The in Iran has unveiled a new policy of recruiting local volunteers among Iranians to fight on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. At an event commemorating Iran’s military deaths in Syria, the head of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, outlined a plan to push for a nationwide drive to attract volunteers to go to Syria.
At the moment, the city of Tehran alone is said to be the center of most recruitment. Jafari said he had already sought permission from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to increase the number of volunteers from across Iran. Jaffari also linked Tehran’s military support for al-Assad to be part of a broader defensive strategy against Iran’s enemies.
It is still, however, unclear if this latest IRGC initiative is serious or simply another case of Iranian bluster about its commitment to al-Assad. If it is serious then two reasons are most likely to be driving it. One is about safeguarding Iran’s image. The other might reflect a real shortage of fighters needed to keep al-Assad in power. So far, most of Iran’s military casualties in Syria have either been members of the IRGC or Afghan and Pakistani Shiite volunteers who are recruited through Iranian efforts.
The disproportionate deployment of non-Iranian Shiite volunteers to Syria gives the impression of Iranian incitement but insufficient Iranian suffering in the Syrian war. Alternatively, the new drive could be due to a real shortage of Iranian fighters given that the regular Iranian army has been unprepared to dispatch conscripts to Syria. Either way, it is clear that the IRGC continues to see its participation in defending the al-Assad regime as a core interest.