Iranian media reports say that five Iranian Shrine Defenders — including two high-ranking commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — have been killed in the ongoing fight inside Syria.
According to Iran’s state-run Fars news agency, Khairollah Samadi, an IRGC commander in charge of a unit in Syria, was among the dead.
The name Shrine Defenders is what Tehran calls its fighters stationed in Syria. It claims that forces are to protect the Zeinab Shrine, a Shi’ite holy site near Damascus. Since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war against anti-Assad groups across the country and it organized a multinational army that also allegedly includes fighters from Lebanon and Iraq. Some Iranian government-sponsored media outlets have also released video footage that shows fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Popular Mobilized Forces (PMF) helping the Syrian Army in their operation in the recently liberated Syrian town of Abu Kamal.Some Iranian media outlets have released a video showing Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani greeted by victorious soldiers in Abu Kamal. “With the liberation of Abu Kamal, we secured the region from IS and other foreigners,” said Qasim Muslih, a commander with PMF. “No matter if you call it Shia Crescent, or whatever you want to name it, we have a fortified bloc here.” With the swift advancement of pro-Syrian regime forces and Tehran dispatching fighters into newly acquired territories, the risk of a potential confrontation with U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces is on the rise.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, in a televised comment on a visit to Beirut last week, said that pro-Syrian regime forces will advance soon to capture the city of Raqqa. A top aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, also expressed Damascus’ unhappiness with rebellion groups this week. “The U.S. troops assisting Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] are [considered as] illegal invaders.” SDF is the major Syrian opposition group fighting IS with the support of Washington. However, the United States has not made it clear if it will continue to support them against pro-Assad forces once the fight against IS ends.