Iran and Iraq: Tehran envisions joint military exercises, missile defense and Mosul influence

Iran and Iraq were once enemies when Saddam Hussein’s regime was in charge, but after the US-led invasion in 2003 the countries have grown closer because of the rise of Shi’ite political parties.

June 24, 2019 20:14
4 minute read.
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards march during a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Ira

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards march during a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in Tehran. (photo credit: MORTEZA NIKOUBAZI/ REUTERS)


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Iran wants to hold joint military exercises with Iraq, an Iranian news website reported on Monday, potentially increasing the alliance and link between Baghdad and Tehran. It comes as an Iranian diplomat visited Mosul and also after a commander of Iran’s air defenses indicated Tehran could work with Baghdad on its air defense requirements. Joint military exercises would be a major step in the alliance between the two countries.

The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported on Monday that Iran Land Forces Commander Koumars Heydari suggested joint exercises in a meeting with Iraqi Deputy Commander of the Army Maj.-Gen. Tariq Abbas Ibrahim.

Iran and Iraq were enemies when Saddam Hussein’s regime was in charge, but after the US-led invasion in 2003, the countries have grown closer because of the rise of Shi’ite political parties and allies of Tehran who see Iran as a natural ally for Iraq. Iraq’s second largest party, the Fatah Alliance, is run by Badr Organization head Hadi al-Amiri, who once served alongside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s.

However, Iraq has also said it does not want to be in the middle of the current Iran-US tensions. Baghdad was angered when US President Donald Trump indicated that US forces might use Iraq to “watch” Iran.

New electricity agreements were signed between Iraq and Iran in February, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a strategic trip to Iraq in March in which he signed 22 agreements to boost ties. Rail lines between the two countries would be constructed, oil infrastructure connected and Iran and Iraq would be more closely integrated, the agreements said.

Now Iran appears to be taking things to the next level. Photos posted online showed that an Iranian diplomat visited Mosul this week. Morteza Ebadi, the Iranian consul-general in Erbil, has sought to increase ties with northern Iraq. Rudaw News reported in May that he said economic trade between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iran could increase from $4 billion to $5 billion this year. Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, is in Nineveh Province next to the KRG.

At the same time, a commander of Iranian air defenses indicated that the two countries could cooperate. This comes in the wake of Iran shooting down a US drone and a rocket attack near US forces in Mosul on June 18. Iran suggested the cooperation, according to ISNA, when a delegation from Iran visited an Iraqi base.

ALIREZA SABAHIFAR, an Iranian  officer in charge of air defenses, met with the Iraqi Deputy Commander of the Army Tariq Abbas Ibrahim on Sunday. He suggested that Iran and Iraq “consolidate Islamic power in the region,” ISNA reported. Then Iran said it was ready to create an expert committee to look at joint air defenses.

In subsequent meetings, according to ISNA’s report, the Iranians and Iraqis arranged for joint drills. “The ground forces are at the highest level of combat readiness and are ready to transfer experiences in the field to the Iraqi army,” Heydari said. He discussed the unbreakable spiritual connection of the countries. Most of the discussion appeared to center around shared religious devotion, as opposed to tactics, strategy and divisions. Iraq thanked Iran for its support during the war against Islamic State and indicated that assistance might be welcomed in the fields of battlefield medical knowledge and snipers. It was unclear why Iraq, which has been fighting ISIS for years, needs this from Iran’s regular army, which has not been engaging in operations recently.

However, the real issue is closer work of the two militaries. Heydari said the men discussed the need for Iran and Iraq to be closely connected in “political, defense, economic and cultural fields. Inshallah, these new ties and ideas will happen.” They also discussed cooperation in training, artillery and airborne assault. The meeting was reported by Fars News and other agencies in Iran.

The meeting comes as Iraq is at a crossroads after the war on ISIS. The US and the coalition against ISIS are still providing training to Iraq, but there has been controversy about continued US presence. The recent rocket attacks in Mosul, near Balad Air Base, at Camp Taji, close to the US Embassy in Baghdad, and near oil facilities in Basra, point to tensions rising. In addition, the subject of Iraq and Iran working together on air defenses would likely be a major hurdle for US policy-makers and continued involvement in Iraq.

The US wants to continue supporting the Iraqi Army and Special Forces, but the US has labeled several major Shi’ite paramilitary groups terrorist organizations. This is even as those groups are officially part of the Iraqi security forces. The US also views Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist group, which would make it difficult if Iran was carrying out joint drills with Iraq and the IRGC had any role. Currently the meetings appear to be between Iran’s conventional army or Artesh, and their Iraqi counterparts.

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