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Friday, July 24, 2015

Iran reconsiders strategy in Iraq following the increase in ISIS activity in Diyala Province.

Link: Bomb attacks in Baghdad and Diyala Province leave scores dead, injured.

As we have been discussing for months, the proximity of ISIS activity in Diyala Province to the Iranian border with Iraq, is causing a great deal of concern in Tehran.  Both the Iranian government in Tehran and the spiritual leaders in Qom are very sensitive to the public perception that Iran itself is "impregnable".  The Iran military, and more importantly, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have always carried so much influence in Iran, because of the public belief (supported by the Iranian media) that Iran's military forces are much too powerful and disciplined to allow an enemy to attack Iranian territory, which hasn't happened since the August 1980-September 1988 Iran/Iraq war.  We are convinced that soon ISIS will be conducting cross-border operations from Diyala Province into Iran, if only to make the point that no enemy is beyond it's reach.

The Iranians are faced with a number of options.  Given the complete control Iran wields over the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), otherwise known as the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib al Imam Ali, Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shahuda, Mahdi Army, and Kata'ib Hezbollah, the Iraqi government has little say-so regarding the movements of these Shi'a based militia groups.  The Badr Organization has a historically strong presence in Diyala Province.  If the Iranians suspect that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are not up to the job in Diyala, the Badr group could be recalled from Anbar Province to add a layer of security for the Iranian Border.  In fact, the Iranians could instruct more than just Badr to relocate to Diyala, but if they make this choice, and the ongoing ISF offensive in Anbar proves successful, they will lose the opportunity to "play the hero".  The Iranians are in no hurry to provide the ISF and the U.S.-led air coalition any victories.  On the other side of the coin, if the PMUs, either piecemeal or as a whole, are withdrawn to the other theaters and the Anbar operation fails, then the ISF and the Iraq government will have no problem finding a scapegoat.  Obviously, this is the type of conundrum that ISIS likes to create.  Its leaders understand the precarious nature of the various coalitions they make up the opposition, and they will take advantage of every opportunity to sow discord.  The increase in SVBIED and free-fire incidences in Baghdad and Diyala Province over the last week are a perfect example of ISIS attempting to discredit the Sunni/Shi'a coalition that is currently laying siege to both Fallujah and Ramadi.  The Iraqi authorities expected these type of attacks to increase once the offensive began, but there was very little that could be done to counter this type of warfare.

Another option that is seldom given much serious consideration, is the possibility of direct Iranian Army (or IRGC) intervention in Diyala.  The Iranians don't need anyone's permission, and they could certainly contain ISIS in Diyala in short order.  But Iran has been very careful to follow its usual script, which has proven so successful in so many conflicts over the years.  The Iranians appear determined to utilize the PMUs as their military contribution to the anti-ISIS effort (along with military aid to Bashir al-Assad beleaguered regime forces in Syria).  The Iranians have always used surrogates and proxies to fight their battles, as is evidenced by Hezbollah, the Houthis, and on occasion both Hamas and the Taliban.  Although we have always argued that a full-scale Iranian military intervention might be much more successful at not only defeating ISIS, but in bringing Iran out of the shadows and back within the international community of nations.  You see, defeating ISIS would be a much more appreciated achievement internationally, as opposed to the signing of this five-year nuclear treaty the United States is passing around.  One act benefits all, and the other only benefits Iran.  So which one would be most likely to increase Iran's diplomatic bona fides?

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