Approximately 2,100 Iranian sponsored troops have died while fighting in Iraq and Syria over the past few years, according to Iranian state-run media.
The head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs told the Islamic Republic News Agency that “some 2,100 martyrs have been martyred so far in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums.”
He had originally reported a number of around 1,000 in November, referring to fighting only in Syria.
Iran has heavily invested in the Syrian Civil War on the side of President Bashar al Assad, by providing funds, intelligence support, logistics, and soldiers in an effort to keep their primary ally in the region afloat.
What started as mainly backing the Lebanese Hezbollah during the early stages of the war slowly expanded as the war spun increasingly out of Assad’s control. Now thousands of Iranian ‘volunteers’ and recruits from Shia sects across the Muslim world have been pumped into the fight by Iran.
The Syrian War has been marketed as a holy war by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, encouraging volunteers through Iranian state-run media to go and fight as ‘defenders of Zaynab,’ a reference to a critical figure in the history of Shia Islam.
Iran also sees the Islamic State as a threat to its regional authority. As a powerful and growing Sunni-based terror network, the Islamic State could potentially come to pose a threat to Iran’s surrogates and eventually even within its own borders.
There have been reports of large numbers of Afghan Shiites being pressed into service in Syria, recruited from within the large Afghan minority living inside Iran and from within Afghanistan itself.
The multiple references to Iranian fighters as defenders of ‘mausoleums’ or ‘shrines’ is also a pointed reference to Sunni sects which oppose icons and other physical representations of their faith. The 2006 bombing of the ‘Golden Mosque of Samarra’ was a key turning point in the Iraqi Civil War, as the mosque is one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.
The Iranian effort in Syria, and its support along sectarian lines, indicates the regime in Tehran is less concerned over the plight of Muslims as a whole, and more interested in securing a future Muslim world that has Iran and Shia Islam at the top.
Image courtesy of the BBC. Image purports to show Iranian fighters with Syrian government forces