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Iranian intervention in Iraq (2014-present)
Part of the 2014 military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
size
Present territorial control of Iraq, ISIL (Gray), Iraqi Government (Red), Kurdish forces (Yellow), as of Script error: No such module "Iraq_Syria_map_date".
Date13 June 2014 – present
(7 years, 4 months and 5 days)
LocationIraq
Result

Ongoing

  • Iranian airstrikes on ISIL positions in Iraq
  • Iranian troops engaging ISIL in Iraq
  • Ground contact between Iranian-affiliated Iraqi militias and ISIL troops
Belligerents

 Iran
Hezbollah[1][2]
Local forces:
 Iraq
 Iraqi Kurdistan[3]
Local Shia militias:
23x15px Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq[4]
23x15px Badr Organization[4]

23x15px Kata'ib Hezbollah[5]
Muqawimun[6]
 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Commanders and leaders
Units involved

Iran Iranian Armed Forces

Iraq Iraqi Armed Forces

Coat of Arms of Kurdistan.svg Kurdistan Regional Government

Military of ISIL
Strength

Iran Iran:

Unknown
Casualties and losses

Iran Iran:

Hezbollah:

  • 1 commander killed
unknown


Following the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) into northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran began to provide military aid to counter the militant advance. Iran launched airstrikes against ISIL positions and provided combat troops and technical advisers to the Iraqi government, Shia militias, and Iraqi Kurdistan.[14][15][16]

The Quds Force, along with Iran's Lebanese ally Hezbollah, are equipping, training, advising, and directing the Iraqi Shia militia (such as Kata'ib Hezbollah, Badr Organization, and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq) against ISIL. The militia became increasingly powerful after the 2014 advance of ISIL and comparable to the Iraqi security forces.

Intervention[]

Iraq's U.S.-trained army, shown here in 2008, largely disintegrated in the face of the ISIL offensive.

Strategy and tactics[]

Tehran's strategic objectives in its intervention in Iraq include keeping Iraq's allied Shia-led government in power and stabilizing its own border.[17][18]

Iran has attempted to limit its overt military involvement in Iraq as a strategy geared toward avoiding the polarization of Iraq's Sunni minority, creating popular backlash against Iran among Iraqis, or deepening sectarian tensions.[18] Most Iranian aid has thus far come in the form of technical assistance, the commitment of special forces troops, and air support. Iranian Brigadier-General Massoud Jazayeri stated that Iran could best help Iraq by providing it direction on its "successful experiments in popular all-around defense" that included "mobilizing masses of all ethnic groups."[19] Iran believes cooperation and unity among Iraq's fractious militias is essential in its battle against ISIL.[17] Ali Khamenei, in remarks delivered on September 15, 2014, credited "the people of Iraq, the Iraqi Armed Forces and the popular forces" for halting the ISIL advance of the previous summer.[20]

The Washington Post reported Iran has sent more than 1,000 military advisers to Iraq, airstrikes and spent more than $1 billion on military aid.[21]

Timeline[]

June 2014[]

In June, Iran deployed approximately 500 soldiers of the Revolutionary Guard's Qods Force to Iraq.[9] Qods Force personnel were deployed to Samarra, Baghdad, Karbala, and the former U.S. military post known as Camp Speicher.[8] In early summer, Iran also began shipping small arms and ammunition to the Kurdish Peshmerga at the request of the Kurdistan government.[3]

On June 13, Iraqi troops backed by Qods Force units operating out of Samarra claimed to have regained control of Dhuluiyah in Saladin Province,[22] Meanwhile, former Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani arrived in Baghdad where he reportedly assumed the role of Iraq's "chief tactician" in dealing with ISIL.[4]

On June 19, ISIL troops attacked Iranian border guards near Iran’s border city of Qasre Shirin.[23]

By the end of the month, Iran had established a special control center at Al-Rasheed Air Base in Baghdad and was flying a "small fleet" of Ababil drones over Iraq. According to the reports, an Iranian signals intelligence unit had also been deployed at the airfield to intercept electronic communications between ISIL fighters and commanders.[24] That same day, Qods Force soldier Shojaat Alamdari was killed in Samarra.[8]

Also in June, Hezbollah reportedly set-up a dedicated command center in Lebanon to monitor developments in Iraq.[25] Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah later said that the party was "ready to sacrifice martyrs in Iraq five times more than what we sacrificed in Syria in order to protect shrines."[26]

July 2014[]

