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Growing indications of large-scale Iranian casualties in Syria

Twenty-three members of Iran’s military forces from Varamin, a small town near Tehran, have died while fighting in Syria, Iran’s Mehr news agency has said.

The news agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, quoted Amir Pour-Javadi, head of the Foundation for Martyrs of Varamin City, as saying the city offered “23 martyrs who defended the sacred shine”.

“Defending the shrines”, which refers to the holy Shiite shrines found near Damascus, has been the rhetorical narrative offered for Iran’s large-scale deployment of troops in Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011. Tehran has used its resources to support the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, which has been engaged in a catastrophic war with rebel groups since that country’s Arab Spring uprisings.

There has been increasing evidence that Iran, which has stepped up its support for the Assad regime since 2014, has not been open about the actual number of Iranian casualties in Syria. Social media has made the severity of the human toll difficult to hide, with Syrian opposition fighters posting grisly images showing corpses of Iranian soldiers and Iranian passports and identification.

In April, Ali Akbar Velayati, Advisor on International Affairs to Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, praised Syria’s recent parliamentary elections, which have been referred to as “not legitimate” by US State Department personnel. He went on to reiterate Iran’s commitment to the Assad regime.

Iran and Syria have a strong strategic alliance, and Iran views Syria as a key regional ally. Tehran has provided Assad’s forces with technical and logistical support for the duration of the war, as well as ground troops and Iranian-trained Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.

Staffan de Mastura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, estimates that Iran spends $6 billion annually on supporting Assad’s regime, while some members of the Syrian opposition and, notably, Nadim Shehadi of Tufts University put the figure at $15 billion annually.

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