Khamenei to Assad: You Owe Us, Now Pay up

Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, on his first visit to Tehran since the civil war erupted in March 2011, faced a tough supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. When the smiles and hugs were over, the Iranian leader reminded his visitor how much he owed Tehran for the survival of his regime.

1. Khamenei needed those photo-ops of warm embraces with a foreign leader and grateful thanks for all Iran had done for him and Syria through eight years of war. The regime is bitterly blamed by the Iranian street for bringing the country to penury by squandering precious national resources for propping up the Syrian dictator, importing foreign militias and paying Hizballah to fight for him. Iran’s state TV ran non-stop images of Assad and the supreme leader warmly embracing in the style of a world-class summit.

2. Khamenei made no bones about his expectation that the contracts for all the vast reconstruction work on the war-damaged country, its cities, agriculture, transport, industry and rebuilding the national army, be awarded to Iranian firms. He proposed setting up an Iranian-Syrian clearing house for this purpose. Assad was understood to have agreed to appointing Iran head of Syria’s reconstruction program.

3. The Iranian leader demanded that the imported Shiite militias be integrated in Syria’s national armed forces. He referred to the Pakistani Zainab Brigade and the Liwa Fatemiyoun Brigade or Hezbollah-Afghanistan, although not the Iraqi Shiite militias. Khamenei wants the families of the Pakistani and Afghan militiamen, which are held in refugee camps in northern and eastern Iran, to be transferred to Syria and granted citizenship.

4. Tehran demands Assad’s backing for the Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s next plan, which is to string Iraqi Popular Mobilization (PMU) forces the full length of the 675km of Iraqi-Syrian border. To clear the way for the militia to take over, Soleimani is conducting a purge of local Sunni tribal chiefs who object to the PMU’s invasion of their lands. Assad’s consent to this project would cause the cutoff of US cross-border supply routes for the American forces staying in northeastern Syria.

5. Khamenei insists on the 5,000 Hizballah troops remaining in Syria receiving the same preferential status as Russian forces. 6. The Iranian and Syrian leaders also discussed joint operations between their forces and Hizballah against Israel. Gen. Soleimani took part in this discussion.

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