Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rouhani Hints at Direct Military Intervention in Iraq

In yet another strong suggestion that Iran was readying to expand its direct military involvement in Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani today used his official Twitter account to say Iran will protect Iraq’s Shia shrines.
“Iranian nation will protect Iraq’s holy shrines & they aren't alone. Iraq's Sunnis, Shias & Kurds all ready to defeat terrorism,” Rouhani said. (Twitter/@HassanRouhani, 18 June)

Defending holy Shia shrines has been used by Iran as a pretext for its huge military involvement in Syria. To this day, the Iranian officials refer to their fighting in Syria as operations in defense of Sayyidah Zeinab’s holy shrine in Damascus. (During the funerals for IRGC and QF officers killed in action, they are said to have given their lives defensing the shrine.)

If the Syrian experience is any indication, Rouhani’s reference to defend Iraq’s holy shrines (in Karbala, Najaf, Samarra, and Baghdad) is a signal that Iran is committed to militarily defend the areas from Samarra to Baghdad and further south against ISIL-led insurgents.

Major Shia militant groups, organized, armed and financed by Iran, are already fighting the ISIL in northern and western Baghdad. Iran also has a long border with Iraq, and has been able to easily transfer arms and equipment into the country. The presence of Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in the past week, as widely reported by the media, could point to the impending direct military intervention of QF and IRGC forces in Iraq and the need for coordinating their operations with the Iraqi military and the Shia militias.

If Iran were to decide on direct military intervention, it could in short order deploy Basij forces and IRGC special operators into the fighting north of Baghdad. It could also deploy IRGC and Artesh ground forces, normally stationed at the border area with Iraq, if Baghdad were feared to fall. IRGC’s mechanized brigades and Artesh’s armored divisions could be the first units to be deployed. Iran also maintains squadrons of Su-24 and F-4 fighters not far from the border. Iranian drones are also expected to play major intelligence gathering and lethal roles in the combat.

File photo: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Twitter account photo.


Paul Iddon said...

Good article,

Whilst protection of shrine may be a pretext for Iranian military intervention into Iraq I think it is important that we consistently and continuously distinguish (and I am certainly not implying you aren't Nader) between the Iranian regimes regional goals and the willingness amongst many ordinary Iranians/Shiites to go and risk their lives in order to protect these sites. What happened al-Askari in 2006 was depraved and disgusting and one can wholeheartedly sympathize with Shiites who take the initiative and make sure such importantant heritage sites aren't destroyed by the likes of ISIS.

Anonymous said...

The regimes involvment in Iraq will hasten its demise. Iran's economy wont be able to cope with such an adventure. This is the straw that will break the camels back. The US and Britain have played their cards well.

Mark Pyruz said...

Iranian participation in the Iraqi conflict is likely founded on the Syrian example.

NEZAJA formations invading Iraq is highly unlikely.

Also highly unlikely are IRIAF fighter-bombers and attack aircraft providing sustained operations in the conflict. Their aircraft are not in the state of fit, their operational capacity not strong enough and their potential losses not able to be replaced. Same applies to IRGC-AF.

It is possible yet still unlikely that IRGC-AF and perhaps IRIAA rotary wing aircraft could be used, given Iraq's losses (as posted on using IHS Janes material). But this scenario only applies if there is a complete secereance of military relations between Iraq and the United States.

Whether combat formations of IRGC and Basij participate in the conflict is dependent on how badly the war goes for Iraq, the level of attrition encountered should the war last years, etc. At this point in time, we're likely to see the IRGC pursue a similar role in varying degrees to the Syrian example. However we do have the variable of a new Iraqi government taking effect at some time in the future.

It will be interesting to see how Iraq's militias are organized and the tactics they employ, as an indicator of IRGC participation and measure of effectiveness.

Iranian logistical support is also a given, should an Iranian-accepted government remain in power in Baghdad.

I could be wrong but it appears possible American military participation in the Iraq conflict is pre-conditioned on the formation of Iraq's next government meeting American approval, with Maliki (and likely any Iranian-supported candidate) deemed unacceptable.

I also get the impression that American military participation is being prepared more in line with CT, rather than CAS, with CAS being what the Maliki government has been hoping for.

On my two last points, the days and weeks ahead will see if I'm correct or not.

Mark Pyruz said...

It's also posible the Iraqi crisis is being viewed as another opportunity for American strategy to weaken Iran's position in the region, a view previously and currently shared with regards to the Syrian conflict.

A checklist of potential benefits come to mind, including but not limited to:

- An American accepted Iraqi PM putting together the next Iraqi government, one that is not acceptable to the Iranians, with American participation in the conflict as a precondition.

