Regardless of whether a comprehensive nuclear accord with the United States and world powers is attained, Iran’s radical Islamic rulers are already carving out the territory they have allotted for their radical “Shiite Crescent” scheme, which is meant to replicate the ancient Persian Empire (click HERE to see full-size map).
To secure the coveted territory, they are building a network of Shiite militias for guarding its key points. The first of these is the Anbar province of western Iraq, which is wedged strategically between Iraq’s borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Newly-formed Iraqi militias, buttressed by pro-Iranian militias from Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah, are quietly moving in on this province.
Why has Anbar been chosen as the starting point for Iran’s imperial design?
For half a dozen compelling reasons, say DEBKA Weekly’s military sources:
1. This broad area of 1387.501 sq. km (53,475 sq. miles) is sparsely inhabited. Its 1.8 million inhabitants are mostly organized in Sunni tribes and so, the Iranian strategists believe, will be easy to take over.
2. Iran’s most potent foe, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS, has shown little interest in holding on to Anbar – belying earlier speculation about its territorial goals. And so a military vacuum there makes it a pushover.
3. This calculus is confirmed by what Tehran interprets as ISIS’s current focus on seizing control of the banks of the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and the Tigris, to consolidate their caliphate’s dominion over northern, eastern and central Iraq. The Iranians see the Islamists stopping short of capturing Baghdad. A pro-Iranian Shiite-led regime would hence remain in place in the capital and, equally important, it would provide a barrier against any Al Qaeda thrust toward the Shiite cities of the South.
Iran and ISIS stake out map of Iraq
Acting on this premise, Iranian forces have thrown up defenses around Baghdad and are maintaining a strong grip on three focal points, Baiji to the north, Diyala province to the east and Hit to the south.
Tehran will only interrupt its march on Anbar (see attached map) if Baghdad’s defenses are breached.
4. This Iraqi province is chosen by the rulers of Iran as a key portal to the Shiite Crescent they are planning to draw over the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the eastern shorts of the Mediterranean – both as a revival of the ancient Persian Empire, and as a short cut to the Mediterranean outlet for their oil exports.
5. The Islamic regime sees history stacked in its favor: Three capitals dotting the Tehran-Mediterranean route – Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut – are virtual satellites which depend on Tehran for their financial, military and intelligence needs.
Furthermore, the incumbent US president, Barack Obama, has selected the Shiites, rather than the followers of the rival Sunni sect of Islam, as helpmeets for bringing his policies to fruition. Now, more than ever, the US president relies on Iran’s military strength to fight the Islamist State, since his coalition has no boots on the ground other than the Sunni Kurds.
Iranian general overlord for Anbar aided by Maliki
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources trace five Iranian steps in the past month in pursuit of this scheme:
- All eight Iraqi Shiite militias dispatched to Syria to bolster Bashar Assad have been recalled. The three biggest, Katai’b Hezbollah (KH), Kata’ib al-Imam Ali (KIA) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), were sent straight to Anbar.
- Deputy Chief of the Iranian Al Qods Brigades, Gen. Qassim al-Muhamadi, has been switched from overall command of Iran’s military operations in Iraq to head of the Anbar Operations Command-AOC – a pointer to the importance Tehran attaches to winning this province as its top priority.
- Iran aims to seal Anbar off politically against American interference, whether it is direct or channeled through Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. To this end, Nouri al-Maliki, whom the Americans chased out of the Iraqi premiership, has been secretly attached to the Shiite militias recalled home from Syria in the capacity of glorified political adviser.
Al-Maliki takes part in all militia command conferences and is prominently on hand for Gen. al-Muhamadi’s visits.
His inclusion in the Anbar offensive has sparked reports, leaked by certain political circles in Baghdad, to the effect that Tehran is preparing the way for Maliki’s reinstatement as prime minister. However, DEBKA Weekly’s sources do not believe Iran wants to alter the agreed arrangements for cooperating with the US, which are channeled through the incumbent prime minister as liaison. Maliki‘s role is more that of counter-balance.
- Iran is constructing an Iraqi Shiite “People’s Army” of 70,000 fighting men on the same lines as the people’s army Tehran established in Syria. This army will not be subject to central government in Baghdad, but to Gen. al-Muhamadi, with Maliki standing behind his shoulder as senior political adviser.
- As a continuation of the Shiite province projected for Anbar, the Iranians plan to install a military presence in western Syria, including the Golan.
But here, they face tough resistance from Israel, which is actively blocking Iran’s intrusion into its back yard.
More about this clash of interests in a separate article in this issue.