Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards take part in a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in Tehran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s increasing military involvement in Syria to sustain President Bashar Assad’s regime is costing more and more casualties and top commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guards force have been charged with mutiny and treason for refusing orders to fight there, a pan-Arab daily newspaper reported on Wednesday.
A source quoted by the London-based Asharq al-Awsat daily said several Revolutionary Guard generals from Ahvaz province which has a significant Arab population, have chosen to retire or go into business rather than fight in Syria.
An official investigation has been launched into the large numbers of generals from that region suddenly retiring from service, the source told the paper, which backs Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, a rival of Iran’s Shiite regime.
The source said further that a rise in deaths among the Revolutionary Guards’ special Quds force has led its leadership to recruit higher-ranking officers to fight in Syria.
Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite extra-territorial Special Forces arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The report could not be independently confirmed.
Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Washington-based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post
the real number of Iranian casualties in Syria was not known and Tehran has every reason to downplay the degree of its involvement and losses there.
“My survey of open-source data collected from the Persian language accounts of funerals in Iran, shows that 165 Iranian nationals, 154 Afghan nationals, and 26 Pakistani nationals – all Shiites – have been killed in combat in Syria since January 2013,” Alfoneh said.
He estimates that Hezbollah and Iraq’s Shiite militias have suffered greater casualties than Iran.
“Ever since the first Russian military engagement in Syria on September 30, there has been a marked increase in Afghan and Iranian casualties making October the bloodiest month in the entire course of the civil war for Iranian and Afghan forces,” said Alfoneh.
Thirty-four Iranians were killed in October while Afghan combat fatalities numbered 22.
Funerals have been held for six Pakistani nationals since June 25, “though there is no report of Shiite Pakistani combat fatalities in Syria,” Alfoneh said.
The Revolutionary Guards is increasingly deploying ground forces to Syria, which is a change from an earlier deployment of the Quds Force to that battle zone, Alfoneh said.
“This indicates the Quds Force is spread thin in several regional conflicts and has suffered heavy casualties in Syria,” he said.
“Deployment of the Revolutionary Guards is blurring the functional differences between it (a traditionally domestic force) and the Quds Force, which hitherto has served as the sole expeditionary warfare force.”
He said the Guards were increasingly using Iranian commanders for the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade.
“This may be an attempt to improve the leadership of the Afghan Shiite forces, which have suffered extremely high casualties.”
The Guards seem to have stopped using Pakistani nationals on the front line, he noted, attributing this to possible difficulties recruiting Pakistani Shiites for the war effort.
Iran has denied it has ground troops fighting in Syria, saying it has only dispatched advisers to help the Syrian army and Hezbollah.
However, increasing reports of Iranian casualties raise questions about how deep Iran’s involvement really is.
According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) last week, some 30 Revolutionary Guard officers were killed on the Syrian front in the previous two weeks, citing reports by sources affiliated with the Iranian force.
Iranian media has been full of war propaganda regarding its and its Syrian and Russian allies claimed successes against the rebels in the past few months.
Two officers of the Revolutionary Guards were killed in Aleppo on Tuesday “while serving as military advisers to the Syrian army,”
Iran’s Fars News Agency reported. A report earlier that day said Colonel Ezzatollah Soleimani had died in the same area.
Reuters contributed to this report.