“The country’s Supreme National Security Council would consider intervening to protect Shia shrines and cities,” Ahmadi-Moghaddam said. Similar remarks have been used by various Iranian officials as justifications for Iran’s adventurism in Syria, where it has been credited with propping up the government of Bashar al-Assad and turning the tide of the four-year-old Syrian Civil War against the rebels.
The defense of Shiite shrines has been cited as an excuse for the transportation of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel into Syria, and it has been cited after-the-fact as an explanation for why Iranian fighters have turned up among the war dead on Assad’s side of the conflict.
Prominent IRGC commanders have died in that fighting, but Iranian public statements have asserted that they only occupied an advisory role and died not from participation in the actual war, but while merely defending Shiite shrines that are holy to Iranian clerics as well as to religious individuals within the war-torn country.
These explanations have largely been rejected by the world community. The number of Iranian soldiers found in Syria is inconsistent with these explanations, especially when one takes into account the Iraqi volunteers and conscripted Afghani refugees that Iran has been transporting into Syria to help prop up the Assad regime.
These facts place comments by Ahmadi-Moghaddam and other Iranian officials in a dubious light. The Iranian police chief has not been the only one to advocate for ostensibly religiously-motivated intervention. Some have put that advocacy in much starker terms. “Our forces will do whatever it takes to protect the border, and the holy shrines from this bunch of thugs,” said a former high-ranking Iranian diplomat, as quoted by IranWire. His reference to “our forces” specifically concerned the IRGC’s Quds Force, which conducts military actions outside of Iran and is particularly beholden to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
If Quds Force activity in Iraq is to follow the same model as intervention in Syria, it will be justified on the grounds of religious defense, but will actually entail large-scale participation in the war effort, in order to prop up the political ally that Iran has in Nouri al-Maliki.
Critics of Iran recognize it as maintaining cynical political motivations in these and other regional activities. Abdul Halim Khaddam, former vice president to Bashar al-Assad and current member of the Syrian resistance, recently accused Iran of secretly arming the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS), a Sunni extremist opposition group, in hopes that the group’s ascendance would help to turn public sentiment against the opposition as a whole, and thus back into Assad’s favor.