TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) – Mourners poured out onto the streets of Tehran on Thursday to pay their respects to several Iranian officers killed in Syria, a testament to the human cost of Iran’s involvement in the civil war and a public display of nationalist fervour as nuclear talks resume in Vienna.
The remains of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard members were recently recovered in Khan Tuman, a village about 15 kilometres south of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city that was for years the war’s most important front line.
The Guard identified the five deceased fighters, providing few details about their deaths with the exception of General Abdollah Eskandari – a decorated commander who became known as the “headless general” after his capture and beheading by Syrian rebels in May 2014. Their bodies were repatriated after a lengthy process of recovery and DNA analysis.
Iran has increasingly admitted casualties since it intervened to rescue Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, a ground presence that coincided with Russia’s air campaign and helped Assad recover control over most of the country.
Although Iran has only acknowledged its forces as having an advisory role, dozens of Iranian soldiers have been killed fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and other extremists in Syria.
Funeral marches snaked through cities across the country this week, beginning Monday in the northeastern city of Mashhad before moving south, returning each officer’s body to his birthplace for burial.
The thousands that gathered in Tehran’s streets on Thursday evening waved red flags to mark Ashura, a commemoration of the 7th century death of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) grandson Hussein, a revered figure in Shiite Islam.
In a speech, Guard commander General Hossein Salami hailed the return of the fighters’ remains and the survival of Assad’s government.
“We wanted the (Assad’s) system to remain but the US, Europe and the Arab world did not want it. Now see who remains in the country,” Salami declared.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said authorities arrested 10 suspects with links to the IS group who had planned attacks at various locations across Iran during Ashura rallies planned next week. Two agents were wounded in shootouts with suspected militants in the country’s south and west, the ministry added.