Iran Extends Islamic Volunteer Force to Region, Commander Says

Iranian soldiers from the Revolutionary Guards march march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the start of Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq.

Photographer: Atta Kenare/AFP

Citizens of six countries have joined an auxiliary force that supports Iran’s world view, and have sworn an allegiance to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, according to a top Iranian military commander.

Iran “has Basijis of the Islamic world from six countries in Syria and Iraq,” said General Mohammad Reza Yazdi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for Tehran. Basij are present from other countries, too,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted him as saying. “But naming them could cause problems.”

The Basij is a civilian volunteer force established during the Iran-Iraq war, but which in Iran has since taken on an internal security role and is now controlled by the Guards.

In Syria, Yazdi said, the Basij is mainly engaged in “cultural activities,” an apparent reference to non-military assistance to promote Iran’s state ideology and win local support.

Iran-backed Shiite militias have fought alongside allied government forces in Syria and Iraq, playing a lead role in dismantling the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate. But Tehran’s growing influence has also escalated its regional rivalry with top Arab power Saudi Arabia.

Iran Sees Its Rivals Uniting as Israel Talks Up Saudi Ties

In a mark of the country’s expanding regional significance, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Turkish counterpart were last week invited to Russia by Vladimir Putin, where the three leaders developed their shared vision for a Syria peace plan.

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