Iran in All-out Bid to Seize Euphrates Land Bridge between Syria & Iraq

On June 9, the defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Syria huddling secretly in Tehran gave high priority to an ambitious, large-scale operation to recover all of eastern Syria from the Islamic State, focusing on the Deir ez-Zor region and the entire Euphrates River valley, which straddles eastern Syria and western Iraq.
A successful operation would enable the pro-Iranian militias coming in from Iraq to the east to link up with the Hizballah and Syrian army forces coming from the west and give Iran control of the most important land bridge between Iraq and Syria.
Three military forces were assigned the mission:
1. Hizballah.
2. The pro-Iranian Shiite militias who, fighting under two Iranian generals, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, commander of ground forces for the Revolutionary Guard Corps, won the battle of Fallujah for the Iraqi military. The most effective of those militias are the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Bader Forces.
3. The remnants of the Syrian army’s divisions 11 and 18 and reserve division No. 17 which have taken heavy losses in the last few weeks in their defense of Deir ez-Zor against ISIS assault.
This key operation was held up by the Fallujah campaign in Iraq. Now that most of the Iraqi city has been reclaimed from ISIS, the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias fighting there are preparing to advance toward the Euphrates River Valley (see map).
The Euphrates operation calls for air support and it is not clear who will supply it.
Russian warplanes operating over Syria nearly clashed with American jets on June 16 over the spot where the Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian borders meet. Since then, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Moscow has been urging Washington to let Russian planes cross the Syria-Iraq border and operate for the first time over the Iraqi side of the Euphrates valley and eastern Syria.
The decision lies with US President Barack Obama.
The Russians argue that the defeat of ISIS forces in eastern Syria will weaken the terrorist organization against the pro-American Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces fighting there. But US approval would also open the way for the first Russian air force fighters and bombers to operate in western Iraq.
It would also represent a continuation of Obama’s secret support for the Iranian and pro-Iranian forces that captured most of Fallujah. The US administration is only feigning indignation over the entry of rampaging pro-Iranian forces into the Sunni city, in breach of the prior agreement between Washington and Tehran.

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