Afghan militiamen involved in escalating drug war in Syria

By Nohad Topalian

Residents of the Sayyida Zainab area of southern Damascus are seen here in a photo taken in May. The area, controlled by Iran-aligned militias, has seen an increase in the illegal drug trade, residents say. [Ahmed Obeid/ Sawt al-Asima]

Residents of the Sayyida Zainab area of southern Damascus are seen here in a photo taken in May. The area, controlled by Iran-aligned militias, has seen an increase in the illegal drug trade, residents say. [Ahmed Obeid/ Sawt al-Asima]

BEIRUT -- Deadly clashes broke out in the Sayyida Zainab shrine area of southern Damascus this month among militias affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the latest round of internecine violence.

A number of militiamen were killed May 7 as Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani elements of two IRGC-affiliated militias fought among themselves, the Syrian opposition outlet Sawt al-Asima (Voice of the Capital) reported.

The Afghan militia is called the Fatemiyoun Division, which observers say Tehran may eventually deploy to Afghanistan.

Seven non-Syrian militiamen were killed during the brief, violent clash, which lasted around half an hour, Sawt al-Asima regional managing editor Ahmed Obeid told Al-Mashareq.

The shrine of Sayyida Zainab, in an area of southern Damascus controlled by Iran-aligned militias, is seen here in May. [Ahmed Obeid/Sawt al-Asima]

The shrine of Sayyida Zainab, in an area of southern Damascus controlled by Iran-aligned militias, is seen here in May. [Ahmed Obeid/Sawt al-Asima]

A 7-year-old girl lost her life, he said, and 13 other civilians were injured.

Tensions that led to the incident were reportedly rooted in a dispute over the sale of narcotics between two IRGC-aligned groups, the outlet reported.

One of the groups had encroached on the other's "territory" and sold drugs there, it said, which caused the subsequent conflict.

In February, clashes broke out in the same area between a group of Iraqi visitors and local residents, Sawt al-Asima reported.

The conflict was reportedly ignited when Iraqi visitors insulted some residents as food aid was being distributed in the area, observers said.

Residents of Damascus say Iran-backed militias control the Sayyida Zainab area, and have turned it into a suburb "similar to the southern suburb of Beirut", a historic stronghold of Lebanese Hizbullah.

Lawless area of Damascus

Hizbullah has been flooding Syria with drugs, Syrian activists told Al-Mashareq, noting that areas around Damascus are starting to resemble the party's Lebanese strongholds in terms of the illicit activity that goes on there.

Obeid said the Sayyida Zainab area is controlled by the IRGC and Syrian regime.

There are Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi and Lebanese Hizbullah militia elements in the area, which is divided into sectors, he said, with each militia "authorised" to sell a pre-specified amount of drugs within its own sector.

Drug trade in the Sayyida Zainab area and other IRGC-controlled areas "is rampant among militia elements, who share the profits with their commanders", he said.

Obeid said the Sayyida Zainab area has become as lawless as the southern suburb of Beirut, with a dense population mix of Sunni Syrians, Iraqis and groups of Shia from Foua, Kefraya, al-Nubl and al-Zahraa.

"It is unfortunate that militias are openly dealing in drugs there and in Damascus and its countryside, where they are sold at coffee and tea stalls," he said.

He attributed the marked increase in the sale of drugs in southern Damascus to funding shortages the IRGC and Hizbullah are facing, as both are reliant on Iran for financial backing and as Iran is in the throes of an economic crisis.

IRGC-aligned militias clash

According to a Syrian journalist and activist who asked to remain anonymous, Hizbullah smuggles large amounts of drugs, especially hashish and Acetyl fentanyl, an opioid commonly known as "fake heroin", into the Damascus area.

The drugs are sold in the Sayyida Zainab area, he said, which has become a notorious marketplace for narcotics.

Clashes occasionally occur between Hizbullah elements and the Syrian army's 4th Division over the percentage of profits, as the 4th Division demands an increasing share in exchange for facilitating sales, he said.

A Deir Ezzor activist who goes by the name "Khaled" said clashes among Iran-backed militias "are related to the control over checkpoints along the banks of the Euphrates".

An armed conflict was recently reported in the town of Mahkan between the pro-regime National Defence Forces militia and members of the Fatemiyoun Division, which is comprised of Afghan fighters, he said.

In early April, clashes broke out in the Deir Ezzor border town of Albu Kamal when the IRGC-aligned Liwa al-Sheikh militia attempted to search a car belonging to Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, he said.

The conflict killed a Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas element, injured seven other militiamen and a number of civilians, and damaged nearby houses, Khaled said.

He said the "green belt" area in rural Albu Kamal has been the scene of armed clashes between elements of the IRGC's 147th Brigade and Iran-backed Iraqi militias.

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Everywhere you see, Afghans are pushed by others and involved in harmful activities. Afghans have been fighting for Iran in Syria and Iraq for years, with Iranians calling Afghans dirty and forcing the families of these fighters to return to Afghanistan. I do not know when Afghans will become human beings and when they will resort to destructive and illegal activities at the behest of foreigners. Still, it is also a fact that all the countries of the region and the world have taken advantage of the helplessness and compulsion of Afghans. Iran is no exception. Our misfortune and ignorance that inside we cannot survive for the Taliban, and when we go out to get a legitimate meal, we fall into the trap of snakes that have no mercy or humanity in their hearts. May God destroy authoritarian regimes like Iran soon and give us Afghans the wisdom and courage to build our own country and not fall into the trap of such unscrupulous countries.


Be careful with your words. Never insult all Afghans. In the first lines of your comment, the question you have asked about why Afghans start illegitimate works is already answered in your writing. Afghans were forced by this same international community, these same Islamic neighbors, Pakistan and Iran, these same Russians, these Chinese, these donkeys and dogs, to leave their country and live a miserable life in foreign countries.


The Iranian government has long been involved in drug trafficking, including narcotics. Iran's authoritarian and mafia regime is in close contact with international looting and destructive networks. Through them, they have created a systematic network of illicit and expensive goods to reduce the pressure of international sanctions on themselves in the region and make enough money for their destructive activities worldwide. While the Iranian people are paying the price for the crimes of their dictatorial regime, the Iranian mullahs and the revolutionary guards are benefiting from these destructive and destructive activities. Through this, they live a luxurious life.


Unfortunately, every country has tried to exploit the poor Afghan refugees. Iran and Pakistan have a long history of exploiting Afghan refugees, but in any case, the Afghans themselves have caused all this to happen to them, and these hypocritical countries will not change their ways unless the Afghans themselves want to. I want to talk about the role of the Revolutionary Guards in drug trafficking and transit. Iran is one of the most important drug trafficking gateways in the world, and most of the drugs produced in Afghanistan are smuggled to European countries through Iran and by the Revolutionary Guards. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps earns millions of dollars annually through drug trafficking which now has monopolized the drug trafficking in Iran and has ties to criminal networks around the world. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes shows that about 40 percent of the drugs imported into Iran remain in the country, and the remaining 60 percent is transporte to Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and eventually to Europe. Iran smuggles and transports drugs mostly through its proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.


Many traders in Afghanistan and Iranians and Pakistanis make millions of dollars from Afghanistan's opium poppy. Still, I read in a report a few years ago that $2 billions of Afghanistan's poppy profits go to Afghans, as almost 70% of it goes to the pockets of heroin traders, and 30% of it goes to the farmers who spend a year-long time to serve this dirty crop; however, in the meantime, $60 billion of the profit of Afghanistan's poppy crops goes to the pockets of European and American traders who delivers it to the western countries and sell it there. Allah knows better how much true this would be.