The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Iran sent two battalions of Iranian Revolutionary Guards to help the Iraqi government in its battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is hugely important, if not totally surprising given Iran’s intervention in Syria. Iran has the power to crush ISIS in open combat. But Iranian intervention could also make the conflict inside Iraq much worse.
These aren’t just any old Iranian troops. They’re Quds Force, the Guards’ elite special operations group. The Quds Force is one of the most effective military forces in the Middle East, a far cry from the undisciplined and disorganized Iraqi forces that fled from a much smaller ISIS force in Mosul. One former CIA officer called Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.” Suleimani, the Journal reports, is currently helping the Iraqi government “manage the crisis” in Baghdad.
According to the Journal, combined Iranian-Iraqi forces have already retaken about 85 percent of Tikrit, a city in north-central Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s birthplace. That alone demonstrates the military significance of Iranian intervention: Iraqi forces have previously floundered in block-to-block city battles with ISIS.