Iran Switching to Hard Ball in a Last Attempt to Control Iraq

Shi'ite fighters and Iraqi army members participate in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Jurf al-Sakhar October 26, 2014.(Photo: © Reuters)

Shi’ite fighters and Iraqi army members participate in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Jurf al-Sakhar October 26, 2014.(Photo: © Reuters)

The unforeseen ouster of Nouri al-Maliki represented a major defeat for the Iranian regime’s agenda in Iraq. Tactics had to be switched.

BY JACOB CAMPBELL:

“Good Opportunity”

A “good opportunity” is how Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi – one of the Iranian regime’s most senior clerics – described the events of June 10.

By most accounts, the fall of Mosul on that date was exactly the crisis the mullahs needed to tighten their grip on Iraq.

In a June 16  article for the New York Times, under the headline “ISIS Will Fail in Iraq, and Iran Will Be the Victor,” Steven Simon of the Middle East Institute predicted that, “to the extent that this sectarian brawl produces something resembling a winner, it won’t be in Washington, Mosul or Baghdad – but in Tehran.”

Drawing much the same conclusion, Middle East experts Michael Doran and Max Boot wrote in the Washington Post on June 17 that “the rise of ISIS provides Tehran with multiple benefits. For one thing, it makes … the Shi’ites of Iraq ever more dependent on Iranian protection.”

Nor is the long shadow cast over Iraq by the Iranian regime visible only from a Western perspective.

As Iraq’s Azzaman daily – a favourite of Iraqis in the country’s predominantly Shi’ite south – reported on September 4, “The stunning military successes by the Islamic State (IS) have made Iraq more reliant on Iran than any time before … IS’s invasion [has] given Tehran more leverage on almost all aspects of life in the country.”

Likewise, on October 1, Iranian dissident and human rights activist Amir Basiri argued in Forbes magazine that “Iran has been able to benefit immensely from the havoc that the Islamic State has wreaked across Iraq … [by using it] as an excuse to surge thousands of troops through the porous Iran-Iraq border and notch up the violent activities of its many proxy militia groups.”

Indeed, in the months that followed the Mosul takeover, at least 5,000 Revolutionary Guards – including 200 elite Qods Force officers – swarmed across the border into Iraq, while membership of the Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia tripled to over 30,000, swelling the total number of Iraq’s Shi’ite militiamen to well in excess of 150,000.

Consequently, the Pentagon assessed that, by mid-July, the Iraqi army was “deeply infiltrated” and had become “heavily dependent on Shi’ite militias – many of which were trained in Iran – as well as on advisers from Iran’s paramilitary Qods Force,” the New York Timesrevealed.

According to Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, as reported by the World Tribune on September 22, “A study by US Central Command determined that 24 of the 50 brigades in the Iraqi army … [are] dominated by Shi’ites believed [to be] aligned with Iran.”

In an interview with CNN on October 13, Fareed Zakaria of the Council on Foreign Relations summarised the state of Iraq’s military in blunter – but no less accurate – terms: “There’s no real Iraqi army … If you scratch the surface of the Iraqi army, it’s a bunch of sectarian militias.”

All of this corroborates the following information, contained in a report handed to the author during a meeting with Iraqi tribal representatives in late June:

“Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), has set up his headquarters in the Baghdad International Airport zone, where he is directing the reorganisation and amalgamation of the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias into 200-man battalions, each of which is to be commanded by an IRGC-QF officer. Soleimani’s chief of staff is Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a senior advisor to the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia … Recently, Soleimani met with Hadi al-Ameri, Iraqi Transport Minister and leader of the Badr Brigade militia, to negotiate the merger of the Badr Organisation with Kata’ib Hezbollah … For all intents and purposes, Soleimani is now the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces.”

Rather than downplaying its control over the Iraqi army, the Iranian regime has sought to publicize it, with the state-run Fars Newsproudly affirming that “Soleimani is the actual leader of the Iraqi forces,” according to Iraqi News.

With Iraq in chaos and the reins of its military firmly in the mullahs’ hands, the Iran newspaper – a publication owned by the Islamic Republic News Agency – felt confident enough to claim in a June 26 editorial that, “[since] there is no way to resolve the escalating crisis in Iraq domestically, … Iran can pave the way for an interim coalition” to govern Iraq.

This, however, proved to be an overoptimistic miscalculation.

Read more at Clarion Project

Jacob Campbell is a Senior Fellow of the Humanitarian Intervention Centre, Head of Research at Stand for Peace, and Co-Chairman of the Ashraf Campaign (ASHCAM). He tweets@JCampbellUKIPon Twitter.

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Egypt’s Troubling Iranian Turn

Commander of Iran's Quds Force Qasim Soleimani

Commander of Iran’s Quds Force Qasim Soleimani

IPT: By John Rossomando

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force met with officials close to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a secret two-day visit to Egypt just after Christmas. The Times of London calls it “another blow to Cairo’s fragile relationship with the West.”

Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s “meeting was intended to send a message to America, which is putting pressure on the Egyptian government, that we be allowed to have other alliances we please,” a source told the Times.

The U.S. State Department designated Soleimeini as a terrorist, and the Quds Force serves as Iran’s primary unit for training and equipping foreign Islamic revolutionary movements. The Quds Force was responsible for setting up Hizballah in the 1980s and has been involved in training Hamas, the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

The Iranian paramilitary leader met with Essam al-Haddad, one of Morsi’s foreign affairs advisers, and Muslim Brotherhood officials, to advise them on building a security and intelligence apparatus independent from the national intelligence services that are controlled by the Egyptian military.

A report in The Australian suggests that the Egyptians invited Soleimani to meet.

“When the Iranian revolutionaries took control they didn’t trust the military, so they setup a parallel system independent of Iran’s army that has been quite successful,” Heritage Foundation Middle East expert James Phillips told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Consequently, the Brotherhood likely sees the IRGC/Quds Force as a successful model to copy, Phillips said.

Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din was forced out of the government after he objected to the meeting, Al-Arabiyah reported Thursday.

In addition, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Cairo Wednesday for talks that Iran hopes could lead to expanded ties with Egypt. The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1970 and granted asylum to the shah after he was overthrown.

Relations between Iran and Egypt have steadily improved since Morsi, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood figure, was inaugurated in July. Morsi also met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his late August visit to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit.

Syria will be high on the agenda during Salehi’s visit, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Iran and Egypt have competing interests in Syria, with the Iranians backing the Assad regime and the Egyptians supporting their Muslim Brotherhood brethren in their rebellion.

The meetings between the Brotherhood and Iran send the message that Egypt will move closer to Iran if the United States and other Western nations cut off aid, an unnamed Egyptian official told the Times.

“It is another sign that the Muslim Brotherhood is distancing itself from the U.S.,” he said. “It is wishful thinking the State Department, the CIA and other agencies that they can count on the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally against the more extremist Islamists.”