Iran: Increasing Presence, Visibility in IS Conflict

But the Wall Street Journal reports that, far from prompting a harder line with Iran, the situation with IS is leading some Western officials to push harder for the rapid conclusion of a nuclear deal. Both Iran and the US have reportedly suggested that the signing of a deal could lead to future coordination in the conflict, something that Iran’s adversaries have strongly cautioned against, arguing that the Iranian regime is as dangerous to the region as IS.

Meanwhile, the regime itself has been working to portray itself as the best hope for victory against the Islamic State. This portrayal has taken place in large part through emphasis on the presence of the Quds Force, and its commander Qassem Suleimani, on the Iraqi battlefield. Once carefully suppressed, photographs of Suleimani in areas retaken from IS are now elaborately staged and freely distributed. The International Business Times points out that these public relations efforts have now moved from published photographs to television broadcasts.

The International Business Times interprets this publicity as a message intended both to entice the West to cooperate with Iran and also to intimidate Iran’s adversaries, including staunch US ally Saudi Arabia.

Iran clearly sees it as being in their interest to publicize the Quds Force’s presence in Iraq, where Iran and the US are fighting a common enemy in support of the government in Baghdad. But Iran has not been so keen to emphasize the Quds Force presence in Syria, where Iran and the US back opposite sides of the conflict between Bashar al-Assad and moderate rebel groups fighting both him and IS.

Nevertheless, this presence has been considerable, and has been expanding. The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on Thursday that over a four week period, at least sixteen fighters have been buried in Iran after dying in fighting in Syria. While not all native Iranians, each of these individuals has been associated either with the Quds Force or with one of the Shiite militias fighting on Iran’s behalf, using fighters recruited by Iran from Afghan refugee camps and elsewhere.

Although Iran’s paramilitary forces are surely spread thin between Iraq and Syria, its military is still available and capable of contributing to a project of intimidating the Islamic Republic’s regional adversaries. Emphasizing this fact, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently threatened to take military action inside of Pakistan if the southeastern neighbor failed to take adequate steps to contain Sunni militants that have been threatening border regions, the Daily Times reports.

In recent months, Iran has sought closer relations with Pakistan but has also made unilateral demands on that relationship, including the speedy completion of a joint pipeline project between the two countries.