It has been widely reported that Iran has allocated thousands of troops for Iraq to bolster the Shiite Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Baghdad, and safeguard the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala against the oncoming Sunni enemy.
However, DEBKA Weekly reveals exclusively that the Iranian leadership has different plans up its sleeve.
According to our military and Iranian informants, Tehran’s overriding concern amidst the chaos in Iraq is securing its overland route to Syria and access to the Mediterranean (to see full size map click HERE).
This passageway providing Iran with a direct land bridge to its Lebanese ally, Hizballah, has spurred its all-out effort to prop up the embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad with fighting strength and weapons.
Its disruption would seriously jeopardize the strategic gains the Islamic Revolution has made in 34 years.
The land link between Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah in Beirut is the buttress of the Iran-Syria-Beirut bloc.
Even more fundamentally, it hoists the “Shiite Crescent” to pre-eminence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, across a region stretching from Bahrain through Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
It is also the physical manifestation of Islamic Iran’s strategy of exporting its revolutionary ideology to allies as the counterweight to majority Sunni power in the Middle East.
Gen. Soleimani must find a way to keep ISIS from Haditha dam
If the road to Damascus is closed, the crescent may well break up (see map).
The lightning advances made in the last two weeks by the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in northern, western and eastern Iraq, pose a major threat to that road.
Iraq’s Shiite centers are concentrated south of Baghdad in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and the oil port of Basra. To reach Syria, Tehran’s land route must weave through Sunni-overrun regions or the Kurdish areas of Iraq (see map).
Even if Prime Minister al-Maliki manages to hang onto Baghdad against a potential ISIS offensive, the capital will be beleaguered and he will not command enough military force to give Iran safe passage.
Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigades and senior strategist of Iranian military intervention in Syria, was in Baghdad this week to coordinate strategy. He will be shuttling to the Iraqi capital twice a week for three tasks:
1. He will advise Iraqi commanders how best to counter the ISIS surge towards Baghdad and, more germane to Iranian interests, their advance on the Haditha Dam and Lake Qadisiyah.
The earth-filled Qadisiya Dam on the Euphrates River – 9 km wide and 57 meter high – is Iraq’s second largest source of hydroelectric power, second only to the Mosul Dam.
Iran sees ISIS as on a grab for resources rather than Baghdad
Iran is focusing on its land routes and the Haditha Dam in consideration of the military and strategic aspects of the Iraq crisis – in sharp contrast to the American approach. In Baghdad and Irbil this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry attempted the impossible when he struggled for an Iraqi political solution to the conflict.
Tehran’s reading of Iraq is different: They figure that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS are not interested in controlling Baghdad itself. They have their eye on the country’s resources, its oil, water, and transportation hubs – the same strategy ISIS adopted in Syria.
And if they can’t have it all, then the group will settle for partial control.
Just three months ago, on April 15, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources warned that Al Qaeda had undertaken to divert the Euphrates River from its course, disrupting the water supply to Baghdad, the Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, and the surrounding agricultural lands.
Washington has finally taken notice of this water grab. If ISIS and the Sunnis add to Baiji and its oil refineries the Haditha Dam, they will control a majority of Iraq’s water, oil and other fuel supplies.
The Iranian leadership will do all it can to stymie ISIS, as their control of these resources would truly close the corridor to Syria.
Fashioning a Shiite people’s army
2. The Iranians can’t rely on their natural allies, neither the majority Shiite Iraqi Army built and trained by the Americans, nor the local Shiite militias such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. They’ve instructed Soleimani to assemble a popular Shiite force of 50,000-70,000 without delay. If he succeeds, Soleimani will be repeating his Syrian feat in Iran and the country will have built three Middle East armies: Hizballah, the Syrian people’s army (Alawites) and the Iraqi people’s army (Shites).
The Shiite force will be responsible for safeguarding the Shiite Crescent.
3. Iran’s mission to rescue Assad has dragged into its fourth year. Tehran does not expect its task in Iraq to be any shorter or easier. Syria costs Iran some $6 billion a year, and Iran fully expects Iraq to come at a similar price.
ISIS can fund its war with Syria with pirated Iraqi oil. But Iran will have to dig deep into its pockets or find a way from Iraqi oil to bankroll the cost of defending the Green Crescent.