Iran would like to see something in place after Assad falls, Fulton said.
A Hezbollah fighter from Beirut who said hed been to Syria a few times in the past year said Hezbollah was helping the Syrian militia with strategy but that the extent of Hezbollahs involvement in the conflict had been exaggerated.
When he was asked how many fighters he knew whod died in Syria in recent months, he declined to answer. Hezbollah had denied direct involvement in the conflict until it became nearly impossible for it to hide the funerals taking place in its Lebanese strongholds for fighters killed in Syria.
Hezbollahs direct involvement appeared to increase over the weekend, with clashes on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon that reportedly left at least a dozen rebels and three Hezbollah fighters dead. According to rebel sources, Hezbollah was attempting to expand its control over villages along the border.
The interview with the fighter, who used the pseudonym Dany because the groups media department hadnt authorized him to discuss such matters, offered a chilling window into the intractability of the Syrian war. In addition to Hezbollah fighters who are deployed in Syria, particularly on the Lebanese-Syrian border, Shiites from Iraq have volunteered to fight on Assads behalf, Dany said.
Iran also could use the Jaish Shabi _ Arabic for Peoples Army _ as a proxy to pursue its political objectives in Syria, much as it uses Hezbollah to promote its interests in Lebanon.
Danys reasons for fighting in Syria sounded quite similar to one of the U.S. governments rationales for invading Iraq 10 years ago: the need to stop Sunni extremists.
We must stop these takfiris before they reach Lebanon, he said, using an Arabic word that denotes religious extremists who believe that Shiites are apostates. Were going to go to Syria to fight because we have to stop it there.
For many, the formal training of the shabiha as a national militia just means more bloodshed.
My hometown is 75 percent Alawite and 25 percent Christian, said Nour, a 24-year-old woman from Maysaf, a small city near Homs. The Alawites were armed a long time ago. So the new name is just a new name.
She said the militia was particularly strong in Houla, a city where the shabiha were accused last year of hacking to death dozens of Sunni civilians, including women and children.
Nour complained that the rise of the militia had led to a breakdown in law and order in her area, as it supplanted the authority of more traditional police forces. She said that while there wasnt much fighting in her town, the militia played a role in supporting combat elsewhere.
Last summer a young teenager threatened the Christian guys with a pistol after they kicked them out of the neighborhood because he was hitting on the girls here, she said. And they said to him specifically: If youre a real man, go fight in Houla, not here!
They do whatever they want and nobody stops them, she said, admitting that the breakdown of order in the area had prompted her family recently to purchase a gun.
She expressed ambivalence about the growth of the militia. I dont really know how I feel about it, she said. We are being controlled by those thugs, and we cant say anything against the regime. At the same time, she acknowledged being fearful of a takeover by Sunni rebels.