A pro-Syrian opposition website has published footage on YouTube of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander in Syria criticizing the callous behavior of the Assad regime’s forces toward the Syrian people. One clip shows commander Esmail Heydari, who was killed in an ambush in Aleppo province in August along with the filmmaker who recorded the footage, complaining of the “bad habits” of Syrian troops.
“I feel that some of the problems here [in Syria] stem from a cultural problem created by the army,” Heydari says in the video, comparing the behavior of Syrian forces to that of the Iranian military under Iran’s former shah, who is widely reviled in the Islamic Republic and regarded as an oppressive dictator.
“In my meetings with them [Syrian commanders], I am trying to tell them that success comes through winning the respect and trust of the people,” Heydari says.
“I told Syrian commanders, ‘you must be commanders of your people’s hearts, and not act in the Soviet way of just ordering their bodies,’” he says.
“But even when they are driving in their cars, they are kicking up dust on their people,” he complains.
“For some years, people here have been afraid of this army. This army should learn to respect its people,” Heydari says.
Comparing Syrian forces to his own troops, Heydari says that he and his Iranian soldiers have cultivated good relations with the people in the area of his command by treating people with respect and sharing food and medicine with local residents.
“When I want to eat, I’m trying to share our food with anyone around me. If someone is injured, we are trying to give them medical treatment the same as we treat ourselves,” he says.
The video also shows Heydari complaining about the lack of discipline among Syrian troops.
“Here as a cultural habit, they stay up until morning smoking nargileh and drinking mate [tea]. If their smoking and mate are cut off, they will cut off their defense,” he jokes.
Mate is consumed heavily in several rural regions of Syria, including the coast, where the Alawite sect of President Bashar Assad forms a large part of the population.
“We are trying to tell them it’s necessary to practice and drill instead of smoking,” Heydari says.
A separate clip shows Heydari criticizing a member of the Syrian “civil defense” in Aleppo and asking why a nearby engineering base had been left unguarded the previous night.
The Syrian soldier responds that the problem will be corrected, but adds that some of his men want to return to their homes because they’ve been on duty for the last 15 days.
Heydari tells the soldier that he should obtain permission from his commanding officer before departing, volunteering to talk to the Syrian commander to convey the request.
But in another indication of the conflicting ethos of Iranian and Syrian troops, Heydari adds that he himself has been away from his family for more than 48 days and that his own commander had rejected his request for permission to take a short leave.
“So I’m still here,” Heydari says.
The rebel Dawud Brigade is said to have ambushed Heydari’s unit in the province of Aleppo on Aug. 19, killing the commander, as well as cameraman Hadi Baghbani, who was embedded with the troops.
The brigade has periodically released clips of Baghbani’s footage to opposition websites and news outlets.
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