Abandoning a long-standing reticence, Iranians are increasingly candid about their involvement in Syria’s war, and informal recruiters are now openly calling for volunteers to defend the Islamic Republic and fellow Shi’ites against Sunni militants.
With public opinion swinging behind the cause, numbers of would-be fighters have soared far beyond what Tehran is prepared to deploy in Syria, according to former fighters who spoke to Reuters, and commanders quoted by Iranian media.
Iran has been sending fighters to Syria since the early stages of the five-year war to support its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in the struggle against Sunni rebels backed by Gulf Arab states and Western powers.
Once Tehran described these forces as military “advisers” but with around 400 killed on the battlefield, this discretion has slipped and several thousand are now believed to be fighting Islamic State and other groups trying to topple Assad.
Many Iranians initially opposed involvement in the war, harbouring little sympathy for Assad. But now they are warming to the mission, believing that Islamic State is a threat to the existence of their country best fought outside Iran’s borders.
“The first line for the security of Iran is Syria and Iraq,” a would-be volunteer named Mojtaba told Reuters by email from Tehran. Mojtaba, who asked that he be identified by only his first name, said he had been trying in vain to get out to fight in Syria for the past two years. (full article)