At least three battalions of Iranian Revolutionary Guard units are being deployed to Iraq to fight back against militants who have seized key cities and continue to threaten the Maliki government, Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal is reporting, citing Iranian security sources.
With the major cities of Fallujah, Mosul, and Tikrit falling to radical militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and bearing down on Najaf and Karbala, Tehran has moved its units into the region and green-lit air strikes on ISIS forces who come within 62 miles of the Iran Border, according to the Journal.
As the U.S. has pulled out, Iran has emerged as a key ally to the Shiite leadership in both Iraq and Syria, funelling money and guidance to both Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they fight insurgencies in their respective countries.
“This is not a terrorism problem anymore,” Jessica Lewis, an expert at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, told Time Magazine. “This is an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain.”
If Assad fell (and, arguably Maliki as well), it would be a big problem for Iran, according to retired Marine Gen. James Mattis. At a security conference last year, the former commander of U.S. Central Command said that possibility would be Iran’s biggest political setback in 25 years.
“The more insecure and isolated Maliki becomes, the more he will need Iran,” Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp, told The Journal. “The growth of ISIS presents a serious threat to Iran. So it would not be surprising to see the Guards become more involved in Iraq.”
Last month, Maliki had asked the U.S. to consider carrying out air strikes against ISIS, but the White House turned him down, according to The New York Times. The Obama administration said on Thursday it wouldn’t “rule out anything” regarding support to Iraq, but would not offer “boots on the ground.”
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