Mourners gather around the bodies of Iranians killed in Syria, during their funeral in Mashad, Iran in this handout photo obtained by Reuters September 21, 2016. Tasnim News Ageny/Handout via REUTERS
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Abandoning a long-standing reticence, Iranians are increasingly candid about their involvement in Syria's war, and informal recruiters are now openly calling for volunteers to defend the Islamic Republic and fellow Shiites against Sunni militants. With public opinion swinging behind the cause, numbers of would-be fighters have soared far beyond what Tehran is prepared to deploy in Syria, according to former fighters who spoke to Reuters, and commanders quoted by Iranian media.Iran has been sending fighters to Syria since the early stages of the 5-year-old war to support its ally, President Bashar Assad, in the struggle against rebels backed by Gulf Arab states and Western powers.Many Iranians initially opposed involvement in the war, harboring little sympathy for Assad.The potent message of protecting the shrines has drawn in Shiite Afghans, some of whom live in Iran and others in Afghanistan.Senior officials regularly discuss the role of the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian special forces in Syria in terms of confronting the existential threat that mostly Shiite Iran faces from Sunni militant organizations such as Daesh.
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