Iran Losing “Scores of Fighters” in Syria

Analysts monitoring Iran’s state media have detected a surprising number of funeral and “martyrdom” announcements in the last two months.  At least sixty-seven Iranian operatives have been killed during the phase of the war that began with the arrival of the Russian fire support, air force and naval gunnery elements.  This represents a nearly seven-fold increase over the pace with which Iranians had been dying in the Syrian conflict.  The dead have included ranking military commanders, especially Hossein Hamdani, a Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) general whose death was reported here in mid-October.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published a photo of himself visiting Hamdani’s family to show his support for their sacrifice.  Such demonstrations, as well as elaborate funerals for martyrs, are an important aspect of Iranian propaganda.

Reports indicate that Qassem Sulemani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, its elite unconventional warfare unit, was injured in Aleppo.  The seriousness of his wounds is in dispute.  The wounds apparently occurred during an artillery strike, in which shrapnel is said to have injured him in multiple places including his head.  Official Iranian sources say that he was “lightly” injured.  The National Council of Resistance-Iran (NCRI), an opposition group headquartered in Paris, cites sources they describe as being inside the IRGC as characterizing the wounds as “severe.”

Qassem Suleimani’s vehicle that was [present at the site of the artillery strike] for him to oversee an operation by the revolutionary guards and a number of hired forces was targeted by the Free Syrian Army severely injuring Suleimani.

Due to the severity of his wounds he was immediately transferred by an IRGC helicopter to Damascus and after receiving preliminary treatment was transferred to Tehran. He was hospitalized at IRGC Baqiyatollah Hospital which is in Tehran’s Mollasadra Street and so far has undergone at least two surgeries.

He is in the ICU (Section C7) of this hospital on the seventh floor and is not allowed any visitors. A group of doctors headed by Dr. Gholamreza Farzanegan, a neurologist and brain specialist, oversees his condition. Dr. Alireza Jalali, head of the Baqiyatollah Hospital directly follows up Soleimani’s condition. The head of Section C7 is Dr. Amir Davoudi and IRGC element Sheikhi is the coordinator of Section C7.

The IRGC counterintelligence section has imposed severe restrictions to prevent any leakage of information of Soleimani being wounded and has ordered all hospital personnel to refrain from answering any questions in this regard. The Iranian regime is worried that the news on Soleimani’s injury would cause a complete collapse of moral of the IRGC forces and the militias in Syria. Even now, the revolutionary guards are quite frightened and anxious due to the large number of casualties they have suffered in the past couple of months in Syria.

Those details about where he is located and who his doctors are ought to be verifiable by Western intelligence, which should be able to use such verification to indicate the probability that the NCRI’s sources are solid with regard to the intensity of Suleimani’s injuries.  The plausibility of fear among the IRGC given “the large number of casualties they have suffered in the past couple of months” has already been established.

The official Iranian sources certainly do have the morale interest in maintaining an appearance that Suleimani is not badly hurt and likely to return quickly to the front.  The statement that Suleimani is “in perfect health and full of energy” given by a spokesman of the IRGC is clearly an exaggeration at best.  However, Suleimani is alleged to have given an interview since the injuries.  Al Waght news service states that one of their reporters was granted an interview to discuss the life of Ghazanfar Mohammad Asl Roknabadi, a friend and lifelong member of the Iranian revolution who died in Mina this year.  “Martyrdom in Mina and after prayers in Arafat and revelation land for Mr. Rokn Abadi was a Glorious end,” Suleimani is supposed to have told the reporter.  “He interpreted a new concept from diplomacy by real Jihad for God’s sake.”

Asked about rumors that he had died in the recent artillery strike, Suleimani is said to have laughed.  “Martyrdom is what I seek in mountains and valleys but isn’t granted yet.”

If the interview is legitimate, however, it took place very far from the front lines in Syria.  The severity of the wounds must be great enough to justify withdrawing Iran’s top general from the field of battle at a pivotal moment, while his armies are under severe stress.