Iran has heavily invested in maintaining the Assad regime in power in Syria, and it appears that the overthrow of Bashar Assad is evaluated as a prelude to its own downfall.
Iran’s Quds Force had from along ago, and months before its operations in Aleppo, taken action to dispatch Iraqi Shiite militias under the Quds Force command and Afghan mercenaries of “Fatemioun Division” to provide the necessary troops on the ground in the war and Syria and fight alongside the Lebanese Hezbollah members. These troops play the role of “disposable” soldiers in Tehran’s war strategy in Syria, similar to the Bassij members the mullahs’ sent to battle against Iraq back in the 1980s. The fact that they will be killed is insignificant. What is important, however, is that their numbers have to be so high to easily replace them on the battlefield.
1. In early June Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, in charge of the Quds Force in Iraq, travelled to this country from Iran specified a certain number of troops each Shiite militia group had to dispatch to Syria. Arrangements were made to have around four to five thousands Iraqi Shiite militias sent to Syria prior to the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast.
2. As Operation Aleppo began in early October, the Quds Force began suffering heavy casualties. The death of Hossein Hamedani, a senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander who oversaw all Quds Force operations in Syria, delivered a serious blow to the spirits of the Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite militias dispatched to Syria. As a result, the operation could no longer continue and render results with these forces only.
3. To this end, the Quds Force began dispatching a number of elite IRGC members from the Saberin units. These forces also failed to provide any serious results on the ground. Once again, the Quds Force had no option but to resort to dispatching even further Iraqi Shiite militias and Afghan mercenaries to Syria.
4. From early October a new round of militias associated to the Quds Force, including Asaeb al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah and al-Najba to Syria. Although the militias had lost their spirits due to the high number of casualties, the Quds Force provided them huge salaries and onlythrough such measures were they able to prevent them from returning to Iraq.
5. In mid-November a large number of Asaeb and al-Najba militants were killed near Aleppo. Quds Force chief Quds Force and his deputy, Gha’ani, getting wounded on the ground, along with al-Najba militia leader Akram al-Ka’bi, all played major roles in destroying their troops’ morale.
6. From then on the numbers and names of IRGC and militia members killed on the ground were heard here and there. For example, in mid-November in the span of just 24 hours 20 IRGC members and Iraqi-Lebanese militia troops were killed near Aleppo. Sabbah Kadhem, a commander of the “Ansarrallah Ofiay Iraq” group, was amongst those killed. In another case reports indicate Asaeb militia members were retreating from battle and fell into an ambush placed by Syrian fighters, leaving more than 40 of them killed and a number of others captured. Two of the captured militia members were Asaeb commanders from Baghdad’s Sho’le and Karkh regions.
7. In early December 600 Asaeb militia members were dispatched from Iraq to Syria based on Quds Force orders. Asaeb leader Qeis al-Khazali became committed to send another 200 militias from Iran to Syria before December 20th.
8. al-Najba leader Akram al-Ka’bi was wounded in a rocket attack launched by Syrian fighters near Aleppo on Saturday, November 28th along with a number of Lebanese Hezbollah commanders. High casualties and senior Quds Force and Iraqi-Lebanese militia commanders being wounded severely lowered the spirits of the Iraqi militias. This resulted in all groups ordering their troops back to Iraq from Syria.
9. In another case after mid-December Asaeb militia members fell into a Syrian fighters’ ambush near Aleppo. More than 80 of their members were killed and others were taken captive.
10. Finally, again after mid-December, due to the high IRGC and Shiite militia casualties suffered on the ground, the Quds Force decided to halt the entire Aleppo operation and pulling back their troops. The IRGC has conducted this retreat under the cover of troop reorganization and reconstruction of ranks and files.
11. Due to their high casualties, and the resulting desertion by Iraqi Shiite militias from Syria, the Quds Force dispatched a number of Iranian mullahs to Iraqi Shiite militia training centers and halls to deliver speeches about martyrdom and jihad to escalate their spirits.
12. Most of the Iraqi Shiite militias present in Syria alongside IRGC troops belong to the al-Najba and Asaeb groups, and they have suffered the most casualties. While the main Quds Force commanders in Syria have either been wounded or pulled out of the battlefronts, this has left no motivation for the militias to continue fighting. In mid-December in only one battle near Latakia over 50 al-Najba militia fighters were killed.
13. In most of the regions Quds Force commanders are attempting to inspire the Shiite militias to conduct attacks hoping the Russian air force will provide air cover. The militias suffered severe casualties in most of the attacks due to the lack of Russian air support. The militias also lack a coordination system with the Quds Force, rendering high casualties on a daily basis and forcing them to retreat from their positions.
14. The Quds Force has emphasized to all Iraqi Shiite militia leaders to never publicize the true number of their casualties in Syria, and the bodies have to be secretly transferred to Iraq for burial in their cities. The IRGC is emphasizing that the revelation of the true number of deaths in Syria will definitely weaken the spirit and morale of Iraqi Shiite militias back home and they will refuse to dispatch to Syria in the future.