Iran abandons discretion of role in Syria war

Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran. (Reuters)

Abandoning a long-standing reticence, Iranians are increasingly candid about their involvement in Syria’s war, and informal recruiters are now openly calling for volunteers to defend the Islamic Republic and fellow Shiites against Sunni militants.

With public opinion swinging behind the cause, numbers of would-be fighters have soared far beyond what Tehran is prepared to deploy in Syria, according to former fighters who spoke to Reuters, and commanders quoted by Iranian media.

Iran has been sending fighters to Syria since the early stages of the five-year war to support its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in the struggle against rebels backed by Gulf Arab states and Western powers.

Once Tehran described these forces as military “advisers” but with around 400 killed on the battlefield, this discretion has slipped and several thousand are now believed to be fighting Islamic State and other groups trying to topple Assad.

Many Iranians initially opposed involvement in the war, harboring little sympathy for Assad. But now they are warming to the mission, believing that Islamic State is a threat to the existence of their country best fought outside Iran’s borders.

“The first line for the security of Iran is Syria and Iraq,” a would-be volunteer named Mojtaba told Reuters by email from Tehran. Mojtaba, who asked that he be identified by only his first name, said he had been trying in vain to get out to fight in Syria for the past two years.

While ISIS still holds large areas of Syria and Iraq, it has so far failed to stage attacks in neighboring Iran like it has in Turkey.

Nevertheless, Iranian media have reported the breaking up of cells linked to the extremist group at home, and the large numbers of people such as Mojtaba willing to join the battle in Syria suggest Tehran has the stamina to pursue its involvement there for years if it wishes.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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