An overview of the groups supporting the Assad regime on the ground today. 

Syria's war, now in its sixth year, is is three conflicts in one. It is a regional proxy war, an international counter-terrorism operation, and a popular uprising against a dictator. Developments on the ground are murky, with a plethora of armed groups involved in the fighting.

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, groups have come and gone, alliances have formed and dissolved, complicating facts on-the-ground even further. After the fall of east Aleppo last year and the launch of peace talks in Astana and Geneva in January, rebel factions in northern Syria have formed significant coalitions.

The list below gives an overview of the most prominent actors supporting the Assad regime, and of their ideological outlook. It is not exhaustive, but it covers a full range from Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps to Hizbullah to Iran-backed Shia militias. (Click here for a list of the main opposition factions, from Kurdish forces to Islamist extremist groups, or see CRG's report on the ideology and objectives of the Syrian rebellion).

The Quds Force, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

The Quds Force, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps

Leader: Major-General Qassem Suleimani

Date of Establishment: 5 May 1979

Number of Fighters: 15,000

Funding: Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests

Location: Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and some Gulf States

Country of Origin: Iran

Key Facts:

  • The Quds Force is an elite special forces unit within the Iranian military, which is called Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Only devoted Shia Muslims are considered eligible for the Quds Force, with mosques and holy sites playing a key role in the recruitment process. Fighters are recruited from outside Iran as well, including in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Lebanon.

Hizbullah

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Hizbullah

Leader: Hassan Nasrallah

Date of Establishment: 9 April 1983

Number of Fighters: around 25,000, with 6,000- 8,000 in Syria

Funding: Iran and Syria. Hizbullah also has fundraising networks across the globe, including in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, the Middle East, and the US. Much of its money comes from private donations and profits businesses. Groups and individuals from abroad support Hizbullah through illicit activities, such as the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone and credit card fraud in the US.

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests
  • To expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • To destroy Israel

Location: Syria and Lebanon

Country of Origin: Lebanon

Key Facts:

  • Some members of Hizbullah were part of the Amal Movement, a Lebanese political party associated with the Shia community in the 1980s before it emerged as an independent organisation.
  • In 1983, Hizbullah carried out an attack on a US embassy marine base in Beirut that killed 63 people.

Kataib Hizbullah

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Kataib Hizbullah

Leader: Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis

Date of Establishment: 2007

Number of Fighters: around 7,000 

Funding: IRGC

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests
  • To expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • To fight ISIS

Location: Iraq and Syria

Country of Origin: Iraq

Key Facts:

  • In December 2009, the group reportedly conducted a sophisticated cyber-attack, hacking into US drone feeds in Iraq to monitor and evade military operations. This led to speculatation that the group has a relatively sophisticated cyber unit or specialist working under its command.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Asaib Ahl al-Haq

Leader: Laith al-Khazali (brother of former leader Qais al-Khazali)

Date of Establishment: 2006

Number of Fighters: around 5,000

Funding: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests
  • To expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • To fight ISIS

Location: Syria and Iraq

Country of Origin: Iraq

Part of: Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) in Iraq, which was formed on the basis of a fatwa by Iraqi Shia cleric Ali Sistani. The PMU was integrated into Iraq's armed forces last year.

Key Facts:

  • The group is involved in Iraqi politics through a party named Sadiqoon, however it has not surrendered its weapons to the government.

Harakat Hizbullah al-Nujaba

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Harakat Hizbullah al-Nujaba

Leader: Akram al-Kaabi

Date of Establishment: 2013

Number of Fighters: around 7,000

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests
  • To expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • To fight ISIS

Location: Syria and Iraq

Country of Origin: Iraq

Part of: Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) in Iraq.

Key Facts:

  • The group has three brigades (Liwa Ib Yasi, Liwa al-Hamad, and Liwa al-Imam al-Hasan al Mujtaba) that are actively operating in Syria's Aleppo, Homs, and Idlib provinces, as well as Damascus, in support of President Assad.

Badr Organisation

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Badr Organisation

Leader: Hadi al-Amiri

Date of Establishment: 1983

Number of Fighters: around 10,000 - 50,000

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To expand Iranian influence
  • To promote Shia interests
  • To expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • To fight ISIS

Location: Syria

Country of Origin: Iraq

Part of: Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) in Iraq

Key Facts:

  • The Badr organisation is a political party with a military wing. In 1980, it fought alongside the IRGC in the Iran-Iraq War. It led attacks against Iraqi government officials in the south of the country. 

Zulfiqar Brigade

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Zulfiqar Brigade

Leader: Abu Shahd al-Jabouri

Date of Establishment: mid 2013

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To protect religious shrines, in particular the Sayyida Zaynab shrine.

Location: South Damascus

Country of Origin: Afghanistan, the Hazara minority

Key Facts:

  • Syrian opposition groups have accused the brigade of committing a massacre in al-Nabk city in 2013. The Brigade's leader was shown executing a man in public surrounded by dead children.

Fatimiyun Brigade

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Fatimiyun Brigade

Leader: Current leadership unknown. The former leader Ali Reza Tavassoli was killed in Syria in 2015.

Date of Establishment: 2014

Number of Fighters: around 20,000

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To protect religious shrines

Location: Deraa province

Country of Origin: Afghanistan, the Hazara minority

Key Facts:

  • The Fatimiyun Brigade is one of the group's that has been bolstered by IRGC's recruitment of Afghan Shia refugees. IRGC reportedly pays the recruits 500 US dollars a month to be "martyrs" in Syria.

Zaynabiyun Brigade

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

Zaynabiyun Brigade

Date of Establishment: 2015

Number of Fighters: between 2,000 - 5,000

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Internationalist Shia (Wilayat al-Faqih)

Objectives:

  • To support Assad
  • To protect religious shrines
  • To fight ISIS

Location: Aleppo province, including Damascus.

Country of Origin: Pakistan

Key Facts:

  • The brigade is comprised of Shia Pakistani fighters recruited by the IRGC under a religious rhetoric to fight the Sunni extremism of groups like ISIS by "protecting shrines." The members mostly come from the west Pakistani Tori and Panjish tribes. The Iranian government has promised Iranian citizenship for Afghani and Pakistani Shia fighters who "serve for Iran's interest."
  • According to Zahnabiyun Brigade's Facebook page, volunteers are offered around 1,200 US dollars as a monthly salary with 15 days of holidays after three months.

National Defence Militia (NDF)

Syrian Civil War: Who is Supporting the Government?

National Defence Militia

Leader: Ghassan Nassour and Fadi Saqr

Date of Establishment: 2013

Number of Fighters: around 100,000

Funding/Support: Iran

Ideology: Secular Nationalist

Objectives:

  • To support Assad

Location: Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo provinces.

Country of Origin: Syria

Former Name: "Shabiha," a reference to President Bashar al-Assad's Alawi supporters.

Key Facts:

  • NDF militants are heavily armed and equipped, but reportedly receive little military training.