A top Iranian general coordinating the Islamic Republic’s fight to defend President Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been "critically wounded" by shrapnel, according to reports obtained over the weekend by a leading Iranian opposition group that has been known to obtain information from within the regime’s inner circles.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, also known as the MEK, disclosed that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who is leading Iran’s fight in Syria and also is responsible for the deaths of Americans, had been severely wounded in the war-torn country’s Aleppo region.
The report could not be independently verified and claims of Soleimani’s demise in the past several weeks have turned out to be untrue. However, the MEK is known to have connections within Iran’s guard corps and has in the past disclosed secret aspects of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Soleimani, "the notorious commander of the terrorist Quds Force, has suffered severe shrapnel wounds, including in the head, while at Aleppo’s southern front two weeks ago," the MEK disclosed to reporters late Saturday.
The Iranian military leader was reportedly struck by anti-Assad forces aligned with the Free Syrian Army, which has received support from the U.S. government in its fight to depose the Syrian president.
"Soleimani’s vehicle, which he used to oversee an operation by the IRGC and a number of mercenary forces, took a direct hit from the Free Syrian Army forces, critically injuring Soleimani," the MEK claimed in its report.
"Due to the severity of his wounds, Soleimani was immediately airlifted by an IRGC helicopter to Damascus and after receiving preliminary treatment was transferred to Tehran," the MEK said. The general "is hospitalized at IRGC Baqiyatallah Hospital, on Tehran’s Mollasadra Street."
Soleimani is believed to have undergone at least two surgeries to treat his wounds, the opposition group said. A neurologist and brain specialist is said to be treating the corps commander.
"The IRGC counterintelligence section has imposed a total blackout to prevent any leaks on the news of Soleimani’s wounding," the MEK said. "The hospital personnel are under strict orders to refrain from answering any questions in this regard."
Shahin Gobadi, an MEK official based in Paris, said in a statement that the Iranian leadership is concerned about Soleimani’s condition.
"The Iranian regime is worried that the news on Soleimani’s wounding would totally demoralize the IRGC forces and the militias in Syria," Gabadi said. "Even now, the IRGC personnel are terrified and quite anxious due to the large number of casualties suffered in the past couple of months in Syria."
"The supreme leader of the Iranian regime, Ali Khamenei and the IRGC have been dealt successive blows despite tapping all their military, economic, and political resources in the war against the Syrian people," Gabadi said.
Iranian officials and its state-controlled media have denied the reports that Soleimani is injured.
"Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani is fully healthy and is assisting the Islamic resistance in Syria and Iraq to fight against the [Islamic State] terrorists spiritedly and fully energetically and powerfully," said Gen. Ramezan Sharif, the IRGC’s public relation’s director, according to the country’s state-controlled media outlets.
"The reports on his injury are sheer lies to affect the public opinion and the resistance front," Ramezan maintained, claiming that the reports are meant to distract attention from Iran’s successful efforts to defend Assad.
Iran, which has been working with Russia to back Assad, claimed late this week that Solemani has been responsible for rescuing a Russian pilot who was shot down by Turkish forces while running missions in Syria. Others have dismissed these reports as a cover story created to distract from the reports of Solemani’s injury.
Iran has suffered severe casualties in Syria in recent months, with at least 53 of its highly trained fighters being killed in the fight to defend Assad.
Iranian fighters aligned with the corps and other specialized forces have moved to the "front lines" in Syria since the country signed a nuclear agreement with the United States and world powers.
"The heavy losses incurred by Iran in Syria have required the Iranian leadership to provide justification for Iran’s military involvement in Syria and explanations for the high number of Iranians killed," the Meir Amit Center wrote in a recent brief on the situation. "To that end the regime instituted a media campaign to enlist public opinion to support Iranian involvement in Syria and obviate any possible criticism."
Michael Ledeen, a former State and Defense Department consultant, recently said that Iran is suffering casualties among a range of its military branches.
"A considerable number of Iranians are being killed and maimed in the regime’s desperate effort to save the Assad regime," he said. "That includes military fighters and officers from the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah as well as intel officers from MOIS. This is very unpopular in Iran. Traditionally the regime got Arabs to fight for them; this time their own men are on the firing line."