Iran has formed a new military brigade in Syria comprised of local Shia converts, according to a report earlier this month by Orient News, a UAE-based Syrian opposition news outlet.
The report states that the Hashemiyoon Brigade has been operating since mid-August and has been engaged in military activity alongside other pro-Iranian factions, such as the Zainabiyoun, Fatimiyoun and Huseynyun brigades.
Sources have disclosed that the new unit was formed at the start of the year and is based in the eastern Syrian city of Al-Bukamal. They are said to also maintain a presence in Al-Mayadin, Deir Ez-Zor and Raqqa, with new offices opened in Aleppo and the countryside of Damascus.
The sources also allege that the leader of the group is a Youssef Al-Hamdan, also known as Abu Issa Al-Masshadani, in addition to Musa Al-Mahmoud, who was recently appointed by Tehran as a dignitary in Al-Bukamal.
A report by Al-Monitor yesterday states that the Hashemiyoun have been working to exert influence over local tribal leaders and to convince them, along with clerics and other influential leaders, to join the Iranian-affiliated Euphrates Valley Tribes and Clans Council, "with the aim of spreading Shiism in the area".
OPINION: Removing Iran from Syria
One sheikh of the Bakara tribe in Deir ez-Zor was quoted in the report as saying, "All the members of the Hashemiyoon Brigade are tribesmen from the area, especially from Deir ez-Zor. The brigade is estimated to have around 200 members so far."
"Tehran is well aware of the tribes' influence in this part of Syria, as they are the original inhabitants with the largest population density—something that could help spread Shiism across the Syrian communities. Also, Iran [resorted to tribes] since it could no longer cover all battlefronts, given the ongoing losses and the desertion of dozens of fighters," the source added.
"Meetings are ongoing between tribal dignitaries in the area and Iranian leaders to recruit tribesmen into the ranks of the new brigade and cover battlefronts against Islamic State cells, Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] and the armed opposition factions."
In March, Foreign Policy stated that, over the last several years, Iran has expanded its cultural influence by encouraging Sunnis to convert to Shiism "or, at the very least, soften their attitudes toward their sectarian rivals", with some reportedly being influenced by financial incentives among impoverished Syrians.