Treasury designates Syria-based Iranian proxy groups

The US Treasury Department has added two Syria-based Iranian proxy groups comprised of Afghan and Pakistani Shia to its list of Specially Designated Nationals.

“The Fatemiyoun Division and Zaynabiyoun Brigade are being designated for providing material support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF),” Treasury’s statement reads. It goes on to state that “the Fatemiyoun Division is an IRGC-QF-led militia that preys on the millions of undocumented Afghan migrants and refugees in Iran, coercing them to fight in Syria under threat of arrest or deportation.”

The Fatemiyoun Division has been an important proxy for Iran during the war in Syria. It has fought in many important battles, including on the front-lines of Hama, Aleppo, Deir al Zour, and in the Syrian desert near the US base of Tanf. It has reportedly lost thousands of fighters in Syria. Some of its killed were reportedly as young as 14, as noted by Treasury.

Fatemiyoun fighters generally receive training from the IRGC in Iran and Afghanistan before being sent to Syria. In some cases, Lebanese Hezbollah, another entity controlled by Iran’s IRGC, has also trained the unit’s members.

The group traces its lineage to several Afghan volunteers who fought for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War as part of an earlier Afghan Shia proxy group.

Zaynabiyoun Brigade, which functions much like Fatemiyoun, is comprised of Shia Pakistani nationals. Much like its twin organization, Treasury notes that its members are “mainly recruited from among undocumented and impoverished Pakistani Shiite immigrants living in Iran.”

The group has also fought in important battles in Damascus, Deraa, Aleppo, and Deir al Zour. Similar to Fatemiyoun, Zaynabiyoun’s deceased members are also given state funerals inside Iran.

Both groups operate as part of Iran’s “axis of resistance,” which refers to a network of state and non-state actors led by Iran that operates against the United States and its allies in the Middle East and beyond. The two, much like other Iranian-supported militias, have provided invaluable support to the Assad regime in Syria.

The two proxies were designated as part of a wider sanctions package targeting several Iranian assets, including Qeshm Fars Air, an Iranian cargo airline, and Armenia-based Flight Travel LLC “for acting for or on behalf of Mahan Air.” Mahan Air, another Iranian airliner, has previously been designated for its ties to the IRGC and its role in its operations.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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