Beginning March 21, 2017, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition began to advance in the north of Hama, and reached within three kilometers of the city of Hama. According to an article published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the IRGC dispatched its forces in Damascus and its suburbs, using its highest ranking commanders. These forces were present in the North and West of the city of Hama and around the town of Soran. They include battalions of the 19th Fajr Shiraz Division, battalions of the division known as Nabi Akram of Kermanshah, Saberine special battalions of Tehran province, and Ninawa brigade forces in Golestan province.
Dozens of IRGC forces and their mercenaries, including some IRGC commanders, were killed in the region less than two weeks before the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun. The NCRI reports that some of them include:
• Revolutionary Guards Corps Brigadier General Abdullah Khoshnoud from 19th Fajr Division on March 29 in the outskirts of Hama;
• Colonel Morad Abbasifar, from the division known as Nabi Akram who had close relationship with Qasem Soleimani, in late March in the town of Moardas in northeast of city of Hama;
• Mohammad Jannati known as Haj Haidar, a commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, in late March in Tarabee near the city of Halfaya;
• Saeed Khaja Salehani, an IRGC officer, on March 25 in north of Hama;
• Hossein Moez Gholami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, Abuzar Farahbakhsh and Ghodratollah Aboudi from 19th Fajr Division in Hama province.
A large number of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries sent by the IRGC to Hama province were also killed. So high were the losses, that on March 31, four days before the chemical attack, Qassem Soleimani visited the IRGC forces to boost their morale.
“The goal of chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was changing the balance of power in favor of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” writes the NCRI, adding, “The IRGC conflict zone was on average 20 km away from Khan Sheikhoun.”
The IRGC forces continued their assault after the chemical attack, and last week, the bodies of a number of Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries were returned to Iran.
Bashar al-Assad’s ground force is weakened, and so offensive ground operations in Syria are now carried out by the IRGC, with support from Assad’s air force.
In his memoirs, Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, who commanded the IRGC forces and was killed in October 2015 near the city of Aleppo, wrote, “In March 2013 (opposition) was quite close to a victory … they tightened the noose and got closer to the Syrian Presidential Palace such that they were set to occupy the palace… Bashar al-Assad also thought it was over and was pursuing to go to another country.” Hamadani goes on to tell how the IRGC saved Bashar al-Assad from being overthrown.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran writes,”The role of the clerical regime and the IRGC in recent chemical attack proves once again that the only way to end war and bloodshed in Syria is to evict the mullahs’ regime and to expel the IRGC and its mercenaries from the country.”