- Closing of the Iranian air and land logistical corridors into Syria

- Closing of Iraq to Iran's military and security services.

In this scenario, the Iraq crisis becomes something of a big game for the United States to regain and reinforce influence in Iraq and the region, at the expense of its regional competitor Iran. Time will tell if this is the case, and whether or not it will work.

Nader Uskowi said...

I believe the events on the ground might be moving too fast for strategizing far into future, for the Iraqis, the Americans and the Iranians. It seems the ISIL rapid advance took everyone off guard, probably including the ISIL. I see a certain type of panic on part of everyone. Let's hope cooler heads prevail and a real political solution could be found, and not a cynical type.

Nader Uskowi said...

Iran's intervention in Iraq needs not follow the Syrian pattern, although that's what they are experienced in and probably comfortable with. Iran has a long border with Iraq and could establish/control line of communication easily. I assume that already significant amounts of arms and equipment are crossing the border. Iran can provide logistics for its operations if it decides to use ground forces. But as I said in the post, Iran might go that route only if it were to fear an imminent fall of Baghdad, which is highly unlikely now.

Anonymous said...

Mark, have you considered the fact that Iran's lack of involvement (beyond what you have described) is not really because of the state of their equipment...but rather keeping ISIS away from attacking their interests.

I base this analysis on the following reasons:

1.Iran currently has domestic built f-4s with twin vertical tails that are perfect for ground missions. A sustained ground attack should be no problem on a bunch of dudes on pickup trucks and machine guns.

2. A recent deal was made in Saudi Arabia during one of the many meetings in the recent months between high level Iranian & kingdom's officials. This deal would ensure ISIS does not attack iran directly (a recent video of the militants spokesman does make reference to why ISIS has not attacked the persians).

So basically, it's not because iran does not have the capability to destroy these ISIS fools,, but rather a way to keep the peace between regional Shia and sunni power houses iran and the Saudi kingdom.

Nader Uskowi said...

Theoretically that might be correct, the differentiation between the government's pretext to intervene and popular sentiments for defending the shrines. But please note that Iran has been involved in Syria militarily for more than two years now, spending billions of dollars a year on the never-ending conflict. Do you really think that the Iranian public believes that the IRGC is there to protect Seyyidah Zeinab's holy shrine, where there have been no fighting around it during the current conflict, yet so many IRGC officers KIA are eulogized for being killed defending that shrine? I don't think so. Unfortunately the sectarian policies of the government, which by its own constitution is a sectarian regime, and their more than three decades of propaganda has contributed to growth of sectarian beliefs among the population as well, not all but a significant segment of the population. And that's true in the region, on both sides of the sectarian divide.

Paul Iddon said...

That's why I said it's important to distinguish between those promulgating sectarian policies and attitudes between those who keep their faith to themselves and their families and will only pick up a weapon in defense of monuments that are a fundamental part of their religious identity.

You certainly won't find me making any justifications for what the IRGC or Hezbollah are doing in Syria, have no fear about that. I'm just saying many many Shiites (I dare say the majority) are horrified and opposed to sectarian attitudes and policies of the likes of Khamenei and Maliki. But like you and I they know they cannot count on the world to protect their heritage and religious sites when their very existence is threatened. That's why I can understand to an extent why volunteers would want to go out and risk doing it themselves in light of what has happened in the past to many such monuments at the hands of disgusting sectarian thugs like ISIS

I don't think at all the Iranian public believes the pretext you allude to. I don't think anyone who is honest and serious does.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Paul. Al-Qaeda and its competing off-shoot here goes beyond sectarian divide considering the treatment they reserve even to moderate Sunnis they are often quite quick to label as collaborators and submitted fools to Shiite dominance, or whatever is needed to validate a summary execution whenever needed. I really doubt that the majority of the Sunni population, would it be in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, currently appreciate the tide and scope of what is going on with ISIL's armies marching to Baghdad and scorching the earth on their path whenever they encounter an once of resistance. The fact that Al-Qaeda in general has killed many more Muslims since 2001 than all the forces of occupation combined is testimony to their real end goal. Destroying cultural and religious heritage of whatever isn't a perfect match for their take on their faith is a logical, predictable implication of it. Of course now the current situation naturally creates space for even more meddling from external powerhouses such as Iran and major powers like the US trying to play a opportunist card in that just like Saudi Arabia is calling many shots as we speak or the Kurds securing de-facto long contested swathes of oil-rich Iraqi regions as well, but I'm starting to think that the current momentum is in the process of going out of everybody's hand.

