Youth

IRGC lures Iraqi youth to fight in Syria, Yemen

By Faris al-Omran

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Iraqi elements of the IRGC-affiliated Imam Ali Battalions are seen in a photo posted online by the militia on September 27th. 

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been preying on Iraqi youth by recruiting them to fight in areas of regional conflict such as Syria and Yemen, Iraqi observers and analysts told Diyaruna.

Recruitment operations are carried out in secret locations by Iraqi militias loyal to Iran, who entice vulnerable youth to join their ranks with money or through extortion and coercion.

"Iran and its military arm, the IRGC, are pushing for the recruitment of more Iraqi fighters," said Ninawa tribal spokesman Sheikh Muzahim al-Huweit.

"IRGC-affiliated Iraqi armed militias, such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hizbullah (Hizbullah Battalions) in Iraq and Harakat al-Nujaba are managing the recruitment operations," he told Diyaruna.

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Iraqi fighters with Harakat al-Nujaba are seen during a symbolic funeral for their dead at al-Najaf cemetery in a photo posted online by the militia on December 11th, 2017. 

"These militias have offices that are secretly recruiting teenagers and youngsters from poor families and enticing them with money, including a large initial payment paid to each volunteer that is sometimes as much as $9,000," he said.

This is followed by a monthly salary paid to the recruit or his family, he added.

"Enticement is not the only means they employ, as they also use extortion and coercion," he said.

Recruitment efforts in Iraq

"The pace of recruitment has not slowed down since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, as the militias are trying in various ways to fill the need for fighters at all costs to satisfy the Iranians," al-Huweit said.

"There are recruitment offices in Diyala province run by the Qais al-Khazaali-led Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and more were opened in Ninawa province recently, in the Ninawa Plains specifically," he added.

There also have been reports that a new office has opened in the Tuz Khurmato area in eastern Salaheddine province.

"Recruits are made to undergo physical training and training on the use of weapons in camps belonging to the militias under the pretext of preparing them to fight ISIS remnants and maintain security," he said.

"The reality is otherwise," he said, stressing that "what is happening must not be tolerated".

"Iran is depleting our youth and using them as fuel to ignite the region and tamper with its security," he added. "The militias must be held accountable and their activities that undermine the country's security must be stopped."

Fighters smuggled out of Iraq

"The movement of new recruits to Syria and Yemen is done the same way used to smuggle weapons into these countries," strategy expert Muayyed Salem al-Juhaishi told Diyaruna.

Recruits "are smuggled from Iraq to Syria by land, or by air as tourists", he said. "Sometimes their first destination is Lebanon, and from there to Yemen with false passports, or they are smuggled by sea."

Current estimates put the number of Iraqis, Lebanese and Afghans recruited by the IRGC to fight in Syria at between 20,000 and 30,000, with most of these fighters deployed to the fronts in eastern and southern rural areas of Syria.

Armed Iraqi groups active in Syria include Imam Ali Battalions, Harakat al-Nujaba, Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions and Imam al-Hussein Brigade. There is no accurate data on the number of Iraqi fighters in Yemen.

On July 7th, Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions leader Abu Walaa al-Waeli announced that he is willing to go fight in Yemen, describing himself as a "humble soldier" of Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis (Ansarallah).

That announcement underscored the "militias' intention to implement Iran's agendas in the region, namely to fuel sectarian conflicts", warned strategy and military analyst Rabih al-Juwari.

"Iran is pursuing what is in line with its goals and interests, but the ones who pay the ultimate price are those who are being misled," he told Diyaruna.

"Iran is responsible for the ruin of the Iraqi youth by thrusting them into the vortex of wars and fighting outside their country," he added.

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