MESOP NEWS BACKGROUNDER : Assad regime bolstered in Hama province by Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia

By Amir Toumaj | March 24th, 2017 | | @AmirToumaj – Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The Tehran-controlled Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba announced today that it is joining pro-Syrian regime forces in the battle raging in Hama province. Earlier this week, jihadists, Islamists and Free Syrian Army-branded rebels launched an offensive in the northern Hama countryside. This followed a separate battle that began in eastern Damascus, where Harakat al Nujaba has also deployed.  The Assad-loyalist Tiger Forces announced yesterday that it is moving fighters to northern Hama as well. Members of the Tiger Forces are being relocated from their position in east Aleppo, according to a pro-regime propaganda outlet and social media posts. Russian warplanes have been striking insurgents near the city of Hama in support of the Assad government, according to a Syrian military source who spoke with Reuters.

Immediately following Harakat al Nujaba’s deployment to Hama, the group and other pro-regime forces claimed the capture of the “strategic” town of Qamhana, which fell to the insurgents three days ago. The Iraqi militia says the town falls along a key enemy supply line between Aleppo and Hama. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), al Qaeda’s group in Syria, stormed Qamhana with a suicide bomber and its “special forces” earlier in the week. The jihadists and other rebels claim the town is still split between the belligerents.

Harakat al Nujaba and its allies have also claimed victory in the eastern Damascus districts of Jobar and Abbasin, though this has yet to be confirmed and combat rages in the vicinity of the Syrian capital.

Harakat al Nujaba operates as an extension of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Formed in 2013, the militia answers directly to Major General Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Qods Force, which is the IRGC’s extraterritorial branch. Harakat al Nujaba promotes its loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader and velayat-e faqih, or “Guardianship of the Jurist,” the Islamic Republic’s founding ideology. Earlier this month, the militia announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade” at the behest of Tehran.