Inability to Hold Ramadi Highlights Iran’s Sectarian Influence in Iraq

The report quotes one Pentagon spokesperson as saying that the US will contribute to this effort and help to secure Ramadi once again. The capture of the city by ISIL puts the Sunni militant group a stone’s throw away from Iraq and represents the worst defeat for Iraqi government forces in nearly a year.

American participation in a counter-offensive would cast further doubt upon longstanding assurances that the US government and military are not coordinating with Iran, which by some accounts has a significant Revolutionary Guards presence in Iraq alongside Iran-backed militias.

Although those militias do constitute a major portion of the forces that are fighting against ISIL in Iraq, The Tower argues that the extensive reliance on those Shiite groups is largely responsible for the loss of Ramadi in the first place. The article specifically draws on an editorial by Jacob Siegel and Michael Pregent published by The Daily Beast on Monday. But many analysts have made the same observation with regard to a broader context: the Iranian-Shiite presence in Iraq contributes to the sectarian nature of the conflict and provides ISIL with fuel for propaganda and recruitment.

The Tower also points out that the same relationship works in the opposite direction, and it goes so far as to suggest that Iran has deliberately avoided defeating ISIL because, in the words of Pregent, “Iran needs the threat of ISIS and Sunni jihadist groups to stay in Syria and Iraq in order to become further entrenched in Damascus and Baghdad.”

In another article published on Monday, The Guardian acknowledges that elements within the Iranian regime have a strong interest in creating an Iranian “deep state” inside of Iraq, similar in nature to the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah paramilitary in Lebanon.

Indeed Hezbollah and the Iraqi-Shiite militias serve similar roles in Syria and Iraq, respectively. That is to say that they have strengthened the local government forces’ resistance to ISIL, but have also prompted stronger ISIL recruitment while marginalizing moderate Sunnis and providing Iran with a more entrenched presence in the Syrian and Iraqi governments.

Arutz Sheva quotes Ali Akbar Velayati, a close advisor to the Iranian supreme leader, as having said on Monday that Iran is proud of Hezbollah’s achievements in Syria and particularly in a recent assault on Qalamoun, saying this “contributes to strengthening the axis of resistance not only in Lebanon and Syria, but in the whole region and worldwide.”

While The Guardian recognizes that Iraqi militias fulfill a similar role, it disputes the notion that Iran could actually succeed in making those forces as powerful in Iraq as Hezbollah is in Lebanon.

The Guardian says that Baghdad retains some measure of control over the Shiite militias and is interested in maintaining that oversight, as by integrating the militias into the more formal structure of the Iraqi armed forces. However, some analysts have argued that militias and paramilitaries constitute the larger portion of the forces fighting ISIL, thus setting the stage for the Iraqi armed forces becoming integrated into the Shiite fighting force, instead of vice versa.

What’s more, The Tower dispute’s The Guardian’s suggestion that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is both willing and able to defy Iranian Shiite efforts to extend its control within Iraq. Iran and the Shiite militias would be threatened by any effort on Abadi’s part to form partnerships with moderate Sunnis, and this situation helped to contribute to the insecurity at Ramadi.