In comments that should raise eyebrows around the Middle East and the wider region, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Hossein Salami met with Iraq’s Defense Minister Thabet Mohammad Said Reda, offering support for Iraq’s armed forces.

It is not entirely clear what the IRGC might provide but it is already in the spotlight since the US views it as a terror organization and it has received more EU attention.

Iran’s desire to get closer to Iraq’s security forces is part of Iran’s regional goal to expand the influence it already has in Iraq. The IRGC said that another part of its goal is to expel the US from the region and also to prevent any “normalization” between Iraq and “the Zionists.”

How Iran sees its role in Iraq

This means that Iran views its role in Iraq as a way to counter Israel’s ties in the Gulf and to counter the US. This could have potential negative ramifications for the American and European role in the Kurdistan region.

Iran has played a key role in Iraq for years. The IRGC was already linked to key Iraqi politicians at the Interior Ministry and also to unit commanders from the Popular Mobilization Units, or Hashd al-Shaabi.

Although Iran has key agents in Iraq and has worked through the Kataib Hezbollah, Badr, Asaib Ahl al-Haq groups, potential training of Iraq’s official army would be a new step. The Hashd was incorporated into Iraq’s official paramilitary forces during the war on ISIS, which in itself was already controversial.

Reda hinted that the IRGC is prepared to provide “consulting” and assistance “including in the field of training at the lower levels to the higher levels of the Iraqi armed forces,” according to Iranian news outlet Tasnim News, considered to be close to the Guard Corps.

This means Iran wants this to happen, and it would complicate US support for Iraq’s security forces as part of the anti-ISIS mission, although Washington has withdrawn from most facilities.

Iranian-backed militias from the Hashd were involved in dozens of attacks on US forces between 2019 and 2021, as well as targeting the Kurdistan Regional Government, including the airport in Erbil, a hangar used by the US and the site of a new American consulate currently being built.

The Kurdistan region is considered to be pro-Western, close to the US and a key conduit for strategy in the region. Iran has often targeted the Kurdish region, attempting to destroy Kurdish dissident groups amid the recent wave of protests in Iran.

After the Kurdistan referendum vote in 2017, IRGC Quds Forces head Qasem Soleimani weakened the Kurdistan region, plotting with Baghdad to send forces into Kirkuk. Then, pro-Iranian militias in Iraq clashed with the Kurdish Peshmerga, which the US and other Western countries have trained over the years.

Baghdad and Erbil are often in consultations about issues, like budgets. Any Iranian attempt to grow influence in Iraq could be seen as a move against the US, or as a way for Iran to move into more offices in Iraq to control border crossings, like the one to Syria at Al Qaim.

IRANIAN-BACKED GROUPS have operated across the border in Syria’s Albukamal and have moved up and down the western side of the Euphrates River, targeting US forces at Omar field and Conoco. Thus, any Iranian move to “consult” or “advise and assist” Iraqi forces, a role akin to US advisers in other countries, would have major ramifications.

Iran may be plotting to supplant the US role in Iraq. US forces from Central Command are currently in Iraq at the invitation of Baghdad. If Iran moves to consult and train Iraqi forces, it would be a reason for Iran to encourage Iraq to evict US forces.

Iraqi defense chief Thabet Muhammad Saeed Al Abbasi was welcomed by his Iranian counterpart Brig.-Gen. Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani in a recent visit, just a few days after the Iranian foreign minister visited Baghdad for talks with the country’s senior officials, according to Iranian state media.

“We are looking for a strong authority for Iraq if the Americans and Zionists are looking for domination in the region and creating insecurity in Iraq and Iran.”
IRGC Commander Hossein Salami

According to Tasnim, Salami welcomed the Iraqi to the IRGC headquarters and boasted that there was no daylight between the two countries. The Iranian IRGC commander then claimed that outside forces were seeking to “control” and divide Iraq, a clear reference to the US.

He presented this as an attempt to divide two Muslim countries. “We are looking for a strong authority for Iraq if the Americans and Zionists are looking for domination in the region and creating insecurity in Iraq and Iran,” the IRGC commander said, according to the Iranian report.

Salami made no secret of Iran’s goal: to expel the US from the region. “Despite the reduction of the regional presence of the Americans, we are witnessing the painful phenomenon of the normalization of relations between some Arab Islamic countries and the Zionists, and of course, Iraq has an admirable position in this regard,” he said.

The reports noted the joint Iran-Iraq struggle against ISIS and also mentioned the ”martyrdom” of Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed by the US in Baghdad in 2020.

The Iraqi defense minister said he wanted to strengthen Iraq’s defenses and that he was in favor of a joint commission between the two countries to work on cooperation. “Our approach is to take advantage of Iran’s experiences in all fields, especially in the field of defense and security,” Abassi reportedly said, “and we are interested in using the experiences by sending our delegations of technical experts to Iran.”

Source » jpost