Naame Shaam

The Iranian regime
in the Syrian war: a report

From an ally in the region to an occupying force

Iranian Revolutionary Guards march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of Iran

NOW received the following report summary from Naame Shaam, a group of Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese activists and citizen-journalists, which interviewed with NOW in April.


The report focuses on uncovering the role of the Iranian regime in Syria and is the result of a year of Naame Shaam's work. It draws largely on information gathered from monitoring Syrian, Iranian and the international media's coverage of events in Syria. The majority of the information and sources found in the report are thus in the public domain. 


Beirut/Damascus/Tehran, 9 November 2014 – The campaign group Naame Shaam today published an in-depth report examining various aspects of the Iranian regime's role in the ongoing war in Syria.


The report, “Iran in Syria: From an Ally of the Regime to an Occupying Force,” provides numerous examples and case studies of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria by Iranian-controlled militias and forces, including the “crisis cell” assassination in July 2012 and the Ghouta chemical massacre near Damascus in August 2013.


Naame Shaam's report also highlights ways of bringing possible lawsuits against Iranian regime officials, such as Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander-in-chief of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of Sepah Pasdaran (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps; IRGC).


“There is sufficient evidence to try the military and political leadership of Iran for complicity in various crimes committed in Syria,” said Shiar Youssef, the head of Naame Shaam's Research and Advocacy Team. “This ranges from inciting, endorsing and adopting specific criminal and terrorist acts to aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.”


“We therefore appeal to Western governments and international bodies, including the UN, to examine this Iranian connection and open serious investigations in this regard,” he added.


Another key finding of the report is that the relationship between the Syrian and the Iranian regimes has changed because of this Iranian intervention. From being historically mutually beneficial allies, the Iranian regime is now, according to detailed evidence, effectively an occupying force in the regime-held areas of Syria.


“The Syrian regime is little more than a puppet in the hands of Sepah Pasdaran,” Youssef said. “Qassem Soleimani is the de facto ruler of Iranian-occupied Syria.”


Naame Shaam's report presents a legal case for treating the war in Syria as an international conflict that involves a foreign occupation by the Iranian regime and its militias and a liberation struggle by Syrian people against this foreign occupation, as defined by the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.


“The war in Syria should be regarded as an international conflict that warrants the application of the four Geneva Conventions. Regime-held areas of Syria should be considered – in the strict legal sense of the word – territory occupied by Iran,“ Youssef added.


Other key findings of the report:


— The Iranian regime's influence in Syria is likely to continue even after the fall of the Assad regime because it is now exercised primarily through Iranian-backed and controlled militias fighting in Syria on behalf of the Syrian regime, including Hezbollah Lebanon and various Iraqi Shia militias. Many of these militias, both local and foreign, are likely to outlive Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle.

— Sepah Pasdaran may be behind the assassination of members of the so-called “Crisis Cell” of the Syrian regime in July 2012. In addition to circumstantial evidence, a prominent and reliable source in the Syrian opposition, quoting Western intelligence officials, informed Naame Shaam that some members in the “crisis cell” had opened communication channels with Arab Gulf states and the US to make a deal behind Iran's back. Sepah Pasdaran struck to prevent such a deal. Since then, Sepah Pasdaran has been in full control of the Syrian regime and President Bashar al-Assad has practically been their hostage.

— The heavy Iranian involvement in the war in Syria is driven first and foremost by the strategic interests of the Iranian regime in keeping arms shipments flowing to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, so as to keep Hezbollah a strong deterrent against any attack on Iran's military nuclear programme.

— In addition to weapons and fighters, the Iranian regime has been providing the Syrian regime with financial loans and credit lines worth billions of dollars. The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad would have collapsed a long time ago if it were not for the enormous military and economic support provided to it by the Iranian regime since March 2011, following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution.


— Sepah Pasdaran played a key role in establishing, training and arming the Syrian regime's militia known as the National Defence Forces (NDF) or the shabbiha. The NDF was modeled on the Iranian Basij force and its experience in suppressing Iran's own dissident movements, particularly the 2009 pro-democracy protests known as the Green Movement. The NDF is now largely controlled by Sepah Pasdaran.


Naame Shaam's Campaign Director Fouad Hamdan said: “The US and its allies have been following a strategy of slowly bleeding Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. But they are yet to publicly admit that the war in Syria is a proxy war against the Iranian regime, because they want to avoid being pressured into taking concrete steps to end the bloodshed.”


“Syria has become the Vietnam of Iran and Hezbollah,” he added. “But this 'slow bleeding' policy is being implemented at the expense of the people of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The failure to seriously support the moderate Syrian opposition with all means necessary to enable it to topple the Assad regime and liberate Syria from Sepah Pasdaran and Hezbollah has also led to the rise of extremist groups such as Daesh [Islamic State; ISIS] and Jabhat al-Nusra.”


“Hopes that a proxy war with the Iranian regime in Syria, coupled with crippling economic sanctions against Iran, would eventually lead to the weakening and even collapse of the Iranian regime (i.e. winning the Syria war in the streets of Tehran) are at best wishful thinking,” Hamdan said.


“It may be true that Syria has become 'Iran's Vietnam' and that Iran is 'bleeding' in Syria, but the Iranian regime may be capable of bleeding for a long time, much longer than the people of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq can endure. Sadly, the Iranian regime will fight until the last Syrian Alawi and the last Lebanese and Iraqi Shia in order to have its nuclear bomb,” he added.


The full report is available in English here, and the executive summary in Arabic here and in Persian here.

The group tweets @NaameShaam

“There is sufficient evidence to try the military and political leadership of Iran for complicity in various crimes committed in Syria.” (AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri)

The Syrian regime is little more than a puppet in the hands of Sepah Pasdaran,” Youssef said. “Qassem Soleimani is the de facto ruler of Iranian-occupied Syria.”

  • ZiadT

    Interesting but no mention of Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey’s role in this war and as much as we would like to see the Iranian regime being put on trial I think that justice for the Syrian and Iraqi people would be partly served if only Iran was indicted.

    November 10, 2014

  • wayne.beckett.96

    So with sanctions and falling oil prices, where is the Iranian Regime getting it's money from?

    November 10, 2014

  • stephen.albert.353

    Thank you for this.Reason,if reason were,necessary, for the coalition,which controls the skies,not to allow Assad to continue barrel bomb attacks on Syrian civilians. This brutal repression favours Iranian geo-political goals.

    November 10, 2014