by WorldTribune Staff, November 22, 2016
Iran has in place thousands of loyal Shi’ite militiamen in Iraq that could be used as a permanent force in the region, deploying to hot spots in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, analysts say.
There are some 80,000 fighters under Iran’s direction in the Hizbullah Brigades, Badr Organization and other groups that fall under the Iraq-approved umbrella group known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
“There’s a very big push among the most senior militia leaders to enshrine the Popular Mobilization Forces as a permanent security force,” said Patrick Martin, a military analyst with the nonprofit Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “It would effectively allow the individual leaders to have a lot more say and access to resources and a sense of legitimacy in a way they’ve never really experienced before.”
Martin said the Shi’ite force “is not under command and control of Iraqi government, is very cheap to maintain and has a modular aspect to it that Iran could use to deploy to other theaters that require manpower.”
The Popular Mobilization Forces are currently deployed around Mosul and are tasked with driving Sunni terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) out of the country.
In the long run, however, the Iranian-backed groups, who are guided by advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds force, “are geared toward what the U.S. intelligence community sees as Teheran’s desire to dominate the region and blunt American influence,” security correspondent Rowan Scarborough wrote for The Washington Times on Nov. 21.
Michael Rubin, an Iran analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said Teheran’s leaders “believe they can win on a number of fronts” by stationing loyal Iraqis around Mosul.
“Controlling the region between Mosul and the Syrian border will allow Iran greater ability to supply Syrian proxies by land,” he said. “Then there’s ideology. We look at Iran through a sectarian lens, as representing Shi’ite Muslims. It’s important to recognize that, from Iran’s point of view, the Islamic Republic represents all Muslims, so from Teheran’s perspective, why shouldn’t they be in Mosul?”
He added: “If the Iranians have greater presence along the length of Iraqi Kurdistan, they can also be spoilers in case the Iraqi Kurds ever do seek to separate. That’s a precedent Iran fears given its own ethnic diversity.”