The openly acknowledged death in Syria of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander presents new evidence of Iran's direct involvement in that country's war, experts in Iranian affairs told Diyaruna.
Iranian media outlets and official websites on Sunday (October 15th) confirmed that Gen. Abdullah Khosrawi, commander of IRGC's Al-Fateheen (Conqueror) Battalions, had been killed in the Syrian arena.
Khosrawi was described as an IRGC commander from the city of Arak who was sent to Syria to fight among that city's contingent.
The news of Khosrawi's death offers further proof of Iran's direct involvement in the Syrian war, said Sheyar Turko who specialises in the IRGC and the methods it uses to finance itself and spread.
In particular, it presents clear evidence of Iran's involvement in the transport of foreign fighters to Syria to take part in the battles, he told Diyaruna.
Khosrawi was known to be the commander of Al-Fateheen Battalions, a group of volunteer fighters that is affiliated with the paramilitary Basij forces, he said.
"After the outbreak of the Syrian war, some Al-Fateheen Battalions units were transported to Syria by air under the pretext of protecting the holy shrines in Damascus," he said.
Other units were transported to the Syrian provinces of Homs and Hama, where they operate alongside Hizbullah units, as well as other Shia militias under the control of the IRGC's elite Quds Force control, including the Fatemiyoun brigade, which encompasses Afghan fighters, and the Zainabiyoun brigade, made up of Pakistani nationals.
There are an estimated 3,000 Al-Fateheen Battalions troops in Syria, at a minimum, Turko said, and they are rotated periodically with fresh troops.
The force is made up of IRGC officers and elements, in addition to civilian volunteers, most of whom were recruited by the IRGC’s sectarian mobilisation teams, he said.
Deaths expose regional agenda
Khosrawi's killing was a painful blow to the IRGC, Turko said, as "he was a veteran of the IRGC, and one of the senior officers who had fought in the Iran-Iraq war".
The IRGC has tried its best to keep the lid on news about Iranian fighters in Syria for fear of international reactions, said Fathi al-Sayed, an al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher who specialises in Iranian affairs.
"But the large number of battles and high losses suffered by Iranian and affiliated militias has brought the matter out into the open in a big way," he said.
This is mainly because the IRGC deployed the bulk of its forces in the eastern parts of Homs province and the Syria-Iraq border area to gain control over the border crossings, he said.
This is part of Iran's plan to open up a land route from Tehran to the Mediterranean, through which it can funnel fighters and arms and expand trade, and therefore, bolster its influence in the region.
Al-Sayed said the Iranian losses are enormous, as evident by the large number of announcements of officer deaths over the past months.
Significant losses include IRGC officers Col. Murtaza Shalmani, Maj. Gen. Mustafa Mohammadi and IRGC military advisers Mohammed Taj and Morteza Husseinpour, he added.