How are Iran’s Special Forces intervening in Iraq?

By Golnaz Esfandiari

To help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government battle militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Iran could potentially offer significant assistance through its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reportedly has been active in Iraq during the past decade, analysts say. 

What Can Iran Offer? 

Afshon Ostovar, a Middle East analyst with the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), believes Iranian military assistance to Iraq would likely focus on several areas: advising, training, planning and coordination; information and intelligence; and supplying military materiel. "I suspect whatever assistance Iran provides at this time will be limited to these areas and kept mostly behind the scenes," Ostovar says.

Light Footprint

Geneva-based researcher Farzan Sabet says Iran is likely to deny any military involvement in Iraq, even in the face of credible reports. 

Sabet says Iran's preference for "a light footprint" has been confirmed on a number of occasions since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

"It has relied on small and discreet special operations and intelligence units which gather vital information and act as trainers and advisers to realize its goals," Sabet wrote in a June 30 piece analyzing Iran's potential military intervention in Iraq.

Quds Force

Reports suggest that Iran has already dispatched units of IRGC's elite Quds Force to help Maliki, amid denials by Iranian officials who say they are ready to send arms to Iraq if asked to do so.  

Ostovar says the Quds Force detachment and other specialized IRGC units are likely to be relatively small — in the hundreds.

He believes the role of the Quds Force in Iraq is likely to be similar to the role it has played in Syria, where through training and other measures it has helped Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad stay in power. 

"Quds Force is probably helping at two main levels: the political level, helping garner support for Maliki among Shi'a militants and streamlining the response to [ISIL]; and the ground level, helping train, organize and coordinate irregular Shi’a forces."

Involving Shi'ite Militias

Mohsen Milani, the executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, believes that Iran will try to mobilize Shi'ite militia that have been dormant in recent years.

"It will surely try to regroup and rearm the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade (although many of its members have since joined the Iranian national security forces). It will probably also take the more controversial step of encouraging the Shi’a militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army to join the fight," Milani wrote in a June 22 analysis published at 

Milani added that Iran will turn to smaller Shi'ite insurgent groups to push them to join the fight against ISIL. 

"Iran believes that the Sunni insurgency can only be defeated if Iraq's fractious Shi’a militias agree to cooperate," he wrote. 

Ostovar says the Quds force is likely to coordinate the role of the Shi'a militant groups in the fight against ISIL and help train new recruits.

"Qods Force commanders have worked closely with Shi'a militant groups in the past and helped organize their involvement in Syria, so any effort in Iraq will likely be a continuing evolution of this relationship," Ostovar says.

Mirrored from RFE/RL.

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Iranian fighter jets deployed to fight ISIL in Iraq: Report”


3 Responses

  1. Iranian “special forces” will be doing one of the many things that all the “special forces” of the planet do. They’re adept at all the worst that humans can do to one another, all the methods of killing and torturing and binding, all the destabilization, and now that the US Empire has doubled down on a Global Interoperable Networkcentric Militarized Everything Babblespace, more and more these “special forces” are also “interoperable,” and no doubt drawn together by their common skill sets and esprits and loyalties to their chums.

    Here’s the Iranian take on what their Quds and SpecOps dudes are, and are up to: link to

    Want a peek at what the US versions think of themselves, and what they are willing to share with those of us who pay for the play, of the stuff of what they are “capable of” and “trained to do?” Here’s the menu:

    ” U.S. Special Operations Command Terms of Reference – Roles, Missions and Functions of Component Commands
    October 10, 2012″
    link to

    And here’s the explication for what those laconic, terse, vague headings mean, and for you Gamespeople the following should give you shivers of delight, and for the rest of us, if we read it in context of what little we can see in “the media,” it should give us shivers of fear, for our “rights” and our future:

    link to

    There’s more, of course. Some have this romantic notion that “Special Forces” dudes are maybe like Dickson’s fairy-tale “Dorsai,” morally superior, physically perfect, perfectly violent and deadly, imbued with the virtues that will end conflict and keep us all safe and all that: link to, and less charitably, the reviews: link to

    Here’s what you can bet the Iranian and Israeli and Sov- er, Russian, and Chinese and Australian and all that SOF – er, Special Ops types are up to and into, in addition to and expanding on the other links here:

    About USSOCOM

    The Department of Defense (DoD) activated U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) April 16, 1987, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. DoD created the new unified command in response to congressional action in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987. Congress mandated a new four-star command be activated to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to carry out assigned missions and, if directed by the president or secretary of defense (SECDEF), to plan for and conduct special operations.

