A commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps has been killed in Syria while defending a Shiite shrine, a semiofficial news service reported Monday.
Mohammad Jamali Paghalleh, identified as a member of the Islamic corps, was “martyred” while defending the Sayyida Zainab shrine southeast of Damascus, according to Iran’s Mehr news service. No other details were provided.
The golden-domed Sayyida Zainab, said to house the tomb of the granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad, has drawn numerous militiamen from outside Syria to defend it from attack. The site, revered by Shiites, has suffered damage from periodic mortar strikes by mostly Sunni Muslim rebels. The shrine remains a favored destination of Shiite pilgrims from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The slain Iranian commander was identified as a veteran of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq and a member of the Revolutionary Guard’s Sarallah brigade in Kerman province in southeastern Iran. His guard colleagues were expected to attend his funeral Tuesday in Kerman, Mehr reported.
In the last two years, Mehr said, the slain commander had volunteered for duty fighting “terrorists” in Syria and “defending the holy shrines of the Shiite saints.”
Iran’s role in Syria’s civil war remains both controversial and opaque. Reports of Iranian casualties in Syria surface occasionally.
Iran is a key ally of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have suffered heavy losses battling rebels for more than 2 1/2 years. It has provided financial and military assistance to Assad’s government and has reportedly helped train Syrian forces.
But Iranian officials have repeatedly denied allegations by the Syrian opposition and their allies, including the United States, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are fighting alongside Syrian troops. Iranian officials have acknowledged dispatching advisors to Syria, but not fighting units.
In September, video surfaced on the Internet that appeared to show Iranian officers working with government forces in Syria. The video was reportedly seized after rebels overran a government position near the northern city of Aleppo. Published reports indicated that a Republican Guard commander pictured in the video was later killed in Syria, as was an Iranian cameraman who may have recorded the video.