Top Iranian general killed in Syria
Dubai - Iran is repatriating the body of a top-ranking military officer killed in April in southern Syria, Iranian news agencies reported. Hadi Kajbaf was at least the second senior Iranian to die there in 2015 while supporting Damascus in the war.
Kajbaf, a major-general in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was killed near the rebel-held town of Busr al-Harir, about 100 kilometres south of Damascus, the IRGC-linked Tasnim agency reported.
Three other Iranians, including a mid-ranking Shia cleric, were killed alongside Kajbaf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Iranian military and financial support has been crucial to helping President Bashar Assad survive the war, now in its fifth year.
The conflict is a focal point for Shia Islamist Iran’s power struggle with Sunni Saudi Arabia, which supports insurgents battling to topple Assad.
Kajbaf held the highest rank used in Iran’s armed forces, making him more senior than an IRGC brigadier-general who was killed in January in an Israeli missile strike in Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, along with a number of fighters from the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group.
Southern Syria is one of the regions where Assad has faced significant setbacks since March. Insurgents fighting there include the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and groups that profess a more secular outlook and are backed by Assad’s Arab foes.
The late commander’s son, Sajad Kajbaf, told Tasnim the general’s body was to be flown to Iran on June 12th. It was not clear how Iran had obtained the body, which was taken by rebels when he was killed.
An unknown number of Iranian military advisers have deployed in Syria in support of the Syrian army and the militias fighting alongside it. The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah is now deployed more widely than ever in Syria.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani recently vowed to back the Syrian government “until the end of the road” after the battlefield setbacks suffered by Assad.
Iran, the world’s major Shia power, justifies its intervention in Syria by portraying the mostly Sunni rebels as hard-line Sunni Islamist extremists. Islamic State and al-Nusra Front are the two most powerful insurgent groups in Syria.
Iran projects power in the Middle East by allying with regional proxies who follow Shia Islam or its offshoots. Assad belongs to the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia.