IRGC tries to appropriate Mosul victory

Soleimani meeting Guard Corps cadets

The Islamic Republic of Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are running a propaganda campaign to appropriate victory in Mosul and the broader war against the Islamic State as their own, and omit US military support, which has been critical in the campaign.

The Guard Corps and the US at times coordinated directly or indirectly during the war, but Iran continues to reject the US’ presence in the Middle East.

Addressing the Revolutionary Guard’s Imam Hossein Guardianship Training and Officer University, Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani this week again peddled the conspiracy theory that the US and Israel created the Islamic State and fanned the Iraqi and Syrian wars to “bring Iran to its knees” and “destroy the Islamic revolution.”

“With the entrance of Iraq’s ulama and sources [of emulation, referring to senior clerics] and formation of hashd al shabi [Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)], the power of the people’s religious and ideological power, DAESH [Islamic State] was stopped,” he continued, “with the entrance of hashd al shabi into the Iraqi army, the Iraqi army was transformed into a Hezbollahi army, and was able to overcome the false takfiri beliefs and dislodge the unjustly-seated caliph from Mosul.”

Last week, Soleimani made a similar claim about the Iraqi military becoming more ideological, though in that speech he said the Iraqi army itself was becoming more ideological. In the latest speech, he said the PMF – a multi-sectarian force whose key leaders Guard-backed formations – it is likely Soleimani is referring to the armed forces as a whole. There is a kernel of truth to Soleimani’s statements: Guard-backed militias have infiltrated Iraqi security services and their formations have been legitimized as Iraqi government forces through the PMF. The US military has also credited the militias’ roles in the campaign.

Soleimani is exaggerating the magnitude of the PMF’s contribution to the war against the Islamic State. It has played key roles in the war, though US-trained Iraqi Army and Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) have borne the brunt of fighting.

The PMF captured areas west of Mosul and blocked the Islamic State’ escape routes to Syria, while the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) did the heavy lifting. Guard-backed forces, however, have fought in Mosul: The Federal Police, which has been infiltrated by the Badr Organization, participated in taking west Mosul.

“History has never witnessed such violence, difficulty and savagery during the times of the Berbers, Tatars [and] even the Mongol invasion,” Soleimani told the audience. “Great seditions stood against us, which we have come with our heads held high … we must not say wrong things based on fear, we are leaving [this earth], but history will describe this era for the future.” Embellishments like this are intended to heighten an audience’s feeling of purpose in history.

Syria “is a bridge to the resistance front, whether in Lebanon or Palestine,” Soleimani added. “Any rational person must understand that defeat in this war is considered a defeat for us, which thanks to God’s blessing the resistance front has won against the arrogant in these areas.” He credited Tehran’s “ideology and leadership” with leading to “truth of the Islamic revolution’s expansion inside and outside the borders,” which “friend and foe admit.”

The Revolutionary Guard Navy chief Ali Fadavi said in a separate address, the enemy faced defeat in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Syria because these countries follow the inspiring model of the Islamic Revolution’s discourse.”

The front page of the Revolutionary Guard’s weekly sobh-e sadegh credited Mosul’s liberation to “the intelligent leadership of Imam Khamenei and the role of clergies such as Ayatollah Sistani.”

“The end of the American-DAESH project in Iraq,” carried its front page.

Akram al Kabi, chief of the Guard-controlled Iraqi Harakat al Nujaba, praised Soleimani “as a soldier for Islam and a great commander” and thanked Iranian advisers’ help in “confronting America’s savage plans in the region.” At a celebration of Mosul’s liberation, the militia’s spokesman said, “Iran’s leadership, government, and nation stood with us when all left us, and we are not afraid of saying this truth.”

Other top Iranian government officials including Khamenei’s top foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, have claimed Mosul as a “victory” for Iran.

Tehran’s strategy in Iraq post-Mosul campaign is to use the vehicle of the PMF to portray itself and IRGC-backed elements as legitimate partners that can assist the state establish security, thereby increasing leverage and embedding themselves deeper into the state structure.

Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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