By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
The head of Iran’s Qods Force, which has been accused by U.S. officials of providing military aid to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, doesn’t seem to believe the Syrian dictator can win.
Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force
In comments published by Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Qasem Soleimani said that if the Syrian regime had a few commanders like the IRGC and Basij leaders who lost their lives in the Iran-Iraq War, it would be "insured" against "incursions."
Soleimani, who is believed to have had a significant role in Iran’s attempts to broaden its influence in the region, was reportedly speaking at a commemoration ceremony for the commanders of the 27th Mohammad Rasoul-Allah Division who lost their lives in the bloody eight-year conflict between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.
Soleimani named some of the iconic "martyrs" of the war with Iraq and called them the "missing piece" in Syria. The Iranian commander also spoke at length about Iran’s war with Iraq, which Iran describes as the "Sacred Defense."
He said the war with Iraq reflected a "religious truth."
“If you look at mujahedins throughout the world, you will never find scenes similar to those of the Sacred Defense," Soleimani said. "Even though they act for God, and are engaged in jihad, [and] they fight against the U.S and Israel, but they have major differences with the source.”
Soleimani is on the list of IRGC officials who have been sanctioned by the United States over their alleged roles in a reported assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Iran has denied the charges.
Soleimani, who generally keeps a low public profile, earlier this month personally visited the home of an IRGC commander killed in Syria to notify his family of his death.
Iranian media announced on February 13 that General Hassan Shateri, said to be in charge of Iran’s reconstruction operations in southern Lebanon after the war with Israel, was killed while traveling from Damascus to Beirut.
Iranian media blamed agents of "the Zionist regime" without offering details about the unexplained circumstances of Shateri’s death. The news that he was coming from Damascus raised new speculation about Iran’s role in Syria.
Iranian officials have dismissed Western reports that the Islamic republic is sending financial and military aid, including weapons, to the Syrian regime, its only ally in the region.
Last year, Deputy Qods Force Commander Ismail Ghaani confirmed the “effective” presence of Iranian forces in Syria, saying Iran was involved in Syria to prevent the killings of civilians.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on February 28 that Western governments need to take a more realistic approach to the crisis in Syria.
“We all have to recognize the fact that there is a government in Syria that is not ready to step down, and nobody -- no external power or any other country in the region -- has the right to ask the government of Syria to step down," Salehi said.
He also called for the resolution of the conflict through dialogue between the government and the opposition.
On March 2, news agencies quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that Tehran expects Assad to stay in as president until elections next year. Salehi's statement came at a joint news conference with his visiting Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, who was in Tehran for talks aimed at ending the nearly two-year-old conflict.
The UN says the death toll in Syria is some 70,000.
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