Iran death toll in Syr­ian civil war hits over 1,000

Turkey is­sues ar­rest war­rant for Syr­ian Kur­dish leader

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BEIRUT: More than 1,000 sol­diers de­ployed by Iran to Syria to back the govern­ment side in its civil war have been killed, an Ira­nian of­fi­cial said, un­der­lin­ing Tehran’s in­creas­ing pres­ence on front lines of the con­flict. It was a ma­jor in­crease in the re­ported death toll from just four months ago, when the Is­lamic Repub­lic an­nounced that 400 of its sol­diers had died on Syria’s bat­tle­fields. Iran has been send­ing fighters to Syria since the early stages of the more than five-year-old war to sup­port its ally, Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad, against rebels and Is­lamist mil­i­tants in­clud­ing Is­lamic State try­ing to top­ple him.

Al­though many of the sol­diers the Shi­ite Mus­lim Iran sends are its own na­tion­als, it is cast­ing its re­cruit­ment net wide, train­ing and de­ploy­ing Shi­ites from neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan and Pak­istan as well. Half of the death toll re­ported in Au­gust were Afghan ci­ti­zens. “Now the num­ber of Iran’s mar­tyrs as de­fend­ers of 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 for Iran, was quoted as say­ing by Tas­nim news agency.

Iran al­ludes to its fighters in Syria as “de­fend­ers of the shrine”, a ref­er­ence to the Sayeda Zeinab mosque near Da­m­as­cus, which is where a grand­daugh­ter of the Prophet Mo­ham­mad is said to be buried, as well as other shrines revered by Shi­ites. Many Ira­ni­ans ini­tially op­posed in­volve­ment in Syria’s war, har­bor­ing lit­tle sym­pa­thy for As­sad. But now they are warm­ing to the mis­sion, be­liev­ing that the Sunni ji­hadist Is­lamic State is a threat to the ex­is­tence of their coun­try that is best fought out­side Iran’s borders. With public opin­ion swing­ing in­creas­ingly be­hind the cause, num­bers of vol­un­teer fighters have soared far be­yond what Tehran is pre­pared to de­ploy in Syria. Mean­while, Turkey has is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for the leader of the main Syr­ian Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal party over a deadly bomb­ing in Ankara in Fe­bru­ary, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Ar­rest war­rants were is­sued for the Syr­ian Kur­dish Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD) leader Salih Mus­lim as well as sev­eral fugi­tive lead­ers of the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK) over the Fe­bru­ary 17 bomb­ing against mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, it said. Turkey had blamed the PYD and its mil­i­tary wing, the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) for the bomb­ing which left at least 28 peo­ple dead and was fol­lowed by an­other dev­as­tat­ing bomb­ing in the cap­i­tal in March. But the Kur­dis­tan Free­dom Fal­cons (TAK) — a rad­i­cal splin­ter group of the bet­ter-known PKK-claimed the sui­cide bomb­ing, say­ing that it was in re­sponse to se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions in the south­east.

Turkey con­sid­ers the YPG and the PYD to be ter­ror groups, ac­cus­ing them of seek­ing to carve out an au­tonomous Kur­dish re­gion in north­ern Syria and work­ing with Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad. But while the United States sees the PKK as a ter­ror group, it works closely with the YPG as its main ally on the ground in the fight against ji­hadists in north­ern Syria. The dis­pute over the YPG and PYD has raised ten­sions be­tween Ankara and Wash­ing­ton. As well as Mus­lim, ar­rests war­rants were is­sued for fugi­tive PKK lead­ers Cemil Bayik, Mu­rat Karay­i­lan and Fehman Huseyin over the bomb­ing, Anadolu said. All three are be­lieved to be at the group’s para­mil­i­tary rear bases in moun­tain­ous north­ern Iraq.

Ar­rest war­rant

— AP

US Navy fighter jet takes off from the deck of the USS Dwight D Eisen­hower air­craft car­rier. The car­rier is cur­rently de­ployed in the Gulf, sup­port­ing Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion against Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists in Syria and Iraq.

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