Above: ISIL/ISIS at war with the region (source: the Long War Journal)
Highlights from the Wall Street Journal report, followed by commentary:
Faced with the threat of Sunni extremists eclipsing the power of Shiite-dominated Iraq, Iran sprang into action to aid its besieged Arab ally and deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq, according to Iranian security sources.
At least three battalions of the Quds Forces, the elite overseas branch of the Guards, were dispatched to aid in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an offshoot of al Qaeda rapidly gaining territory across Iraq, they said.
One Guards unit that was already in Iraq fought alongside the Iraqi army, offering guerrilla warfare advice and tactics and helped reclaim most of the city of Tikrit on Thursday.
Two Guards’ units, dispatched from Iran’s western border provinces on Wednesday, were tasked with protecting Baghdad and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, these security sources said.
General Qasem Sulaimani, the commander of the Quds Forces and one of the region’s most powerful military figures, traveled to Baghdad this week to help manage the swelling crisis, said a member of the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC.
Qassimm al-Araji, an Iraqi Shiite lawmaker who heads the Badr Brigade bloc in parliament, posted a picture with Mr. Sulaimani holding hands in a room in Baghdad on his social-networking site with the caption, “Haj Qasem is here,” reported Iranian news sites affiliated with the IRGC on Wednesday.
The two IRGC battalions that moved to Iraq on Wednesday were shifted from the Iranian border provinces of Urumieh and Lorestan, the Iranian security officials said.
Iran has also positioned troops on full alert along its border with Iraq and has given clearance to its air force to bomb ISIS rebel forces if they come within 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, from Iran’s border, according to an Iranian army general.There appears to be a mustering of fighting forces being organized and directed into battle by IRGC-QF officers, in roughly similar but rushed fashion as to what has been taking place in neighboring Syria. Shia militiamen and volunteers continue to mobilize, given the level of threat against Shia holy sites such as Samara, Karbala and Najaf, as well as Baghdad.
In a sign of Shia closing ranks, Senior Iraqi cleric grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani voiced his support for the Iraqi army urged the Iraqi government and political figures to stand united against "terrorists."
Below is the photo referred to in the WSJ report, of Iraqi MP Qassimm al-Araji holding hands with IRGC-QF commander Suleimani (in civvies) in Baghdad (per ABNA.ir):
At this point in the war, it would be surprising to see the intervention of Iranian combat aviation. The Iraqis (and possibly even the Iranians) hope for the intervention of American air power. However this poses something of a realignment for the United States, alongside Iran and Syria in the war against ISIS/ISIL. Additionally, much of the criticism levied against the SyAAF against built-up areas might also in some ways apply to U.S. airstrikes. The president must be weighing heavily on this.
There is some opportunism taking shape, with the Kurdish Peshmerga seizing Kirkuk. Any efforts at retaking Mosul will likely involve Peshmerga forces. At this fluid point in time, the Peshmerga act as an effective buffer force on the other side of this section of Iran's border.
Above: Kurdish Peshmerga seen deploying T-55 type tanks
Highlights from Jessica Lewis' report at Institute for the Study of War, followed by commentary:
On July 12, 2014, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani claimed that ISIS will target Samarra, Baghdad, Karbala, and Najaf. These cities and their Shi’a shrines will not fall the way that Mosul did. Tucked behind layers of Iraqi Security Forces, Shi’a militias, and Iranian Quds Force operatives, these locations represent the hardest military targets in Iraq.
ISIS may execute a tactical deception indicating their intent to destroy the al-Askari mosque in order to concentrate the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Samarra. ISIS may then open a corridor for advance to its main objective, which is likely the seat of Iraqi government in Baghdad.
ISIS will seek to target the seat of Iraq’s government in the Green Zone…If ISIS is able to assault the Green Zone with a ground attack force, they will realize the full defeat of the Iraqi Security Forces. The command and control of Shi’a militias, police forces, and Iraqi civilians in the wake of such an attack would overwhelm the Baghdad Operations Command. The core functions of the Iraqi state would break down. Baghdad would become a ward of the Iranian government to protect the Khadimiya shrine, and Baghdad would become a buffer zone for low-level attacks across an Iranian-ISIS demarcation line.
BLACK SWAN: ISIS may also execute a spectacular attack upon the Shi’a holy cities of Karbala & Najaf. This is not likely as a main effort, but ISIS may still view them as strategic targets that accelerate the demise of Iraq through civil war; alternatively, as a feint to support the Baghdad assault, ISIS may claim this intent in order to cause the ISF and Iranian reinforcements to concentrate south of Baghdad. Especially on Saturday, June 14, 2014, during religious processions commemorating Lailat al Bara’ah, security surrounding the shrines is likely at surge capacity.Ms. Lewis' scenarios apply if ISIL/ISIS is able to maintain the initiative. This writer does not share her alarmism, should ISIS forward elements penetrate into Baghdad. Such penetrations into Damascus have in the past not brought down the Syrian government.
Iranian military logistics are far more direct and shorter than those to Syria.
ISF and Shia militias are currently counterattacking. Once the ISIL/ISIS advance ebbs, we're likely to see the current Syrian situation replayed in ISIL/ISIS-occupied Iraq, giving rise to what some observers refer to as areas of "Iranian protectorate."
That said, readers are encouraged to read Ms. Lewis' outstanding analysis in full.