Popular Mobilization Forces personnal stand by a burning truck after a drone attack, blamed on Israel, in western Iraq near the Syria border, August 25, 2019 (AP)

A commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has been killed in an airstrike inside Syria near the Iraq border.

Iraqi security personnel and local militia confirmed that a drone strike slew the commander and three men travelling a vehicle with him between Saturday and Sunday.

Iraqi officials named the commander as Muslim Shahdan. They said his vehicle was carrying weapons across the Iraqi border and was hit after it had entered Syrian territory. Iran-backed Iraqi militia retrieved the bodies.

The attack came within 48 hours of the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran, and less than two weeks after Israeli airstikes killed several Iranian personnel in eight attacks on Iranian and Assad regime positions near Damascus and in southwest Syria.

After the airstrikes, Iran’s Foreign Ministry promised a “crushed response” and taunted that Israel was being “very cautious”.

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Throughout Syria’s 114-month conflict, Israel has regularly struck regime and Iranian positions. It is seeking to prevent transfer of weapons and missiles to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, another essential backer of the regime, and to pressure Iran to withdraw its forces and Iranian-led foreign militias.

Since April, the strikes have escalated. Targets across the country have included Damascus International Airport, the T4 base in central Syria, positions with Iranian personnel and Iranian-led militia near the Iraq border, and Assad regime posts in southwest Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The commander’s death is the latest blow to the Revolutionary Guards’ senior personnel. In early January, a US drone strike outside Baghdad Interantional Airport killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force responsible for operations outside Iran. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah, was also slain.

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