The name of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Javad Ghaffari has become synonymous with the implementation of Iran's plan in Syria, Syrians with knowledge of the situation tell Diyaruna.
From his base in south-east Aleppo, Ghaffari -- also known as Sayyed Javad and Haj Javad Ghaffari -- oversees all militias Iran has formed to fight on its behalf in Syria, said Saleh al-Afisi, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) officer in rural Aleppo province.
"The IRGC commander moves and distributes the elements of sectarian militias from countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, to implement the IRGC’s plan to establish a land route connecting Tehran with Beirut," he said.
This intervention stems not from the IRGC’s love of Syria or its regime, but its determination to implement its expansionist plan in the Middle East, he noted.
The IRGC has an important military base in Aleppo, the Sheikh Najjar barracks, its largest in the region, and IRGC-affiliated militias control several areas of the city, especially in its eastern section, al-Afisi said.
This includes the districts of al-Mashhad, Bashkoy, al-Sakhour, al-Haidariya, Masakin Hananou and al-Shaar.
These Iran-backed groups are known for their excessive use of force in all areas of Syria where they have a presence, he said, including in densely populated areas.
"What is happening in Eastern Ghouta is the clearest proof of the systematic criminality" perpetrated by these groups, he said.
The 'architect' of Iran's plan
Ghaffari is the architect of the Iranian plan in Syria, Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah told Diyaruna.
He is the mastermind who directs the IRGC’s arms on Syrian territory, fully independent of the Syrian regime, despite the attempts of IRGC media outlets to show this is being done in support of the Syrians or the regime, he said.
IRGC-affiliated militias operating in Syria have made use of excessive force in combat and in sweep operations with no regard for international and humanitarian laws, al-Abdullah said.
"The biggest evidence of this is what happened in the battles of Aleppo, and what is happening now in rural Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, where these militias play a leading role in the fighting," he said.
Ghaffari, also known as "the butcher of Aleppo", was transferred to Syria in mid-2014 and came to prominence during the battles of Aleppo and its siege, he said. He is known for his use of excessive force without distinction between civilians and military targets.
In 2016, he was said to have been behind obstructing the efforts to evacuate opposition fighters and civilians from besieged areas in east Aleppo, according to al-Abdullah.
Ghaffari commands "Battalion 18,000" with the assistance of his deputee Abu Bagher, he said.
He also commands a special unit consisting of 7,000 fighters of various nationalities, including Iraqis, Iranian, Syrians, Lebanese, Afghans and Pakistanis, he added.
Ghaffari took command over most units of Lebanon's Hizbullah, Iraq's al-Nujaba brigade, the Afghani Fatemiyoun Brigade and Pakistani Zaynabiyoun Brigade after the death of former IRGC commander Hussein Hamadni in Syria under mysterious circumstances.
"The size of the force consisting of these groups under his direct control is estimated at 15,000 fighters at the very least, and the movement of non-Syrian fighters from Iraq and Iran is carried out under his direct supervision," al-Abdullah said.
Bringing about demographic change
One of the fundamental elements of the Iranian plan is to bring about demographic change in many Syrian areas, Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna.
Iran, through its direct military intervention, is carrying out a wide-scale displacement of Syrians, either by moving them to other areas or forcing them to leave Syria altogether, he said.
"The aim is to empty parts of Damascus and its rural areas, Aleppo, Hama and Deir Ezzor of Sunnis and replace them with Syrian and non-Syrian Shia," he said.
This move is designed to ensure Iran's presence in the country for a long time to come, he said, and to contain any opposition to its presence or expansion.