Indeed, such artificial monster created jointly by the CIA, Pakistan's ISI and KSA that is Al-Qaeda has now splintered in two major sub-groups competing against each other in as a ruthless and bloody fashion as they do to other enemies (beheading, hanging, gun-point executions, you name it) that no one really knows the new allegiances nor the precise nature of their internal grievances and its implications. Iraq's very future hangs in the balance if nothing decisive enough is done in the coming days, again either externally or internally... it is a vain illusion to still expect any short or mid-term, glaring proof of sovereignty emanating from Maliki's desperate government and authority, or any of its most credible contenders for that matter. All we can truly hope for now is the end of that extremist surge and the constant bleeding it incurs for whatever's left of its integrity as a whole state....

Iran will do whatever it can to cement Iraq's dependency and posture as a savior in the eyes of the Shiite in the region and specially those in Iraq directly impacted by the current crisis. And yes it is in my opinion a correct assertion to link it to the haste in which Zarif seems to be eager to seal a final nuclear deal as fast as possible no matter the cost materially and in terms of political dignity, considering that much more pressing strategic matter are knocking hard on Iran's door, yet another extremely hear to bear financial burden that will make ordinary Iranian hate "the Arabs" even further after the Syrian dossier, what a pity...


Anonymous said...

The Iraqi Armee is trained by American is a loser Armee

Iran does not Need to send trrops to iraq
there are a lot of iraqi Armee Volunteer that could be trained and instructed.
There is no Problem of man power.
The Problem is the bad trained and less motivated soldiers and Coward, traitor Generals.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Iran's lack of involvement so far is in my opinion completely out of political wisdom and hence, cautious restraint. They certainly wouldn't want to be dragged in an unwinnable war of choice where they can easily avoid it and pick the geopolitical pieces as they appear through proxies for the bulk of their involvement in a suffering and struggling Iraq literally begging for support to anyone hearing.

They couldn't think of going in the way the US did in its time, having only a fraction of the resources to do so and and non-existent appetite or doctrine for prolonged low-intensity warfare operation out of choice like Bush Jr. did.

Indeed, Iran is renowned for having returned dozens of its fighter aircraft to full operational status since the early 2000s when its military airfleet was in a complete state of disarray, thanks to both the strengthening of their aerospace industry and the appearance of external, unofficial foreign help, notably the Chinese for their F4s, and Russian/Indians for their Mig-29s and Su-24s, or their own R & D for much of their F-14AM upgrade program, the result of a long accumulation of experience on their principal heavy fighter still at their disposal and the favorite of their ace pilots.

The kind of limited bombing they would need for targeted strikes against ISIL targets is definitely within the reach of their squadrons of F4 ans Su-24 of which they have, according to Jane's, around 60 and 30 operational planes respectively. They can definitely dispatch even 30% of this strike force for the job since they wouldn't even need to be accompanied by fighter escort. Not to mention their Cobra helicopter fleet currently undergoing significant progress in both refurbishment and upgrades. ISIL is not reported to have any kind of anti-air assets able to threaten those mid-to-high altitue fighters so potential losses is a non-issue in that regard.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that Nader.


Anonymous said...

An interesting argument here is who is supporting and funding the ISIL ? It is pretty obvious that they are well organised and supported. Besides, who is feeding their families back home. If Iran will have financial difficulty in sending in troops and logistics, then these aggressors by the same have the same issue. The least Western countries like UK and US can do is tracing the money coming in into ISIL and stop it. They were pretty effective in getting funds for Iran cut off. So they are really serious they can close the money coming in from KSA, Qatar, Kuwait and others. As usual they are playing some tactical games to keep Arabs happy on all sides. They have little or no intersect in Iraq or Iraqi people. For them one less Muslim is simply one less potential terrorist. Sadly for Iran, the regime has created this quasi Arab identity (by way of Shia whatever) and that is the dilemma. Going back to ISIL, this volunteers on pickup trucks can be easily targeted. At the end of the day they have to move, they have somewhere they gather etc. So US planes and satellites can easily pin-point them. However, behind the scene they are playing games.

IMO Iran should leave US to take care of it. If the situation does not change, then Iran has ample time to influence the events. This is a great opportunity for the so called new drones and missiles to be tested if needed. I recall Iran showed that animated film attacking Israel with missiles and drones. I guess this bunch are far easier to attack using the said weapons and they are on the other side of the border!

Anonymous said...

A lot of Iraqis consider Maliki a traitor as well. No true Iraqi will fight for this sectarian dictator.