Joint military exercises with Iraq demonstrate Iran’s control
Both Iraqi and Iranian sources have confirmed that the two countries are planning on conducting joint military exercises and for Iraqi forces to receive training in Iran.
At a time when tensions between Iran and the United States are at their highest since the 1980s, any military announcements made by Tehran should be viewed within the context of its security concerns regarding America. As if the master-slave dynamic between Iran and its militant proxies and political puppets in Iraq was not obvious enough, Tehran is now signalling to the West that any attacks launched against Iran will be met with force not only by it but also by those it influences in Iraq.
The announcement follows a visit to Baghdad in March by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who signed agreements to develop railways between the two countries and integrate their oil infrastructure, and follows previous electricity supply deals. Iran’s intent is to more closely integrate its Iraqi backyard into its strategic depth. By including Iraq in their military and defensive spheres, the Iranians are creating an economic, political and military buffer that can theoretically protect them against any attacks coming from the West. In other words, Iran is looking to turn Iraq into its shield, ready to absorb all the painful blows that might come its way due to its belligerent behaviour.
Not only have senior commanders from both land forces expressed their desire to conduct joint exercises and to train Iraqis in Iran, but Iranian media outlet ISNA reported that officers responsible for air defence indicated a desire to work with Iraq to form a “joint air defence” and to “consolidate Islamic power in the [Middle East].” Obviously, this is in clear reference to the radical Khomeinist ideology that rules Iran and now dominates Iraq as a result of Tehran’s proxies. It also comes directly after the Iranians downed an American drone over international waters, sending a message that US air assets may also be in danger over Iraqi airspace.
Just less than two decades ago, the prospect of having Iraq and Iran cooperate on anything, let alone military affairs and national security, would have been laughable. However, since the US-led invasion of Iraq and the ouster of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, politicians and Shia jihadists the ayatollahs had incubated on Iranian soil took senior positions in the Iraqi government, intelligence agencies and security apparatuses. Not ones to ever let a favour go without payment, Iran has ensured these people know they owe their lives and their careers to Tehran and has supported different strands of Iraqi political and militant Shiism in a carefully calibrated system of checks and balances to ensure they are at each other’s throats and constantly seeking the mullahs’ favour.
Gradually, Iranian proxies have moved from irregular militia groups to formally melding into the Iraqi armed forces under the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which was recognised as an independent armed service following its involvement in the war against the Islamic State. Simultaneously, the interior ministry, which is responsible for the federal police as well as various intelligence services, is extensively staffed by members of the Badr Organisation, a Shia jihadist group led by Hadi al-Amiri. He fought against his own country and sided with Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s.
With such a background and such a concerted effort on behalf of the Iranians to gradually turn Iraq into a satrapy, the announcement that the two countries plan to hold joint military drills should come as no surprise to anybody. The United States and its Gulf allies must include Iraq into any of their strategic considerations towards Iran.