Iran death toll in Syrian civil war hits over 1,000
Turkey issues arrest warrant for Syrian Kurdish leader
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.
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.