Between June 30 and July 1, seven Su-25 aircraft were sent by Iran to al-Rashid and, later, to al-Muthanna air base.[9] The aircraft were supported by bi-national Iranian/Iraqi ground crews who had been trained in Iran.[8] (During the 1991 Gulf War, seven Su-25s had been flown by the Iraqi air force to Iran as a temporary safe haven; Iran later kept the aircraft. It has been suggested these may be the same Su-25s.[27]) Later that month, Hezbollah sent an undisclosed number of technical advisers and intelligence analysts to Baghdad in support of the Iranian deployment in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, Hezbollah commander Ibrahim al-Hajj was reported killed in action near Mosul.[28] The news was followed by an August Reuters story which reported there were "dozens" of Hezbollah "battle-hardened veterans" in Iraq, while the Christian Science Monitor reported the party had deployed a 250-man unit "responsible for advising, training, and coordinating the Iraqi Shiite militias."[1][2]

August 2014[]

On August 21, Kurdish activists claimed to have spotted elements of Iran's 81st Armored Division entering southern Kurdistan near Jalawla. The reports have not been confirmed.[29][unreliable source?] Al Jazeera reported a joint Iranian-Kurdish operation near Jalawla involving hundreds of Iranian troops who left the next day, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham dismissed the reports of any Iranian military presence in Iraq.[15]

There were unconfirmed reports of clashes between ISIL forces and Revolutionary Guard Corps units near Urmia on August 28.[30]

Between August 31 and September 1 the Iranian-equipped and Hezbollah-trained Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah joined an Iraqi army assault to break the ISIL siege of Amerli. The attack was supported by the U.S. Air Force at the request of the Iraqi army, according to a statement by the U.S. Central Command.[5][31] (As of early 2014, reports characterized Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq as "controlled by Iran" and operating under the patronage of Qasem Soleimani.[32])

September 2014[]

In late September, Iranian general Ahmad Reza Pourdastan threatened to "attack deep into Iraqi territory" should ISIL forces approach the Iranian border.[33] Earlier in the month, the Iranian government announced it had arrested Afghan and Pakistani nationals attempting to "cross Iran" to join ISIL.[34]

There have been sporadic reports of ISIL troops in Iranian Kurdistan, these claims are unverified.[35]

October 2014[]

Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was reportedly "present on the battlefield" during Operation Ashura.

November 2014[]

On November 14, it was reported that the army had taken full control of Baiji, forcing ISIL forces to withdraw, and on 18 November, the anti-terrorism force Mosul Battalion entered the refinery for the first time since June. However, this could not be confirmed independently. If confirmed, it would be a major victory for Iraqi forces. State television said that they had entered the gates of the refinery.[36] Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Iraqi forces were in full control of Baiji. Iraqi state television said Baiji's recapture was a "Graveyard for ISIS".[37] Later, the US Department of State congratulated the Iraqi forces for retaking the country's largest oil refinery, confirming the Iraqi victory.[38]

At the end of the month,video showing Iranian airstrikes of ISIL targets in Iraq surfaced.[39] The US confirmed that American-made F-4 Phantom jets from the Iranian Air Force had been targeting ISIL positions in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala but that it was up to Iraq to coordinate airspace use and the US was not coordinating with Iran.[40]

December 2014[]

On 27 December, IRGC Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi was killed in Samarra, Iraq, reportedly by an ISIL sniper.[41] He is the highest ranking Iranian military official to die in Iraq since Iran's military intervention began.[42]

January 2015[]

Casualties[]

Iran[]

In late June 2014, three Iranian border guards were killed along the border in western Kermanshah province by an alleged “terrorist group”, however it is unclear if the predators were members of PEJAK or ISIL.[43]

There are at least 5 confirmed Iranians killed in Iraq:

Name Rank/Affiliation Date Place
Alireza Moshajari 13- Sarvan-IRGC.png Captain, Saberin Special Forces[44] 14 June 2014[45] Disputed[45]
Kamal Shirkhani 16- Sarhang-IRGC.png Colonel, Quds Force[46] Mid-June 2014[46] Samarra[46]
Shoja'at Alamdari Mourjani 16- Sarhang-IRGC.png Colonel, Aerospace Force Fighter pilot[46] early July 2014[46] Samarra[46]
Hamid Taqavi 18- Sartipp-IRGC.png Brigadier General, Quds Force[47] 28 December 2014[47] Samarra[47]
Mehdi Norouzi Basij[48] 10 January 2015[48] Samarra[48]

Hezbollah[]

In late July 2014, it was reported Ibrahim al-Haj, a Hezbollah "technical specialist involved in training" was killed near Mosul.[49][50]

Political dimension[]

In Iraq[]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said "we do respect this Iranian commander and our collaboration with him is not a secret", adding that Iran was quick in sending arms to Iraq and helping Baghdad when ISIS captured the country’s Sunni provinces.

Iraqi leader Hadi al-Amiri said that "If it were not for the cooperation of the Islamic republic of Iran and General Suleimani, we would not today have a government headed by Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad".[51]

On December 31, 2014, Defence Ministers of Iran and Iraq signed a military pact to combat ISIS.[52]

International reaction to Iranian intervention[]

  •  Canada - Canadian Foreign minister John Baird said Iran was "involved in a negative way in every single country in the region" and stated that Canada considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.[53]
  •  China - China has said it wants Iran to be part of an "anti-ISIS alliance."[54]
  •  France - In September, French officials suggested inviting Iran to an international conference of nations involved in the American-led intervention in Iraq, however, objections by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates prevented such an invitation from being extended.[55]
  •  India - In what The Hindu declared was a likely reference to the exclusion of Iran and Syria from the American-led intervention in Iraq, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September said that “everyone must be included in a global fight against the terror we see in west Asia.”[56]
  •  Italy - Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini has said Iran can play a "positive role" in operations against ISIL and added that she hoped agreement could be reached by which Iran would join "the countries that are working to combat ISIL and support the Iraqi government." [57]
  •  Israel - During an NBC television interview in June, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made known his concerns over American cooperation with Iran. He offered the following words of advice to President Barack Obama, "when your enemies are fighting one another, don't strengthen either one of them. Weaken both." Netanyahu also expressed his concern over Iran acquiring nuclear weapon's capability, asserting it would be a tragic mistake that would make everything else pale in comparison.[58][59]
  • Ansar al-Sharia (Yemen) - Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi has connected the current Shia insurgency in Yemen to the conflict in Iraq, saying that "Iranian agents" are the common enemy across every theater of war in the Middle East.[60]
  •  Russia - Russia has said it wants Iran to be part of an "anti-ISIS alliance."[54]
  • United States - Following the introduction of Iranian troops into Iraq in June, President Barack Obama said that "Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we're sending."[61] The following month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offered further explanation, noting that "we are aware of the Iranian and Russian efforts to help the Iraqis, but we are not involved in coordinating any missions."[62] In September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. "does not have any intention" of cooperating with Iran.[63] Nevertheless, later that month, Kerry met with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York where the two discussed ISIL.[64] The US continues to deny cooperation with Iran with American Ambassador to Iraq Stuart E. Jones saying “Let’s face it, Iran is an important neighbour to Iraq. There has to be cooperation between Iran and Iraq. The Iranians are talking to the Iraqi security forces and we’re talking to Iraqi security forces ... We’re relying on them to do the deconfliction” in December 2014.[65]

Iran, Hezbollah Reaction to American-led intervention in Iraq[]

At the same time as the Iranian intervention into Iraq, a parallel American-led intervention was occurring. Neither nation is known to have cooperated with the other in combating ISIL. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has dismissed U.S. involvement, noting that "Iran, from the very first moment, did not hesitate in fighting against terrorism. Other countries apparently had their doubts for quite some time ... they acted quite late in the game.”[66] Rouhani went on to question the level of American commitment, noting that the U.S. had not committed ground troops, as Iran had[67] - with, according to The Economist, Iranian officials boasting of being the ground force for America’s air strikes.[68]

On September 29, in response to a statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States wanted "to find out if they [Iran] will come on board" the American-led intervention, Ali Khamenei declared the U.S. position on ISIL as "absurd, hollow and biased.” Nonetheless, Khamenei also noted that some Iranian government officials were "not against" cooperation with the United States, explaining that he had personally quashed the suggestion of joint action against ISIL.[20] In follow-up remarks, the Iranian-affiliated Kataib Hezbollah declared it would "not fight alongside the American troops under any kind of conditions whatsoever," adding that its only contact with the United States military would be “if we fight each other.”[55]

At least one Hezbollah official has indicated the party will continue to operate independently, or in concert with Iraqi and Iranian forces, against ISIL and will not cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition concurrently operating against ISIL. Mohammad Raad dismissed the NATO-centered coalition as neither serious nor sufficient to counter ISIL and noted that Hezbollah had initiated military operations against the ISIL prior to United States involvement.[69]

Despite the cool reception given by Iran and its allies to the United States intervention, some observers believe the U.S. coalition will eventually be forced into brokering an alliance with Tehran. Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University has explained that “the West is helpless and does not know what to do against the Islamic State" and that it will ultimately conclude it has no choice but to ally with Iran.[70]

See also[]

References[]

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