US says Iran forming pro-regime militia in Syria (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Mathieu Rabechault 08/14/12)
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The United States on Tuesday accused Iran of setting up a pro-regime
militia in Syria as Washington increasingly ties the crisis there to
interference by its long-time foe Tehran.
Western powers are already locked in a diplomatic stand-off with Iran
over what they say is its plan to develop nuclear weapons, and
tensions are high between US and Iranian patrols in the oil shipping
lanes of the Gulf.
Iran and Syria are long-standing allies and joint sponsors of the
Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, but the formation of an Iranian-
backed force inside Syria would mark a new and dangerous chapter in
an already bloody conflict.
Rights groups say more than 23,000 people have been killed in 17
months of fighting between troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-
Assad and rebel forces, including civilians killed in the regime´s
"It is obvious that Iran has been playing a larger role in Syria in
many ways," US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a joint press
conference with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Panetta said the United States has evidence that Iran´s Revolutionary
Guards are "trying to develop, trying to train a militia within Syria
to be able to fight on behalf of the regime."
"We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern
to us. We do not think that Iran ought to play that role at this
moment in time, that´s dangerous... It´s adding to the killing that´s
going on in Syria."
Panetta urged Tehran to stay out of the conflict, saying: "Our hope
is that Iran thinks better about how much they do want to get
involved. The Syrian people ought to determine their future, not
Last week, Syrian rebels captured 48 Iranians they accused of
supporting the regime. Tehran admitted that some of the men
were "retired" Revolutionary Guards, but insisted they were on a
The Revolutionary Guards, an elite military organization, has a
history of sponsoring armed groups abroad in order to further Iran´s
Apart from Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite armed faction in Lebanon,
Iran has also been accused of supporting various Shiite militias in
Iraq, such as elements of the Mahdi Army of firebrand cleric Moqtada
Hezbollah has proved one of Israel´s deadliest foes in clashes in
southern Lebanon and stands accused of carrying out bomb attacks
around the world. The Mahdi Army at times bitterly resisted the
former US occupation of Iraq.
The US administration had already accused Hezbollah of lending aid to
Assad´s embattled regime, and Dempsey said the new militia is based
on the model of the Mahdi Army and has Shiite and Alawite recruits.
Assad´s regime is dominated by figures from his Alawite minority, a
sub-branch of Shiite Islam, and the defections of several senior
Sunni Muslim officials in recent weeks has sharpened the country´s
The bulk of the rebels are from Syria´s Sunni majority, and both
sides have been accused of attacks on members of rival communities.
The US officials said Syria´s army has been weakened by desertions
and defections within its top hierarchy.
"The Syrian army has been fighting now for about 18 months or so. And
any army would be taxed with that kind of pace," Dempsey said, adding
he expected that the Syrian military was experiencing resupply and
"That´s why Iran is stepping in to form this militia, to take some of
the pressure off of the Syrian military."
Panetta said that Washington would continue to provide humanitarian
aid to Syria refugees, to monitor the regime´s chemical weapons
stockpile and to send "non-lethal" supplies to the rebels.
He added that some of the United States´ regional allies would
provide "more aggressive assistance to the opposition as well" -- an
apparent reference to reported arms shipments from Turkey, Qatar and
Saudi Arabia. (Copyright © 2012 Agence France Presse. 08/14/12)
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