemiyoun fighters," he said.

The Iranian regime has spent almost $16 billion (1.2 trillion AFN) during the Syrian civil war on strengthening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and expanding Tehran's influence in Syria, Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, said last November.

"Each fighter of the Fatemiyoun Division receives 3.5 million tomans (63,500 AFN or $828) in wages from Iran and $120 [9,082 AFN] from Bashar al-Assad per month," said one former Fatemiyoun Division member who once deployed to Syria.

"They [Iran] give the commanders 4 million to 12 million tomans [each month]. Iran issued bank cards to them, and their wages are sent to their respective bank accounts," said the ex-member under the pseudonym Ahmad.

The Iranian regime grants permanent residence to those Fatemiyoun Division fighters who have gone to war in Syria at least three times, he said.

"Afghans [who fight as part of Fatemiyoun] are not deported, and they become eligible to buy a home, a car, etc., in Iran," Ahmad said.

However, most of the members do not even receive training, he added.

"It [Fatemiyoun] doesn't train anyone after enrollment -- it immediately sends them to war," he said.

Al-Assad's crimes

Fatemiyoun Division members are now party to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government, said Fazel Menallah Mumtaz, a political analyst in Kabul.

"When the Arab Spring began [in 2011], the Iranian regime sent congratulations, but when the Arab Spring reached Syria, Iran deployed its military and Fatemiyoun Division fighters to Syria to stop the Syrian people and defend the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad," he said.

Al-Assad committed heinous crimes, "killing tens of thousands of Syrians, and Iranians as well as the Fatemiyoun Division are parties to al-Assad's crime", said Mumtaz.

Now, as Syrian government forces gain ground in Syria and have less need for Iranian-backed militias, Tehran may try to use Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan, he said.

"Iran has been fighting and interfering in Afghanistan for years through its proxy groups," said Mumtaz. "It supported terrorist groups through the Arian Bank and money laundering. It [currently] finances dozens of media outlets [in Afghanistan] to promote a cultural war."

"We are afraid that one day it will send Fatemiyoun Division fighters to Afghanistan and launch another civil war," he said.

Buried in mass graves

"Investigations show that more than 20,000 Afghans -- most of whom are underage -- have been killed or injured in the Syrian war," said Mumtaz.

"A number of them were buried in mass graves in Syria, and a bigger number of them in Iran," he added.

Dawood Rawesh, a sociology professor at Kabul University, expressed his concerns about the family members these Fatemiyoun members have left behind.

"A matter of concern that creates dozens of challenges for the society is the families of Fatemiyoun fighters who have been killed," said Rawesh.

"The war in Syria has left thousands of Afghan families without guardians or a [clear] fate," he added. "Iran may provide for their families for a few days, but it won't do it for a longer period."

"After they [families of the killed Fatemiyoun members] return to Afghanistan, they will become a burden on society. Their wives and children will commit various types of crimes, disrupting the civil order," Rawesh predicted, citing the poverty of the bereaved women and children.

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Iranians are always seeking the interests of their own country. During the past more than forty years, they showed, particularly in their acts that refugees were only their tools, and also we should not forget that the best war is to use deception and it is available for them.

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Iran's influence in Afghanistan is disastrous. The Afghan government must stop Iran's influence in the country.

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The influence of Islamic Republic of Iran in Afghanistan is good for the stability and security of the country, but the influence of Pakistan and Wahhabis of Saudi has led to the insecurity and discord among the Muslims and Islamic sects in Afghanistan.

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Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps recruits destitute and undocumented Afghan refugees by offering them permanent residency, financial aid, and other incentives for their families, because of some 2.5 million Afghans living in Iran, a third are registered as refugees while the remainders are mostly illegal economic migrants. Some Afghans joined Iran’s war in Syria to escape prison sentences in that country. Some Afghan Shiites also fight in Syria for ideological, religious and political reasons. Those who fight for this last reason (ideological, religious and political reasons) in the ranks of Fatemiyoun Division are very few. All the others are obliged to fight for other reasons.

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Iran is committing a big crime by recruiting Afghan youths to fight for the interests of other countries. Over the past seven years, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) has recruited, indoctrinated, trained and deployed thousands of Afghan Shiites to fight under its command against Sunni rebel groups across Syria. Recruiting Afghans to fight in the Fatemiyoun Division in Syria is not something secret. It is clear to the whole world. Even the Iranian government officials confess this. The Fatemiyoun Division has about 20,000 active fighters, according to accounts provided by Iranian officials. The Hazara leaders in Afghanistan also supported the recruitment of Afghans in Fatemiyoun Division. To stop joining of Afghans in Fatemiyoun Division, we need a strong government and good economy in Afghanistan. I requests the international community, particularly the United States to establish a strong government in Afghanistan in which all the groups including the Taliban share power. Then we would be able to stop our Afghan compatriots from joining in the Fatemiyoun Division.

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The Iranian government is the most hypocritical government in the world. Neither the Syrian people nor the people of Afghanistan have a good day from the interference of Iran. Nowadays Iran is telling Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to stand against Ashraf Ghani and not to allow him declare his cabinet. Because if Ashraf Ghani is in the leading role of a powerful government, then he will control the water of Afghanistan and the lands of Iran will dry up as result.

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Iran and Iranians are misusing the economic problems of Afghans, and misusing the inevitability and poverty of people is obviously considered as a violation from human rights. Iran must respond to the people why is it doing so?

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Iran has misused Afghan refugees, and these refugees have been forced to fight in Syria due to the economic problems.

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Saudi Arabia has recruited a great number of Afghan youths to join terrorist groups against the Fatemiyoun division. Why don't American organizations write reporst on them? Why didn't you publish a report one day on how many Afghans are fighting in the ranks of ISIS against the Syrian government?

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The Fatemiyoun division is comprised of Afghans who, according to their personal and religious beliefs, went to Syria to defend the sacred places from terrorist attacks and played an important role in defeating the ISIS terrorist group. No one forced them to go and fight in Syria. They joined the group on their own will.

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Afghan refugees should return from Iran as soon as possible. If these immigrants come to the country, they will surely face economic problems, but they will be saved at least from being killed.

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If Fatemiyoun soldiers have a strong will to fight ISIS, they can join the ranks of the Afghan security forces and should defend their own country. Pakistan and Iran have been interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs for more than four decades, and the cause of the war in this country is also Pakistan and Iran. The soldiers of Fatemiyoun must fight against the extremist groups recruited by Pakistan and Iran in Afghanistan and save their country from the current adversity and misery.

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Iran is misusing the sentiments and inevitability of the Afghan refugees in that country. Iran should not kill our compatriots for the interests of foreigners in other countries. Afghan government must take a serious stance against Iran and ask it to stop recruiting Afghan refugees in the Fatemiyoun division.

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