People of Abu Kamal leave their home with no return as consequence of deteriorating living conditions 

A woman from Deir Ezzor displaced in Ain Issa camp in the city of Raqqa, northeast of Syria - 21 October 2017 (AFP)

A woman from Deir Ezzor displaced in Ain Issa camp in the city of Raqqa, northeast of Syria - 21 October 2017 (AFP)

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Deir Ezzor – Hussam al-Omar

“We are preparing ourselves to move from the city of Abu al-Kamal and live in Raqqa city in northeastern Syria, without considering a return. We are not the only ones who have made that decision, dozens of people who I personally know  reluctantly moved to other areas,” Adnan, aged 44, told Enab Baladi

Withholding his last name for security reasons, Adnan said that he decided to flee his home due to the abusive practices of Iranian militias, who took control of Abu Kamal and Mayadin, in the governorate of Deir Ezzor. 

Adnan intends to mislead the people of his city into thinking that he is moving to regime-held Damascus to enroll his four children in its schools. He did so because he was afraid that he will face threats and harassment by the Syrian regime’s security agencies and the Iranian-backed militias if they learn that he is going to be in Raqqa controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They could possibly take over his properties.   

 Iranian expansion

Displaced people from Deir Ezzor countryside, who are currently residing in the city of Raqqa, told Enab Baladi that the situation in the governorate of Deir Ezzor is “too bad.” People here are suffering extremely hard living conditions. Therefore, many young men are compelled to join the Iranian factions to make a living.  This, in fact, increased the Iranian expansion in the area. 

In 2012, the Syrian regime-linked security agencies and foreign militias started to seize civilian homes in Deir Ezzor after hundreds of thousands of families were displaced as a result of the massive military campaign launched by the Syrian regime forces on the governorate.

There are about 30 recruiting centers affiliated with the Iranian militias in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, west of the Euphrates River; most were civilian houses that were seized by pro-Iranian militias under the pretext that their owners are living in areas held by either the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or the opposition factions.

On the advice of some of his relatives, Adnan decided to move to the city of Raqqa. They told him that “the living conditions and social situation are good relative to Deir Ezzor.

At the expense of neglection people’s interests

Following the battle of Abu Kamal, Iran continues to expand its military and security influence in parts of eastern Syria. There are many Iran-backed Shiite proxy groups proliferated in the east of Deir Ezzor. 

According to a study published by the Atlantic Council, Iran’s most prominent militias in Deir Ezzor governorate are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iraqi Shia militias (such as Kataib Hezbollah, Badr Brigades, and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba), Lebanese Hezbollah, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade and Pakistani Zainabiyoun Brigade, and Local Defense Forces (LDF). The most prominent LDF militias in Deir Ezzor are al-Baqir Brigade, 313 Forces, Islamic Resistance, Jaish al-Mahdi, and Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi.

Many displaced people from Deir Ezzor said that they did not face difficulties leaving their areas, controlled by the Iranian militias, to areas controlled by the SDF. They just had to cross through the Euphrates River, which separated regime-held areas from SDF-held ones. Yet, the displaced families had to travel light; it’s only necessities that they were able to throw into their bags, leaving their personal properties behind.

The SDF, supported by the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State (IS), shares control over Deir Ezzor governorate with the Syrian regime forces, backed by Iranian militias. The Euphrates River is the dividing line between the areas that the SDF and the Syrian regime control.

The SDF controls the eastern countryside of the city, while the Syrian regime forces control the areas west of the Euphrates.

Since the beginning of 2018, Iran has directly participated in the battle against the IS group in eastern Syria.

Through its participation, Iran has implemented its expansion project in those areas, specifically in Deir Ezzor, a governorate that experiences a deteriorating security situation.

Iran’s involvement in anti-IS battles has contributed to consolidating military authority over many key areas in the city of Abu Kamal along the Syrian-Iraqi border, which connects Iran to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Iran also imposed its control over the main roads linking Deir Ezzor governorate with the governorates of Homs and Raqqa.

Thus, Abu Kamal is important for Iran because Abu Kamal is an essential land transportation node from which it reaches Syria and then Lebanon. Abu Kamal is an extension of the Iraqi Anbar desert and is also linked to the deserts of As-Suwayda, Daraa, Palmyra, and Deir Ezzor. This gives the city additional economic importance for Tehran.

Forced to convert to Shi’ism

A displaced person from the city of Abu Kamal, who is currently residing in Raqqa, said,” If you want to stay in the city of Abu Kamal, this means that you have to convert to Shia Islam, regardless of your age and beliefs.” 

The displaced person—who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he fears that his brothers in Abu Kamal could be targeted; his brothers are also planning to leave the city—pointed out that there are constant attempts to increase the number of people in Abu Kamal converting to the Shiite sect, with the facilitation of the Syrian security branches and the supervision of Iranian authorities

Abdel Fattah al-Jabara, a lawyer from the city of Abu Kamal, told Enab Baladi people living in areas under the control of the Iranian-supported militias, especially in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, suffer harassment. They are left with only two options: either to be part of the Iranian sectarian project in the region or to flee to areas controlled by the SDF. 

Al-Jabara, who is residing now in the city of al-Busaira, controlled by the SDF, accused the Syrian regime of being complicit in Iran’s forced displacement policies, human rights violations against Syrians, and demographic change in the region that is sponsored and financed by Iran.

There are no documented official statistics on the number of people displaced from areas controlled by Iranian militias to areas controlled by the SDF. However, the law of armed conflict – also known as international humanitarian law (IHL), clearly prohibits the displacement of civilians.

SDF is powerless

 A commander of the SDF in the governorate of Deir Ezzor told Enab Baladi that “The SDF is currently disempowered,” and the military forces backed by the US-led Global Coalition have focused their efforts on fighting the IS group for years.

The leader, who requested his full name be withheld for security considerations, added that the SDF is currently increasing its military activity by cutting off smuggling routes with areas controlled by the Iranian militias. The SDF also avoids allowing the Syrian regime cells to penetrate into its areas. 

According to a research study by Jusoor Center for Studies, the US-led Global Coalition has 33 military sites, bases, or posts in four governorates: 10 military sites in Deir Ezzor alone. On the other hand, Iran has 131 military sites in Syria.

Russia has no apparent role in the governorate of Deir Ezzor, except for an official military presence in the west of the Euphrates. Russia does not have special influence in this area, except through its cooperation with the Syrian government. It has seven military bases.

Many residents of the western countryside of Deir Ezzor are forced to sell their homes or lands to the Iranian militias or their associates because of the deteriorating living conditions. They need money to live on in such difficult circumstances, leave the country, or move to the SDF-held areas in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa.

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