The IRGC’s new deployment pattern

Most important aspect of Iranian deployment is that it involves regular IRGC ground troops rather than just units of IRGC’s expeditionary wing, al-Quds Force.

Full extent of IRGC forces involvement is not known

2015/10/23 Issue: 28 Page: 2

The Arab Weekly
Ali Alfoneh

The October 7th death of Brigadier-General Hossein Hamedani, the most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander killed in the Syrian war, underlines Iran’s growing military involvement in the conflict.

This has taken place in tandem with Russia’s military interven­tion, a major build-up by the two powers that are the most impor­tant allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime and one that was planned several months ago.

The most important aspect of the Iranian deployment is that it involves regular IRGC ground troops rather than just units of the IRGC’s expeditionary wing, al-Quds Force.

This marks a much more extensive deployment by the Tehran regime, which has strate­gic interests in keeping Assad in power and demonstrated Tehran’s concern that the Damascus regime had been near collapse, unable to replace heavy combat losses, defections and draft-dodging.

This trend is illustrated by the growing death toll among Iranian forces and field commanders. Hamedani, for instance, was not an al-Quds Force commander but a senior officer in the IRGC’s regular ground forces.

Hamedani’s service in the IRGC can be traced back to the sup­pression of the separatist move­ment in Iranian Kurdistan in 1979, establishment of the 32nd Ansar al-Hossein Division of Hamadan province, and command of the 16th Quds Division of Gilan prov­ince — not to be confused with al- Quds Force — during the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

After the war, for a time, Hamedani served as commander of the IRGC’s Najaf Ashraf base in Kermanshah province in north-western Iran and as deputy chief of the Basij Resistance Force.

Most remarkably, Hamedani, in his capacity as commander of the Mohammad Rasoul-Allah Division, which is responsible for security in Greater Tehran province, sup­pressed the widespread anti-government rallies in the capital following the June 2009 presiden­tial election that was widely seen as fraudulent.

According to IRGC commander Major-General Mohammad-Ali Jafari, it was that experience that qualified Hamedani for “voluntar­ily moving to the region in 2011” to advise the Syrian government when protests against Assad erupted.

It was during Hamedani’s watch that the Basij organised its so-called Imam Hossein brigades with the primary mission of subduing urban unrest and anti-government rallies. Jafari disclosed that in Syria Hamedani organised similar “people’s armies” to try to ensure the survival of the regime.

In other words, Hamedani had a solid record in the IRGC’s ground forces, had never served in IRGC al-Quds Force prior to his mission in Syria in 2011 but was the highest ranking IRGC field commander in that country.

The full extent of the IRGC ground forces involvement in Syria is not known following persistent reports that hundreds, and pos­sibly thousands, of Iranian troops have been sent to Syria.

Tehran has made no announce­ment on this issue and it has every reason to play down Iran’s mount­ing losses in a civil war in which it claims it is not directly involved.

However, a survey of 137 identified Iranian citizens killed in combat in Syria since January 2013 shows an increasing number of IRGC ground force commanders.

Since June, combat deaths in­clude Captain Hamed Javani of the East Azerbaijan Ashoura Division, killed in action in Idlib province on June 26th. On July 13th, Colonel Qassem Gharib, deputy com­mander of the Neynava Division, was killed near Palmyra in central Syria.

On August 30th, Ahmad Hayari, commander of the Shoush Basij Imam Hossein Brigade, was killed in Latakia, a regime stronghold in the north-west where Russian forces are based. These are just some of the regular IRGC fatalities in 2015.

Shortly after Hamedani’s death, General Hamid Mokhtarband, chief of the Ahwaz-based Hazrat-e Hojjat Armoured Brigade’s Combat Team, and Farshad Hassouniza­deh, his chief of staff, were killed in combat.

The pattern in IRGC fatalities provides indications of a new Ira­nian military deployment in Syria.

Al-Quds Force, the IRGC’s expeditionary arm, which is ac­tive in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, is relatively small — about 15,000 men. In the wake of mounting al-Quds Force casualties in regional conflicts, the IRGC has had to deploy its regular Ground Forces to Syria to bolster al-Quds Force contingent.

This emerging deployment pat­tern in turn is rapidly changing the characteristics of the IRGC itself as it blurs the differences between the missions of the IRGC’s ground forces, whose primary task is to protect the Iranian homeland against external enemies and the regime against domestic oppo­nents, and that of the Quds Force, which handles operations, invari­ably clandestine in nature, outside Iran.

This means that, in effect, the Syrian war is transforming the entire IRGC into an expedition­ary force. This is likely to increase IRGC military interventions in the Middle East in the future and suggests that more Iranian forces could be deployed in Syria.

Ali Alfoneh is a non-resident senior fellow at Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved