On going conflicts in the middle east have seen Iran take a more substantial role in Iraq and Syria, using the chaos of conflict to further it’s influence.
Following the blitzkrieg like surge of IS within Iraq in 2014, that for a time threatened the capital Baghdad itself, Iran has increased assistance of both arms and IRGC ‘training and advisory roles’ to Shi’a militias within Iraq.
Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was reportedly directing and coordinating operations to stop IS at the outskirts of Baghdad, subsequently pushing IS back away from the capital.
The surge of IS has allowed Shi’a militia, many of whom at one time fought American forces during it’s occupation of Iraq, to be portrayed in main stream media news outlets as good fighting IS who are bad.
Iran has become the main influence within Iraq and its IRGC contingent is closely allied with both the predominantly Shi’a Iraqi government and the predominantly Shi’a Popular Mobilization Committee militias. Indeed Qassem Soleimani has allegedly met with the PMC chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and other militia leaders previously.
- The Long War Journal article (03 Apr 2016) – Qods Force commander Soleimani reportedly spotted in Anbar province:
The mass mobilization of Shi’a militias that are fighting IS directly have become an integral and indispensable part of the Iraqi security forces, vital in defending and consequently re-capturing areas like Tikrit, Baji and areas in Anbar Governorate including Ramadi. Likewise, Iran has become an ever more integral part of Iraq both politically and militarily in it’s fight with IS.
With the surge in Shi’a militias key to battling IS, comes the increased allegations of sectarian crimes, including the abduction and killing of Sunni individuals and groups amounting to serious human rights abuses and war crimes.
The UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have produced reports into such allegations, see links below.
- UN Assistance Mission and Human Rights report (19 Jan 2016) – Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq: 1 May – 31 October 2015.pdf
Following the US and UK invasion and subsequent catastrophic occupation of Iraq, US influence within Iraq politically appears on the surface to have receded some what over recent years.
The US and coalition countries however continue to perform airstrikes through CJTF-OIR on alleged IS targets and provide military support to the predominantly Shi’a Iraqi forces against IS and Sunni tribes allied with it.
In Syria however, the US and its allies including Sunni regional allies support the predominantly Sunni opposition. This includes Sunni armed groups who are deemed moderate and democratic although many fundamentalist Sunni Islamic groups also make up the opposition.
Iran is again supporting the Syrian government but also Shi’a militia forces supporting the Syrian Arab Army including Syrians, Iraqi’s, Afghan’s, Lebanese and Palestinian groups, some of whom follow Khomeinism, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s ideology of political Shi’a Islam.
- Washington Institute info-graphic (Feb 2015) – Direct Iranian Proxies and Their Front Groups Involved in Syria:
With the recent Russian intervention and subsequent bolstering of the Syrian Arab Army and it’s allied militias against predominantly Sunni opposition, Russia has in turn bolstered Iran’s position.
A lack of joined up, coherent foreign policies within the region over the years has meant that the US and it’s Western allies are providing Iran with more opportunities to further embed it’s influence in the region, much to the dismay of some predominantly Sunni regional allies of the West like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
With ever persistent political and ideological differences among nations around the world, some of which include or are solely religiously motivated and all have their own national and strategic interests, it may be that the turbulence seen in the Middle East and Africa in particular will continue for some years or decades to come.
It can be hoped that a balance is found among regional and world powers, if the balance of power continually shifts between differing ideologies or religious dominance within a region then instability and large periods of chaos will inevitably continue.