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Iraq And Iran Now Have A Formal Military Alliance

July 31, 2017

The Defense Ministers of both countries signed multiple agreements on July 23, a Sunday, that were light on specifics but laid the groundwork for what looks like a military alliance in all but name.  The news first broke in Iranian media and was then shared by Reuters:

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran and Iraq signed an agreement on Sunday to step up military cooperation and the fight against “terrorism and extremism”, Iranian media reported, an accord which is likely to raise concerns in Washington.

Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan and his Iraqi counterpart Erfan al-Hiyali signed a memorandum of understanding which also covered border security, logistics and training, the official news agency IRNA reported.

“Extending cooperation and exchanging experiences in fighting terrorism and extremism, border security, and educational, logistical, technical and military support are among the provisions of this memorandum,” IRNA reported after the signing of the accord in Tehran.

General Qassem Suleimani is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War and is now recognized as the commander running Quds Force activities in Syria and Iraq.

But for Baghdad and Tehran to be cooperating so easily isn’t too remarkable in light of recent events. With the Islamic State now on the verge of total defeat the Iraqi military and its proxies, the so-called Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), have to rationalize their co-existence and find a peaceful way forward.

Iran played a major role in thwarting the Islamic States’ conquest of Northern Iraq in 2014. Shiite clerics did their part to rally civilian paramilitary groups and Tehran allowed substantial transfers of expertise and weaponry for the Iraqis, including the beleaguered Kurds.

By 2017 the Shiite PMUs were so numerous one particular group, the Badr Corps, had as many as 20,000 members. Such an obvious footprint was and is necessary because if Tehran didn’t act the way it did, a vicious Sunni terror group’s future plans might be directed at Iran, and securing Iraq is vital for preserving a land route to the ongoing Syrian civil war, where thousands of Shiite fighters are engaged.

How big a difference did Tehran’s commitment against ISIS make? It’s hard to tell but the protracted fighting over towns and cities from 2014 until the Battle of Mosul did involve Iranian forces–no less than Qassem Suleimani was caught on camera numerous times–and Iranian hardware. The latter category forms a vast collection of Iranian small arms, artillery, and vehicles. Photographic evidence exists of Iranian trucks, anti-tank missiles, 107mm rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, sniper rifles, and drones in Iraq. Exact inventories for these, however, are beyond reach other than claims their volume amounted to “thousands of tons.” Its greatest extent included tanks and Su-25 ground attack jets operated by Iranians.

The Safir jeep, whether armed with a recoilless rifle or a multiple rocket launcher, was used as a mobile artillery piece by all sides in the war against ISIS.

The agreements signed in July 2017 cover different Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for border security, logistics and training, and military cooperation. When they will be carried out is a mater of guesswork at this point. Iran’s ambitions in Iraq, on the other hand, aren’t.

During the last IQDEX arms show, the largest of its kind in Iraq, Iranian manufacturers like the state-owned Defense Industries Organizations (DIO) enjoyed abundant exhibition space. Not surprising since Tehran does possess influence–economic and political–over Baghdad, a state of affairs current and former US officials have discussed at length. But in fairness, Iraq maintains thriving relations with several partners. These include the US but extends to trusted allies like Russia, whose arms are once again flowing in, and China–the number one customer for Iraqi oil.

Whether or not the present MoUs launch a new era of Iraq-Iran friendliness remains to be seen. A number of considerations must be taken account when thinking about this possibility. These are:

  • What are Baghdad’s specific plans for the PMUs, especially the sectarian ones armed by Iran?
  • Will Iran have a role in reorganizing the Iraqi armed forces?
  • How about Iran’s stance on the coming referendum for Kurdish independnece in late 2017?
  • How far can Iraq and Iran collaborate without jeopardizing Iraq’s other agreements with the US and its coalition of allies?
  • Is it possible for the Gulf monarchies to feel threatened by the ever deepening friendship between the two?


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