A senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed fighting Daesh west of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Tehran-based Tasnim news agency reported today.
It is the first time Iran has announced the death of a senior commander during the operations launched in October to drive the militants out of Mosul. The IRGC commander likely died trying to support the Shia jihadist militants of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) to establish Iran’s long coveted land route from Iran to the Syrian Mediterranean coast at Latakia.
“Commander Shaaban Nassiri was martyred in operations to free the area west of Mosul,” the pro-Tehran Tasnim news agency quoted the Revolutionary Guards as saying.
The IRGC is the main backer of the Iraqi Shia PMF jihadist force and exercises control over the militants despite the fact the PMF are supposed to answer only to Iraq’s prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi.
Nassiri was killed near Ba’aj, one of the last cities which remain under Daesh control, near the Syrian border, according to Mashregh, an Iranian news website. Ba’aj is one of the key border towns in Iraq that will need to be taken before Iran’s land route to the Mediterranean can be established.
Nassiri fought in the Iran-Iran war of 1980-1988 and has been involved in the six-year war in Syria, backing President Bashar Al-Assad, according to Mashregh.
A general from the IRGC assumed the post of Iran’s ambassador to Iraq in April, in a sign of the key role the military force is playing in its neighbouring country.
The PMF announced yesterday the capture of the Sinjar military base, near Ba’aj, moving its presence closer to the Syrian border in pursuit of Iran’s wider geostrategic objectives. Under Tehran’s direction, Iraq’s Shia-led government is aiming to control the border in coordination with the Iranian-backed army of the Assad regime.
Iran has provided military support to Assad since at least 2012, but initially did not comment publicly on its role. But as the military support increased and Iranian casualties rose, officials began to speak more openly.
An Iranian official said late last year that more than 1,000 Iranians had been killed in the Syrian civil war. These include a handful of senior commanders of the hardline IRGC, according to Iranian media reports.
Iran has helped to train and organise thousands of Shia jihadist fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Syrian conflict. Fighters from Lebanon’s Shia jihadist Hezbollah are also working closely with Iranian military commanders in Syria.