“Iranian forces have become a critical element in Assad’s dramatic recent successes in the war. In late November, an Iranian official acknowledged that large numbers of Iranian fighters have been killed in Syria. “Now the number of Iran’s martyrs as defenders of [the] shrine has exceeded 1,000,” Mohammadali Shahidi Mahallati, head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs, which offers financial support to the relatives of those killed fighting in Syria, told an Iranian news agency.
Iran labels its Shia fighters in Syria “defenders of the shrine,” referring to Sayyida Zainab, a mosque near Damascus where a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. The new Iranian death toll was much higher than the four hundred reported at the beginning of the summer—a clear sign of Iran’s stepped-up involvement and also that the Syrian regime is chronically short of manpower. And showing the extent to which Iran has created a broader Shia front in Syria, Mahallati also admitted that the largest number of foreign fighters killed in August were Afghan Shias whom Iran had enlisted—although he did not refer to any number.
A US-Russia deal on Syria would be seen by many Syrians and by the Arab countries in the region as a surrender to Tehran, allowing the Islamic Republic to consolidate its influence across the Levant. Still, Iran’s admission that its Syrian intervention has come with significant human costs comes as a boost to Arab rulers, who remain hopeful that the incoming US president will take a strong stand against what they see as Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.”