Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been criticized by Afghan analysts for comments that suggested Iran’s proxy groups would fill the vacuum left behind when U.S. forces depart.
“If the Afghan government so decides, [the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Fatemiyoun Division] can help the Afghan government fight against Daesh,” Zarif said on Sunday, December 20.
This is controversial because the Fatemiyoun was created using desperate men and boys from countries like Afghanistan, who were promised Iranian citizenship in exchange for risking their lives in Iran’s wars, notably in defense of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
One Fatemiyoun commander said that over 80,000 men in the Fatemiyoun Brigade have been deployed to Syria so far.
US-based Afghan scholar Tabish Forugh said that Afghanistan shouldn’t “risk provoking unnecessary sectarian violence in the country” through the use of these IRGC militias.
Meanwhile, analyst Shafiq Haqpal said: “We need peace, not overtures for the use of mercenaries. Suggesting such an idea is like adding fuel to a flame that can become a big fire eventually. We do not want Afghanistan to become another Syria or Iraq.”
It is further controversial because the Afghan people generally see the IRGC’s Fatemiyoun as traitors and terrorists, with Afghan TV even flying the Fatemiyoun flag alongside ISIS’s flag with the comment that both threaten Afghanistan’s security equally.
The U.S., who will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021 with the Taliban likely taking control of the country, has also named the Fatemiyoun Division as a terrorist group.
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Who Are the Fatemiyoun?
The Fatemiyoun Division, also known as the Brigade, is a Shi’a militia that the IRGC Quds Force formed in 2014, which is mainly staffed by Afghan men and boys.
The Iranian government has previously claimed that the Fatemiyoun is solely staffed by volunteers, but former IRGC official Parviz Fattah said on state-run TV in February, during an interview about dead Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, that the recruits are paid by the Iranian authorities.
He stated, in the video that went viral on social media in April, that when he was head of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, Soleimani asked for money to pay the Fatemiyoun Brigade salaries. These salaries are about $900 a month, which is way more than more Iranians earn because the government needs some way to trick vulnerable Afghan immigrant boys to sign up.
Given the Iranian government’s unpopularity in the Middle East, it is unlikely that the Fatemiyoun will gain control in Afghanistan.