    To enable USSOCOM to carry out its mission, Congress gave the new command specific authorities and responsibilities:

    Title 10 Authorities and Responsibilities

    -Develop special operations strategy, doctrine and tactics
    -Prepare and submit budget proposals for SOF
    -Exercise authority, direction and control over special operations expenditures
    -Train assigned forces
    -Conduct specialized courses of instruction
    -Validate requirements
    -Establish requirement priorities
    -Ensure interoperability of equipment and forces
    -Formulate and submit intelligence support requirements
    -Monitor Special Operations officers’ promotions, assignments, retention, training and professional military education
    -Ensure Special Operations Forces’ combat readiness
    -Monitor Special Operations Forces’ preparedness to carry out assigned missions
    -Develop and acquire special operations-peculiar equipment, materiel, supplies and services

    In addition to the service-like authorities of developing training and monitoring readiness, some of the authorities Congress gave USSOCOM are unique responsibilities for a unified command. USSOCOM is not dependent on the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force for its budget or to develop and buy new equipment, supplies or services for the command. USSOCOM has its own budgetary authorities and responsibilities through a specific Major Force Program (MFP-11) in DOD’s budget. Additionally, USSOCOM has its own acquisition authorities, so it can develop and buy special operations-peculiar equipment, supplies or services.

    link to Simple enough sounding, right? Here’s a bit of what these people really do:

    link to

    We “civilians” are all just part of “the operational continuum,” which runs in a circle from “peacetime competition” to “conflict” to “war,” from “prehostilities” to “hostilities” to “posthostilities.” Happy vision, with so much invested in making it the model for the whole pre-dead-planet future, eh?

    And then there’s this bit,

    “America’s Secret Libya War

    The U.S. military has spent about $1 billion on Libya’s revolution, and secretly helped NATO with everything from munitions to surveillance aircraft. John Barry provides an exclusive look at Obama’s emerging ‘covert intervention’ strategy.” link to Overthrow governments? Not even break a sweat. Get weapons across borders into troubled areas? Before lunch. Assassinations, kidnappings, rendition and torture, teaching other dudes how to do it? Piece of cake. Make the world safe for “democracy?” Free the oppressed? “How you define ‘democracy?’ and ‘freedom?’ and “oppressed?,’ Kemosabe?”

    Other stuff too:

    “Under Obama, the New Mission of the Special Forces is to Make Muslims Like Them”

    link to

    Here’s some of what they tell Congress, the source of all that money, they are up to and planning:

    link to

    And this: “USSOCOM Factbook,” all about the “Quiet Professionals” who do this, among other stuff:

    Special Forces units perform seven doctrinal missions:
    Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Special
    Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Combatting Terrorism, Counterproliferation, and Information Operations. These missions make Special Forces unique in the U.S. military, because they are employed throughout the three stages of the operational continuum: peacetime, conflict and war.

    The “Quiet Professionals,” Special Forces units are today deployed worldwide displaying their dominance in full spectrum operations through their unconventional warfare expertise. From humanitarian assistance and training of
    indigenous forces, to direct action and special reconnaissance missions, Special Forces Soldiers live up to the Special Forces
    motto: De Oppresso Liber, to Free the Oppressed.

    link to Stirring stuff, seems not to fit too well with what’s actually been happening everywhere the SOF people are involved….

    And a little more from the cynical side:

    link to
    link to

    And so the grand process of creating “interoperability” of militaries, paramilitaries and national police forces everywhere, all those African and South American and Central America and East and Central Asian and Gulf and recently that Ukraine place, trained and equipped and even led by “our” SOF dudes, largely freed from the constraints of a clumsy, oafish, idiotic and inefficient command and procurement structure, grinds toward some kind of future that I, as a doofus “ordinary citizen,” for one, find rather appalling… Do NOT tell me these people are “protecting us.” They, by their own statements are “protecting US interests,” which are Imperial and commercial and are crushing us “oppressed” that they claim to be “freeing.”

  2. This probably gets zero notice, the way the ‘net works, but for those interested in what all those highly trained killing machines do after they are done acting under color of “law,” there’s the less-bad end of things at employers like “MissionX” that offers would-be tough guys and gals “tactical adventures” and “military-structured training and development like no other,” link to At the dark poles there are Eric Prince and his Merry Men at Academi Corp.,link to . And for those who want to capitalize on their special training, there’s lots of high-paid jobs, link to and bunches of other private militaries and providers of “security” to the Kochs and other high-wealth critters.

    And for a taste of other concerns “we” who pay for this ought to have about the plague organisms “we” are creating to do “war,” there’s this among many other articles: “10 Frightening Facts About Private Military Companies,” link to

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