Iran’s role in the civil war in Syria is playing out in multiple “theaters” simultaneously. The embroilment of Iranian ground troops (rather than just “advisors,” as Tehran has claimed) in the fighting near Aleppo has been well-publicized in the English-language media. But what of other arenas?
Iran’s direct and indirect participation in the Syrian conflict, which has long since morphed into a “neo-imperialist game” for regional powers, is complex to demarcate – with Iranian proxy Hezbollah fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisors and a motley of ground troops, many of them Afghan refugees or even children.
But it gets even more complicated: Iran is reportedly backing (along with Russia and the US) a Syrian Kurdish militia group in its standoff with a smaller Kurdish militia, backed by Iraqi Kurdistan and the Saudi-backed Syrian opposition.
Why? As The Washington Post’s David Ignatius recently theorized, the involvement of regional powers in Kurdish factional politics may be an attempt by them to “check the expansion of a ‘greater Kurdistan,’” a goal “bitterly opposed” by the Kurds’ neighbors. In other words, by supporting a Kurdish militia, a mere “chess piece” in the Syrian Great Game, Iran – in a deliberate “divide-and-rule manipulation” – is contributing to the exacerbation of the very factionalism and infighting which blocks Kurdish “unity and expansion.”
Thus, through its various military activities aimed at achieving hegemony in the Middle East, Iran is undermining (and violating) not only the sovereignty of its neighboring states (while hypocritically lashing out against any perceived threat to its own sovereignty), but also the struggle of the embattled, beleaguered Kurds for a sovereign state.