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Iran's Revolutionary Guard expands its economic empire in Syria

Syrian opposition groups have condemned the country's new economic deal with Iran, which will see entities close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) rewarded handsomely with lucrative energy, mineral and real estate contracts.

Syrian opposition factions have described the deal between the Iranians and President Bashar Al-Assad as the "looting" of the Syrian people and the country's wealth by the "Iranian extremist militias [IRGC]."

Syria and Iran have signed five memorandums of understanding, which includes a license for Iran to start operating a mobile phone service in Syria, as well lucrative phosphate mining contracts. Reuters, citing Syrian state news agency SANA, quoted Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis as saying the deals reflect the "special relationship" between the two nations.

Iran's early intervention in the Syrian civil war prevented the total collapse of the Assad regime, and it is for that reason that Syria's indebtedness to Iran cannot be underestimated.

In addition to the military assistance given by Iran through the IRGC and its proxy Shia jihadist forces, Tehran also opened a $3.5 billion credit line to Damascus in 2013, and extended it by $1 billion in 2015. According to Reuters, economists say that this has helped keep the Syrian economy afloat.

It is believed that the reconstruction of Syria will provide a massive boon to the expanding business empire of Iran's IRGC, which is controls a third or more of the Iranian economy, including control over large parts of the massive energy sector.

The force that was created by Iran's modern theocratic founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, almost 40 years ago to protect and defend the principles of his so-called Islamic revolution is described by analysts as "a corporation, a business conglomerate with guns."

Under this new deal, the IRGC, which largely controls telecommunications in Iran also, would benefit massively from the agreement, especially once they achieve control over Syria's telecommunications network. This will allow Iran to closely monitor domestic Syrian communications, and perhaps even continue their long-standing assistance to the Assad regime in surveilling the communications of any potential dissidents.

In addition to the major telecommunications deals, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported that Syria will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for agricultural projects, and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals. A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.

Tehran and Damascus also signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in a phosphate mine in Syria's eastern provinces, according to IRNA.

In a separate meeting on Wednesday with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian premier Khamis called for investment in reconstruction projects in Syria, as "the infrastructure has been destroyed by war."

Tehran has already shown interest in helping Syria rebuild its roads, airports, power stations and ports — benefiting the Revolutionary Guards, who already own the biggest construction firms in Iran.

But not all Syrians have welcomed what Tehran and Damascus have hailed as "a new page" for economic ties. One political opposition group called the deals "illegal and unacceptable" under any circumstances.

"These agreements represent a further blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty as they are meant to reward an occupation force in return for its involvement in shedding the Syrian people's blood and attempting to break their will," the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement on its website.

While Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East program, commented that "Iran increasingly treats Syria as one of its own provinces," he also added that "They [Iran] saved Assad from falling, and now seem to feel entitled to help themselves to the Syrian economy."

SANA further reported that Tehran and Damascus aimed to sign a deal within two weeks to pave the way for investments by Iranian companies in a Syrian port, although it did not say which one.

The Iranian energy minister was also quoted by SANA as saying that Tehran was ready to sign a long-term agreement with Damascus in the energy sector.

Iranian firms are already involved in a series of electricity generation projects worth $660 million in Syria, according to state media in the Islamic Republic.

Iran aims to export electricity to Syria and create the biggest power network in the Islamic world by hooking up Iran's national grid with those of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, all countries under Tehran's global sway.

IranMiddle EastNewsSyria
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